HOW GOOD AND PLEASANT IT IS WHEN BROTHERS (AND SISTERS) LIVE TOGETHER IN UNITY… FOR THERE THE LORD BESTOWS HIS BLESSING, EVEN LIFE FOR EVERMORE. (Psalm 133: 1, 3)
WECOME TO OUR SUNDAY MORNING WEB-WORSHIP
OPENING HYMN (CH-265) – “THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED”; now is His work performed; now is the mighty Captive freed, and Death’s strong castle stormed.
“The Lord is risen indeed”: the grave has lost his prey; with Him is risen the ransomed seed, to reign in endless day.
“The Lord is risen indeed”; He lives, to die no more; He lives, the sinner’s cause to plead, whose curse and shame He bore.
Then, angels, tune your lyres, and strike each cheerful chord; join, all ye bright celestial choirs, to sing our Risen Lord!
LET US PRAY:
EVER-LIVING GOD, on the Sunday after Easter, may our love for You be no less strong than last week. May we show to a waiting world the strength of faith we have in the Resurrection of Your Son, our Saviour. We thank You again today for the great miracle of Easter and for everything it reveals about Your awesome love for us. We remember how the disciples refused at first to believe the fact of Resurrection, and that we are not more faithful than they were. Forgive us, Lord, as we worship You this morning, and struggle to accept the glorious truth. Come, restore hope to our hearts and joy to our lives bowed down by the anxiety of the pandemic, to glorify Your name both now and forevermore. AMEN.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – ISAIAH 54: 7-10.
“FOR A BRIEF MOMENT I ABANDONED YOU, BUT WITH DEEP COMPASSION I WILL BRING YOU BACK. IN A SURGE OF ANGER I HID MY FACE FROM YOU FOR A MOMENT, BUT WITH EVERLASTING KINDNESS I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON YOU,” SAYS THE LORD YOUR REDEEMER. “TO ME THIS IS LIKE THE DAYS OF NOAH, WHEN I SWORE THAT THE WATERS OF NOAH WOULD NEVER AGAIN COVER THE EARTH. SO NOW I HAVE SWORN NOT TO BE ANGRY WITH YOU, NEVER TO REBUKE YOU AGAIN. THOUGH THE MOUNTAINS BE SHAKEN AND THE HILLS BE REMOVED, YET MY UNFAILING LOVE FOR YOU WILL NOT BE SHAKEN NOR MY COVENANT OF PEACE BE REMOVED,” SAYS THE LORD, WHO HAS COMPASSION ON YOU.
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – JOHN 20: 24-29.
NOW THOMAS (CALLED DIDYMUS), ONE OF THE TWELVE, WAS NOT WITH THE DISCIPLES WHEN JESUS CAME. SO THE OTHER DISCIPLE TOLD HIM, “WE HAVE SEEN THE LORD!” BUT HE SAID TO THEM, “UNLESS I SEE THE NAIL MARKS IN HIS HANDS AND PUT MY FINGER WHERE THE NAILS WERE, AND PUT MY HAND INTO HIS SIDE, I WILL NOT BELIEVE IT.” A WEEK LATER HIS DISCIPLES WERE IN THE HOUSE AGAIN, AND THOMAS WAS WITH THEM. THOUGH THE DOORS WERE LOCKED, JESUS CAME AND STOOD AMONG THEM AND SAID, “PEACE BE WITH YOU!” THEN HE SAID TO THOMAS, “PUT YOUR FINGER HERE; SEE MY HANDS. REACH OUT YOUR HAND AND PUT IT INTO MY SIDE. STOP DOUBTING AND BELIEVE.” THOMAS SAID TO HIM, “MY LORD AND MY GOD!” THEN JESUS TOLD HIM, “BECAUSE YOU HAVE SEEN ME, YOU HAVE BELIEVED; BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN AND YET HAVE BELIEVED.”
When is it hard for you to believe? When do you have trouble trusting in God? Does your reasonable, educated twenty-first-century mind find it hard to believe in a Resurrected Jesus Christ? Is it hard to believe in such a long time of deadly pandemic and its variants, when so many innocent people, for more than a year, are dying all over in the world? Is it hard to trust in God when a loved one has died, or you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness? Do you find yourself wondering sometimes, “Where is God?” When it comes to faith issues, the stakes seem high and it is difficult to say, “I doubt it.” After all, we Christians, trust God for everything in all circumstances, don’t we? But if we are honest …
THERE ARE TIMES WHEN WE DOUBT. The biblical heroes of faith were sometimes doubters, too. In the Old Testament, Abraham and Sarah, despite a promise from God, had a hard time trusting God promise of a son. The Israelites, after they had seen God’s miraculous ways in their Exodus from Egypt, complained about manna and water in the wilderness, and built an idol to worship when they found it difficult to trust and obey. Elijah, the Prophet, was aiming to die, when he felt that God was with him no longer. Or Jesus’ disciples, who had spent three years with the Lord, seeing Him miraculously healing and feeding the multitudes, and hearing Him prophesy about His own death and Resurrection. Yet they had fled from the Crucifixion and hid through fear. Later they doubted the words of the women who first proclaimed the news of Jesus’ Resurrection. With so many examples of doubters in the Bible, and with so many of us facing our own doubts at one time or another why is it so tempting to stigmatize Thomas as “The Doubter?” Difficult questions are often asked about faith, and the people who ask them are not necessarily looking for easy answers. They just want a safe place where they can ask the questions. Thomas – and let me believe that many more of us are like him – had found the Right Person at the Right Place where true faith can flourish.
There is something lovable and admirable about Thomas. Faith was never an easy thing for him; obedience never came readily to him. He was the man who had to be sure; he was the man who had to count the cost. But once he was sure, he was the man who went to the ultimate limit of faith and obedience. The Christian tradition says that he became the apostle of the Church in India. A faith like Thomas’ is better than any glib declaration; and an obedience like his is better than an easy acquiescence which agrees to do a thing without counting the cost and then goes back upon its word (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 2, page 325).
DOUBTING THOMAS, CALLED “DIDYMUS” (i.e. “TWIN”) . Thomas did not receive Jesus’ blessing of peace on Easter evening. For some reason he was not there. When his fellow disciples told him they had seen Jesus, he said, Unless I see the nail marks in His hand and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it (verse 25). Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Certainty is the opposite of faith. Certainty does not require faith because no risk is involved; faith in God is risky if it is anything. John tells us, that it happened eight days later, when Jesus came back among His disciples, announcing His peace again. He did not write Thomas off. He would not let him go on in doubting faith. Jesus allowed Thomas the very proof he had been demanding. He allowed Thomas the double proof of sight and touch. Jesus said to him, Stop doubting and believe! Being in the KIRK, the home of His disciples, on the Sunday after Easter, Jesus gave to Thomas a fresh vision of the Risen Lord. He made a rededication of His life, and faith within that home was revived. What Thomas said became the pattern of confession for all believers. This is not just the cry of personal faith. Thomas is not quoting someone else. It is a deep confession: – MY LORD AND MY GOD! Others had called Jesus the Christ, Good Shepherd, Good Teacher, Miracle Worker, and the Son of God, but Thomas called Him LORD AND GOD. Condensed here is the whole meaning of the person and the work of Jesus. He is Lord; that means Sovereign, the Master of Life. All is committed to Him. He is God; that means He is Divine, Messiah, Saviour. Jesus then spoke a beatitude to Thomas, – Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (verse 29). It is what we do not see that is the strength of our Christian Faith. The apostle Paul said, – We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4: 18). There is a danger in seeing – in making sight the satisfaction of curiosity – and then being content. Seeing and touching may help faith, but they can never produce it. Years later, Peter remembered that Sunday after Easter and wrote: – Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1: 8-9). Given the time and space and experience, Thomas came to faith. His confession marked the great claim of the Scripture. In the presence of the Risen Christ he proclaims, – My Lord and my God! Great faith requires that we ask and live in all our questions. We probably won’t receive all the answers we are looking for. But the honesty and courage of our questions may allow us to meet and live with the mystery of it all. Therefore, instead of calling Thomas “The Doubter,” I would rather call him Honest Thomas. This world is not a place for blind faith or easy answers. Jesus had a word for those who struggle with faith, those in whose mind and heart big questions abound: – Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.
WHAT DO WE HAVE TO HELP US WHEN OUR DOUBTS ASSAIL US?
– First and foremost: – WE HAVE THE POWER AND PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT TO SUSTAIN US. When the Risen Christ first appeared to the disciples (when Thomas wasn’t with them), He breathed on them and said, – Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that he breathed on them and said, – Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20: 21-22). Sometime before His Resurrection, Jesus also made this promise to His disciples, – I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you (John 14: 16-17).
– A second thing that can help us is:– REMEMBERING THE PAST. Remembering times when God has delivered us in the past can help us persevere in the midst of difficulties like this terrible pandemic. The people of Israel knew this, and many of the psalms were their stories of deliverance that were sung and told in services of remembrance and thanksgiving. We love to sing, – O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. Let us think about a time or times when God has been with us, delivering us through or from difficult situations. May the encouragement of that memory serve as a source of strength and comfort for us in times of current doubts, during anxiety, fear or discouragement.
– Finally, remember the future or: – THE PROMISE OF THE FUTURE. In the Book of Revelation, the old, and deported Apostle John wrote what Jesus said to the early Christian churches who were in desperate situations, – I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty (Revelation 1: 8). This greeting is from the God of the past, the present, and the future. Sometimes, remembering that what we are currently experiencing is not the end of the story, but can help to carry us through difficult times. May it be so for us in setting aside our doubts and learning to trust more, to believe in our Risen Lord. AMEN.
LET US PRAY:
ETERNAL AND GRACIOUS LORD, we remember how Thomas doubted, not being able to accept Resurrection until he had met You face to face, and heard the words he longed to hear: – Put your finger here; see my hands Reach out … and touch … and after doubt there was faith. We still need, Lord, Your Good News today. We thank You for our own experiences of Your Resurrection-power; occasions when we have cried out from the depths of our desperate beings, and discovered not only that You can lift us up, but that You were there with us in our needs, to deepen our faith and broaden our understanding of Your Salvation. In the valley of the shadow of death, and sorrow and suffering, You have demonstrated to be present, working out Your eternal purpose. For that glorious truth, we thank You: for the assurance that nothing in heaven or earth can separate us from Your love, that no situation, however dreadful it may seem, can overtake Your power to redeem. In the changes and chances of this life, help us, whatever we may face, to trust that Your purpose will triumph overall. One week after Easter, we look around and see so many denying the Easter promise, that we might just as well be Thomas ourselves: our world is still risky and dangerous, our wounds still deep, and the loss of human lives in this pandemic still overwhelming. Merciful God, speak to us for we are Your people. Speak to us of hope for the hopeless, love for the unloved, healing for the dying, and comfort for the grieving. Tell us that winter will fade and spring will wash us anew, and the world will be green again, and we will be new creations in the garden of our God. Bless this struggling world, and Your Christian Church Universal within it. Be with our Church of Scotland in all its presbyteries and congregations. Bless and support all our sisters and brothers in our church, in this town, on this Island, and in Scotland. Hear our prayers for our loved-ones wherever they are, and for all those whom we name now quietly in our hearts … through Jesus Christ our Risen Lord. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
CLOSING HYMN (CH-279): – THINE BE THE GLORY, risen, conquering Son, endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won; angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away, kept the folded grave-clothes, where Thy body lay. CHORUS: – Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son, endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won.
Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb; lovingly He greets us, scatters fear and gloom; let the Church with gladness hymns of triumph sing, for her Lord now liveth; death hath lost its sting. +CHORUS …
NO MORE WE DOUBT THEE, glorious Prince of Life; Life is naught without Thee: aid us in our strife; make us more than conquerors, through Thy deathless love: bring us safe through Jordan to Thy home above. +CHORUS: – THINE BE THE GLORY …
THE LORD BLESS YOU AND KEEP YOU; THE LORD MAKE HIS FACE SHINE UPON YOU AND BE GRACIOUS TO YOU; THE LORD TURN HIS FACE TOWARDS YOU AND GIVE YOU PEACE. (Numbers 6: 24-26)