“Thomas saw the Christ breaking earth’s routine; blessed are those who trust the Holy One unseen. Not with crafted scope, not with crystal lens: vision of the Christ begins where seeing ends.” Amen. (NCH, 406, 4 & 5)
CALL TO WORSHIP
L: We are gathered in the presence of the risen Christ, who remains with us forever.
P: When we abide in the love of Christ, love, joy, and peace grow.
L: We are rooted in Christ’s love, that we may bear these fruits together with all God’s people.
All: With the faithful of every race, tribe, people, and nation, we worship God!
NCH #441 - Jesus, Savior Pilot Me
Let us pray...
O God, “we may not touch Christ’s hands and side, nor follow where Christ trod; but in confessing we rejoice: our Savior and our God.” Amen. (NCH, 256, 2)
FIRST SCRIPTURE LESSON
I Peter 1: 3-9: “Rejoice in what God has done”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen, Amen!
Let us pray...
O God, you who are infinitely more than we can imagine in our very best hours, and who have made yourself known to us in your child Jesus the Christ: we approach you now in prayer, but only because you came first to us, touching our spirits with your spirit, moving our hearts with your love, and even setting before us the questions and indeed the doubts that disturb our earthly peace. Make yourself known to us here, we pray; reveal yourself to us here, we pray; that we too, with Thomas, might proclaim, “My Lord and my God!”
O Holy One, you who proved your love for all of us by sending us Jesus; and who enlightened our human life by the radiance of his presence: we thank you for this, your greatest gift. And we thank you too, now and always, for all your generous and loving gifts given far beyond our deserving or earning.
Eternal Comforter: hear us also as we pray for all those in special need of your presence this day, especially those known to us, those who are nearest and dearest to this family of faith. We would remember before you all of our brothers and sisters who need your help today and always—those faced with serious temptations; those challenged by demands too great for their powers; those worried by debt or poverty or oppression; those suffering on beds of physical or mental or spiritual pain; those who are hungry or thirsty or without shelter; those who have never had a fair chance to make the most of themselves; and those in lonely and even dangerous places who serve your cause in serving the impoverished, the sick, or the confused. And especially this day, Dear God, we lift up in our concern and gratitude all those whose lives are touched by the horror of this current health crisis—those who are afflicted, those who are recovering, those who have succumbed, and all those care providers, first responders, and essential workers who sacrifice daily for our health and safety. For all these sorts and conditions of persons, we beg your blessing.
O God and Parent of us all, make even us the human channels through which your divine love and compassion may reach the hearts and the lives of those who need you most. May every one of us your children now have a sense of your presence; and may every one of us your children be given renewed hope, deathless hope, and ever-deepening love.
Through Jesus the Christ, we pray, Amen.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise God all creatures here below!
Praise God above you heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
OFFERING PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Let us pray...
O God, we bring these gifts to you as signs and symbols of our faith in your risen Christ. May what we bring each and every day reflect not our doubts, but rather our deep commitment to you and our abiding love for you and all your children everywhere. Through the same Jesus, we pray, Amen.
NCH#292 - Breathe on Me Breath of God
SECOND SCRIPTURE LESSSON
John 20: 19-29 “Jesus appears to the disciples; Jesus and Thomas”
SERMON Faith Questions
Let us pray...
“In the upper chamber, followers, in fear, gathered sad and troubled, there you did appear. Christ, be present with us, bid our sorrows cease; breathing on us, Savior, say ‘I give you peace.’” Amen. (NCH, 255, 3)
On the evening of that first Easter day, the disciples locked themselves in a room, afraid for their very lives. After all, everyone knew that they were the followers, the co-conspirators of an executed criminal. Indeed, as John says, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were shut for fear...”
And you yourselves have been in that same room, haven’t you? Haven’t we all? I certainly have!
Someone you love dies, and the thought of facing the future without that person leaves you paralyzed. You’ve lost your job; and at your age, you’re wondering what you’ll do with your life, how you’ll pay the bills. Your spouse or parents have picked you up and moved you to a new city where nothing is familiar; and the new seems just so scary. You’ve recently divorced, and the thought of loving again, or the thought of never loving again, makes you so afraid, that you want to lock your heart away behind some bolted door.
Or life itself is just not going the way you planned, and chronic depression has you locked away behind closed doors. Or something is finally going right in your life, and you’re riddled with anxiety, scared to death that it’s all going to fall apart again.
Yes, virtually all of us have spent time with those disciples locked in a room somewhere, afraid of something. Maybe, some of us are even there now. And if that is the case, we need to know more than anything else that Jesus still does for us what he did for them—he stands now in our own midst and offers us his blessing: “Peace be with you!” There is no room so dark; there is no lock so tight, that the risen Christ cannot enter and bring to our hearts a word of peace and comfort.
But our friend Thomas, “one of the twelve, called the Twin,” did not himself receive the blessing of peace on that first Easter evening. For some reason unknown to us, he was not there. So, when the other disciples told him that they had seen Jesus returned from the dead, he blurted out: “No way! I’ve got to see it for myself!” And then those timeless words: “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
We all sometimes struggle to believe something that is unbelievable, don’t we? You know—common, ordinary, everyday human struggles and questions and doubts and fears that keep us behind closed, locked doors. But sometimes, the really important doubts and questions run instead to the very core of our faith in God. And what we need to know is that just such doubts and questions rest forever at the very heart of faith; they are constant companions on our spiritual journeys—because, quite simply, we can never ever “know for sure” in the realm of faith; as I’ve said before, that is in fact what makes faith different from knowledge.
My friends, if you are touched by anything at all in today’s lesson and message, it should be this—doubt is not the opposite of faith; certainty is the opposite of faith; certainty does not require faith, because no risk is involved; and faith in God is risky business indeed, if it is anything at all.
Questions ever and always come to us, even and perhaps especially to those of us of what we might call mature faith. Doubts and questions can lead us to despair if we do not see them as a part of honest faith. But faith should always stand in tension with doubt. Doubt will always challenge faith to move to a deeper and more honest level. In short, we need both doubt and faith, both questions and answers, in our spiritual lives. We need both, within and among us.
And we learn today that the disciple Thomas simply would not let his questions go unaddressed. Sadly, we often call him “Doubting Thomas.” But I think that’s unfortunate and unfair. Perhaps we should call him instead, “Honest Thomas,” because he simply would not ignore the spiritual questioning within his heart. He simply would not say he believed when he did not, at least not yet.
In the very midst of this familiar gospel story, we have John’s version of Jesus’ Great Commission. The risen Christ says to the disciples (at least to ten of them), “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
I think it’s quite interesting that Jesus said these words to the disciples in the absence of Thomas. I wonder—could this mean that it is our mission as the ones left behind to go to those who are not here, perhaps to those who might have doubts, questions, or fears, and listen to them? Jesus goes on to say to them and to us, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
It has been my experience over the years that those on the margins of the church or outside the church altogether do not stay away out of any disdain for God and the church, or Jesus and the gospel. Rather, for many at least, they have doubts and questions they do not feel they can ask in church or of churched people, without being judged or even condemned. And they are questions we’ve probably heard before, questions we ourselves have probably asked before. You know, questions like: “What if I don’t believe in God? What if I think the Bible is nothing more than a good book? What if I just can’t buy the resurrection? What if I think Jesus was a great man but nothing more? What if I don’t believe in the power of prayer?” Hard questions indeed—harder even to try to answer—but they do merit respect, attention, and faithful conversation. They are indeed what we might call simply faith questions.
Our gospel story of Doubting or Honest Thomas ends well. Given the time and space and experience, Thomas comes finally to faith. And, in fact, his simple confession is often considered the very climax of John’s Gospel and the fundamental claim of Christian scripture: “My Lord and my God!”
My friends, great faith requires that we believers live into all our doubts, fears, and questions even if they seem to test or challenge our faith. And the simple fact of faith is that we probably will not receive all the answers we want, but hopefully, at least, the answers we need, in order to continue the journey. But in the end, the honesty and courage of our faith questions will allow us to live with the mystery of it all.
I trust we would all agree that this world in which we live is not a place for blind faith or easy answers. But Peter in his First Letter encourages us with these words: “Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.” (1: 8)
During and well beyond this current pandemic crisis in which we find ourselves, we may well have even more faith questions that will arise and that will beg for answers. But Jesus, in whom we believe and whom we love, even though we don’t see him, will always have the most powerful word for all of us who struggle with faith in bad times, and in whose minds and hearts really big faith questions abound about why so many people are suffering and dying. He says simply and always, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
I hope, my friends, that’s us!
Let us pray...
“Help then, O Christ, our unbelief; and may our faith abound to call on you when you are near and seek where you are found.” Amen. (NCH, 256, 3)
NCH #502 - Dear God Embracing Humankind
Bless all of us who trust the promise: without seeing, we believe! Thanks be to God! Amen.
Go Now In peace