Apr 24 – Worship Service – Coming To Believe

Apr 17 – Worship Service – Easter Sunday
April 25, 2022
May 1 – Worship Service – Conversion of Ananias
May 3, 2022

Apr 24 – Worship Service – Coming To Believe

Rev Lohnes

Sunday April 24, 2022

Life and Work of our Church

Acknowledging the Territory                                                             

As we begin our worship, we once again acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people.  We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to live with respect upon it, seeking justice and equality for all.    

Lighting the Christ Candle

The light of the Risen Christ shines in our world.
We light this candle to remind us to let Christ’s light shine.

 Call to Worship                                       

Well, the chocolate bunnies have been eaten and all the hidden Easter Eggs have been found … well almost all of them!
We have manager to get through another Good Friday and now Easter is behind us.

But if Easter is behind us, what about the Risen Christ?
All too often we act like Easter is just one day out of the year.

But Easter is a way of living.
And so we gather as an Easter People to worship God.

Opening Prayer (in unison)       

Risen Christ, when the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen you, Thomas replied, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, I will not believe.”  Like Thomas we often allow our doubt and our fear to cause us to question our belief.  We long for proof, for the certainty of things seen rather than unseen.  And yet you tell us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Help us, to believe without seeing and to trust and follow you, now and always.   Amen. 

Gift of Music              Jesus Stand Among Us                                     VU#396

Scripture Reading             

Our Scripture reading today is one of my favorite readings from the Gospel According to John.  It begins on Easter Sunday, late in the evening, and it continues a week later.  It is a passage that is often referred to as the story of Doubting Thomas.

John 20:19-30                                                                                NRSV

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.   Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.”   Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”   Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


Coming to Believe

Over the past few years, a very ancient tradition has been revived that marks the Sunday following Easter as “Bright Sunday” or Holy Humour Sunday.  In medieval times, the entire week following Easter would be devoted to joy and laughter as people celebrated the greatest joke every played, the joke that God played on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.

But the Sunday following Easter has also traditionally been “Doubting Thomas Sunday” when the passage we just heard from the Gospel According to John would have been read.  Personally, I always thought Thomas got a bad rap.  When the women told the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead, we are told that the disciples did not believe them.  If this is true, why is it that only Thomas is labeled as “doubting”?  Why don’t we hear about “doubting Peter” or “doubting John”?  Perhaps it would be more appropriate to name Thomas as the realist, the pragmatist, the skeptic or perhaps as honest Tom. 

Thomas doesn’t try to hide his doubts and uncertainty.  He lays it all out there for everyone to see.  He doesn’t pretend to be anything he is not.  There are times I wish I could be more like Thomas; more open about my innermost thoughts and feelings, less hesitant to let people see my questions and doubts, less afraid to be completely open and vulnerable.

Thomas questions and, yes, Thomas doubts, but is Thomas really so different from the rest of us? 

Perhaps Thomas should not be portrayed, as he has often been in the past, as a cautionary tale about not having enough faith.  Instead, maybe we should see him as a tale of hope, reassuring us that our faith doesn’t have to be unquestioning and unwavering in order to be deep, meaningful and profound.  In fact, it is Thomas, who, upon seeing the risen Christ for himself, responds with the words, “My Lord and my God!” an affirmation of Christ’s divinity that none of the others seem to have yet reached.  They refer to him as Lord and Master, but never God.

I firmly believe that doubt itself is not a sin.  Doubt is very much a normal human reaction to things that cannot be explained, things that just don’t make sense.  Without doubt we would all be extremely vulnerable.  We would be gullible to every kind of scam out there.  Without doubt we would simply accept whatever we were told.  There would also be no reason to question anything which means that scientific exploration and advancement would grind to a halt. 

The problem with doubt is not doubt itself, but in how we respond to it.  If we see doubt as something shameful, if we try to deny or cover up our own doubts then we end up burying them and never having the courage to actually face and overcome them.  And if we refuse to face our doubt, we miss the opportunity to grow as we struggle to find answers that allow us not only to overcome our doubt but to strengthen our faith in the process.

The truth is all of us have doubts.  They may be about our faith, or they may be about other aspects of life, but to deny that we have any doubt whatsoever in any aspect of our lives, is to deny our very humanity. 

Doubt is something we all face at one time or another and when we admit our doubts and uncertainty, when we are willing to wrestle with those doubts, there can be a kind of strength that comes from the struggle.  I believe it takes courage to honestly face our doubts and to deal with them, and this is the kind of strength and courage I see in Thomas.

But there is one other thing in this scripture passage that for me has great meaning.  I asked that the scripture be read today from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible because of the wording of one particular sentence in it.  It is Jesus’ response to Thomas’ doubt.

“Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  What I love about this translation is the phrase, “have come to believe”.  Other translations say things like, “happy are those who believe without seeing me!” or “The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!”  But the New Revised Standard Version says, “Blessed are those who … have come to believe”

For me, this offers a hope that is lacking in the other translations.  I believe that it is true that faith is a gift that we cannot earn, but like many gifts, it is something that needs to be unwrapped.  And unwrapping our faith is not always easy.  Sometimes we have to work at it.  When Jesus says that those who have “come to believe” are blessed, it offers me hope that, even if there are times my faith wavers, even if I struggle, if I am willing to continue to work at it, through the struggle my faith can actually become stronger. 

The faith I learned as a small child simply doesn’t sustain me today.  The childlike idea of God as a bigger and better Santa Claus, who knows if I’ve been bad or good and will reward or punish me appropriately simply doesn’t connect with my adult reality.  There are things in our world today that challenge my faith.  How can a good and loving God allow atrocities such as war, terrorism and genocide to happen over and over again in our world?   How can some people be allowed to accumulate more wealth than they could spend in a thousand lifetimes while others die of starvation because they literally have nothing?  How can life altering illness and debilitating disease strike so randomly at good and loving people while some of the most cruel and selfish people in the world seem to live long lives blessed with wealth and power?

I don’t pretend to have answers to any of these questions, but if I do not at least admit to them, if I do not struggle with the injustice of it all, then I am simply putting my faith in a nice neat little box and separating it from my everyday lived reality.  If I do that, my faith can never grow and I can never “come to believe” in a way that sustains and uplifts me even in the midst of the world’s toughest questions. 

Life doesn’t stand still, and neither should our faith.  If we never move forward in life or in faith, then we miss the opportunity to find new paths that can lead us closer to who we truly want to become and to an understanding of or at least a belief in, a power and grace beyond ourselves, a power and grace that can sustain us in the tough times.  But it takes courage to risk the uncertainty and it takes a lot of hard work.

Perhaps the biggest fear for most people is the risk of losing your faith by questioning it.  I’m sure we all know people who have lost their faith because the faith they desperately cling to simply work for them any more.  The problem is that often, people are unable to let go of what was, in order to see the possibility of what could be.

The disciples had to let go of the teacher and rabbi who had traveled with them for 3 years in order to embrace the Risen Christ who would be with them in a very different way.  They had to let go of all the expectations and hopes they had previously held of what Jesus would do and accomplish socially and politically.  They had to open their hearts and their minds to new possibilities, but before they could do that, they had to let go.

It isn’t enough to “have faith”.  We have to live faith and move forward in faith and sometimes, that involves great risk.  If the disciples, after having encountered the risen Christ, had stayed safely locked in that room, comfortable in the assurance that their faith in Jesus was justified, we would know nothing of Easter today.  But they didn’t stay silent. 

And neither did Thomas.  Thomas questioned.  Thomas doubted.  Thomas struggled with his faith.  But through that struggle and through his own eventual encounter with the Risen Christ, Thomas came to an understand of faith so deep and so profound that he would be the first to proclaim the Risen Christ as, “My Lord and my God!”   

Now I am certainly not saying that the only way to “come to believe” is by following the example of Thomas.  Each one of the other disciples came to their own faith and their own understanding of the resurrection through their own experience.

Following the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, many of those who heard Peter and the other disciples speak, came to believe through their witness. Paul, came to believe because of a sudden life altering experience on the road to Damascus.  Timothy came to believe through his mother and grandmother and through listening to the teachings of Paul. 

Many of us here have “come to believe” through our parents or grandparents.  But we continue to grow in our faith through the experiences we have, through the people around us who share their faith stories with us, and through the stories of these early disciples.

So, whether your faith is nurtured by Paul, by Peter, by John, by Timothy or even by Thomas, however you have come to believe, know that you are indeed blessed and that through your faith you too can be a blessing to others.  Amen

Gift of Music              You Tell Me That the Lord is Risen                VU#185

We Offer Our Gifts

As followers of the Risen Christ, we are call to care for one another.  One of the ways we do this is with the financial gifts we offer for the work of this church, both locally and around the world.  Here at Beacon, we do that by placing our gifts on the offering plates at the back of the church, or by making arrangement to give through Par or through online donations.  And so, as we sing our offertory response, let us bring forward those gifts. 

Offertory Response             What can I do?  What can I bring?        MV#191

What can I say?  What can I sing?

I’ll sing with joy.  I’ll say a prayer. 

I’ll bring my love.  I’ll do my share. 

Offertory Prayer

As we offering these gifts today, Divine One, we ask your blessing not only upon these gifts, but upon all the gifts we give and upon us as we continue to offer you all that we can.  Amen.

We Offer Our Prayers

As well as our financial gifts we also bring to God our prayers.  Let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our Prayer Jar as well as for all the people and situations, both personal and global, that are in our hearts and minds this day … Amen

Minute for Mission

Prayers of the People

Divine Mystery, you call us to be people of faith, but all too often we are people of doubt.  We doubt that love can grow again in relationships that have been shattered by anger, bitterness or betrayal.  Yet you teach us about the strength of love and the power of prayer.  Help us to forgive those who have hurt us.  Help us to make amends when we have hurt others.  Help us to continually work to strengthen and repair our relationship with you and all the relationships in our lives …

We doubt that peace can ever be achieved in the Middle East, in Syria, in Ukraine or in Israel and Palestine.  We see hatred and violence, racism and discrimination, thirst for power and a disregard for the lives of others.  Our hearts break and our hope fades.  But you know that even where we cannot imagine the possibilities, your peace can overcome.  Help us to stand up and speak out for peace.  Help us to be faithful peacemakers …

We doubt that all the hungry around the world can every be fed.  We feel helpless as we see droughts, floods and wildfires often caused by human abuse of our earth, destroy crops and leave people with no means of feeding themselves and their families.  We despair when war and political conflict deprive people of food, water and the essentials of life.  And yet you have blessed us with a world where there is enough for all.  Help us to share generous and faithful, what we have.  Help us to work together to bring about change that would benefit those most in need …

This morning we offer a special prayer for all those who are filled with doubts … those who wonder if change is really possible … those who question their own worth and their own ability to make a difference in the world … those who doubt whether prayers really make a difference or whether you exist at all … those who doubt the very purpose of life and who face feelings of meaningless and despair … 

Lastly, we pray for ourselves.  We long for deeper faith to sustain and renew us … 

Divine One, so often we see only the impossibility of a situation, but you specialize in impossibilities.  Even death could not stop your impossible dream.  Grant us the faith to continue to turn to you trusting in the impossibility of your love, even through our times of doubt.  We ask all of this in the name of our risen lord.  Amen.

Gift of Music              Hey Now!  Singing Hallelujah!                       MV#121

Sending Out

We are all disciples.  We each have our own faith and our own understanding of what that means, but we share a common desire to live into and out of our faith, as we strive to draw ever closer to the One we follow.  And so, as we leave here today, let us remember that we are not alone.  God is with us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirit accompanies us, now and always.  Let us go with God.

Choral Blessing                                                                             VU#416

Forth in your name, O Christ we go, our daily labour to pursue,
You, only you, resolve to know in all we think, or speak, or do.

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