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Sunday Service 28th April




Doubting

28/4/24

                    

Call to worship

Hymn 204: I am the church

 

Talk for all

 

Hymn 212: Morning has broken 

 

Reading: John 20: 19-29 Peter?

Prayer

 

Hymn 363: We have a gospel to proclaim

 

Sermon

Prayer

 

Hymn 694: Brother, sister let me help you 

Benediction

 

 

Welcome to our meditation for 28th April.

Have you ever had any doubts?

You would be a very strange, and scary person, if you had always lived with the assurance that you were right.

But how are we meant to think about doubt?

Should we beat ourselves up about it?

Or accept it as part of growth?

Or maybe something in between?

We will reflect on that after our reading and prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon

What is the one word that we use to describe Thomas?

It is obvious...doubting.

He was doubting Thomas.

 

And in agreeing to that we unconsciously condemn ourselves.

Jesus never calls him doubting Thomas.

And if Jesus never called him that, then why have we?

 

Maybe it is a conditioned thing.

We have called him ‘Doubting Thomas’ because we were taught to call him ‘Doubting Thomas.’

And it wasn’t just a name, it was a condemnation.

The other disciples believed, but doubting Thomas didn’t, and he was to be condemned for that.

 

Isn’t there condemnation in the words of Jesus, ‘Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!’

 

Maybe, there is condemnation there, but I don’t think so, maybe Jesus is just stating a fact.

The disciples could believe because they had seen Jesus, literally seen his life and the way he lived, listened to the learning that he taught and showed in his life.

Future generations wouldn’t have that advantage, so it was up to the disciples to make it real to the next generation by the way they lived their lives and taught.

 

No doubt each generation could say, we can believe because we have seen Jesus work in our lives, but how will the next generation believe, unless they can see Jesus work in our lives.

 

The trouble is that in condemning Thomas, even subconsciously, then we condemn ourselves.

When we say to ourselves, ‘Thomas should have believed because the others believed.’

When we look down on Thomas because of that, when we think of him as a lesser disciple because of his disbelief, then we attack ourselves.

Because...and this is where condemnation of Thomas becomes our condemnation...

if Thomas had no right to doubt when the other disciples believed,

then what right have we to doubt when others seem to find it easy to believe?

 

Surely there is no reason to doubt, we should only have faith, as the disciples had faith.

Thomas was singled out in history because he didn’t have faith.

So doubt is not permissible, doubt is to be frowned upon, doubt is to be condemned.

 

In my humble opinion, this is one of the most dangerous theologies we can have.

 

I have seen too many good people beat themselves up for no good reason over their doubts. Because they believe that doubting is bad.

So as well as dealing with something that has rocked their faith;

like the death of a loved one, the diagnosis of serious illness, suddenly losing their job, relationship problems,

things that understandably shake them, make them rethink life,

they then cut themselves off from others that could help, because they feel they have let the side down by having doubts,

or worse,

they cut themselves off from God because they think that God will be angry with them for having doubts.

 

What if, Thomas is singled out here, but he is not singled out as a condemnation,

what if he is singled out as an example for us to follow?

 

Now I appreciate that that is a big statement, a bold statement.

But let us look at the evidence.

 

First of all the condemnation.

That Thomas doubted when the others believed.

Well I would challenge that statement.

And I would ask what Thomas had done that was unusual or unreasonable.

 

Let us look at the Biblical facts.

In our reading the disciples were gathered together in a locked room.

Thomas isn’t with them.

So the disciples...are they people of faith at that point?

No, they are frightened, scared, they are in a locked room terrified.

They are not disciples of faith.

The disciples are nowhere near the stage of leaving the room and proclaiming with confidence that Jesus has risen.

And in the middle of this closed room Jesus appears and says the words they need to hear, ‘Peace be with you.’

It’s the first words that Jesus says to them because it is the first words they need to hear.

They have no peace in their hearts,

their lives are all over the place,

their minds and hearts are like a storm out of control and they feel powerless and vulnerable.

With Jesus coming to them they suddenly realise that even though the world hasn’t changed, their world has changed, because they now know that Jesus is with them, Jesus will always be with them.

 

Now Thomas isn’t with them at that point.

Is that unreasonable.

Of course not.

The Bible gives us no reason or condemnation for Thomas not being there.

Maybe he was the brave one, he was the one risking his life going out to get food, taking the risk of being captured by the very guards that has caught and crucified Jesus.

Maybe he just needed to process Jesus death on his own.

Maybe he needed solitude to reflect on what Jesus’ death meant to him, away from the noise of the others.

 

All of these things are reasonable.

All of these things might be what we would have done.

And no condemnation is given for his absence.

 

And then he comes back and the disciples have changed.

And it is not that Thomas doubts them.

All Thomas asks is that he has the same experience and expectations as the others.

They got to change their expectations because they saw Jesus face to face, he will change his expectations if he gets to see Jesus face to face.

 

Now here is the question?

How is that different from any of the other disciples?

The other disciples aren’t condemned because they failed to have faith before they saw Jesus resurrected.

So why show we condemn Thomas?

 

So why do we think we are comparing Thomas with the other disciples, when the other disciples go through the exact same process as Thomas will go through.

 

Only that isn’t quite true...

There is one other disciple that went through a different experience.

Judas.

Like Thomas; Judas is not here at this time. Judas is not part of the group.

Judas has gone off on his own.

 

Here’s the important example that the Bible wants us to follow.

This is the lesson that it wants us desperately to learn.

 

You see God doesn’t expect us to just have faith.

God knows us as we are.

God knows that we struggle at times.

God know that we have doubts at times.

The greater the act of faith, often the greater the act of uncertainty, the greater the risk of failure and the greater the possibility of doubts.

That’s part of life, that’s to be expected, and God expects us to have those times of uncertainty and doubt.

But what God wants to give us, is a way to cope with the doubts, the uncertainty.

 

And so he gives us a comparison; two ways for us to compare and asks us to decide for ourselves which is better.

And it is not comparing Thomas with the other disciples,

it is by comparing Thomas with Judas.

 

And here is the comparison...

Both happen not to be with the disciples when Jesus appears,

both are struggling with doubts, both have to cope with those doubts.

But Thomas sticks with the community.

Thomas stays surrounded by the other disciples in his times of uncertainty.

 

When all the disciples are in the same boat of fear before Jesus appears to them, Thomas sticks with the others.

When the disciples are going through different emotions than him, because they are now in a different place, they have seen Jesus, Thomas sticks with them.

 

For a whole week Thomas puts up with the others trying to comfort him with them saying, ‘We have seen the Lord.’

I don’t know which would have found that more frustrating; Thomas who longs to see Jesus, or the disciples who wish Thomas could just believe them.

But Thomas sticks with them.

And because he sticks with them he gets the support and encouragement and help that they are trying to give, until that moment when Thomas himself realises that Jesus is there with him too.

When Thomas struggles with his faith, it is the faith of the others that supports him.

 

Judas is the exact opposite.

He goes off on his own.

He hides from others his doubts and fears, and in the end those doubts and fears and guilt overwhelm him.

Without the support of others in his community Judas can’t cope, and in the end those struggles destroy him.

 

This passage isn’t about condemning us when we have doubts; this passage is about teaching us what to do when we have doubts.

It is about showing us that we need to be more like Thomas at those times;

being honest about where we are, about where our faith is,

and more than anything else, sticking with the community that can support you through those times.

 

So now it is our turn.

What do we do with our doubts?

Do we hide like Judas, try to go it alone, try to put up a brave face and pretend to others that we are doing OK?

Do we only show the very best of ourselves and try to con everyone else that we are invulnerable?

When people try to help us or comfort us do we tell them that we are fine and put on some kind of false smile?

Because I’ll be honest, it fools no one.

What’s worse, it frustrates everyone; because the one person you can’t help is the person that refuses to admit that they need help.

 

Or are we going to take the example of Thomas; to be vulnerable enough to stick with the community, admit where we are struggling and rely on their support until we can see the way forward God wants us to follow?

 

 

 

Let us pray

Heavenly Father,

There are times when we feel apart from others.

Those moments when we feel detached and adrift from the community.

They seem to have perfect lives, content lives, lives of hope and laughter.

 

And while they live in lives secure and happy, we have cried, have worried, have longed for your help.

 

Remind us that in those times in the past that we have faced such struggles that you have turned towards us.

You have raised us from the depths of anxiety, walked with us in our own darkness.

 

And so, we will sing praise to you, holy is your name.

 

Yet we admit, not always.

For there are long paths when we’re alone, our faith is not strong enough, we know Isolation, we have a fear of others and what they say.

It is a lonely path and we cry, “Where are you?”

 

Dare we trust you again, that if we stay in the community that our struggles find healing,

that joy comes in the morning?

That my night of tears might find light again in the sunrise?

 

Holy God,

when it is too easy to make you an easy answer for my faith, and to try to hide behind platitudes.

May our faith find honesty and patience, and hope again

so that eventually the silences find a word of praise,

and faith is restored

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Prayer after reading

Heavenly Father

In the honesty of faith and the reality of life and the questions of belief and the joy we might find

in these things, we praise you.

In the thinness of faith and the heaviness of life and the doubts of belief and the troubles we might find

in these things, we question you.

In the hope of belief and the longing of life and the poetry of faith and the purpose we might find

in these things, we follow you.

In the hurt of doubts and the conflict of life and the prejudice of assurance and the selfishness we might find within ourselves

in these things, we confess our failure to you.

In the possibility of belonging and the creativity of life and the imagination of searching for answers and the renewal we might find

in these things, we find assurance in you.

In the depth of our being and the wholeness of life and the diversity of understanding and the hope we might find in your presence

in these things, may we trust you.

We ask that towards others,

may our living be genuine, and may we turn from what is evil.

May this world hold fast to that which is good, and love one another.

May all leadership find zeal in serving that all may rejoice in hope.

May we all contribute to the needs of others, and find the gift of hospitality towards our neighbours.

Dare we bless those who persecute and knock the present system off its axis!

May we find ourselves weeping with those who weep, and sharing joy with those who can rejoice.

May we find a way of living in harmony with one another and find companionship with the lowly.

Dare the world lay evil aside rather than pay back evil with evil,

but instead find what is noble and respond with the same.

This we ask in Jesus name, and in his name say the words that he has asked us to pray together as a community

Our Father,

Which art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy Name.

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil;

For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever.

Amen.

 

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