- Rev. Sandra Larson
April 19 At-Home Worship
Updated: Aug 3, 2020
Bless you with replenishing, meaningful, and fun endeavors!
MUSIC SUGGESTIONS Click here for video: Anthem Lord, Lead Us On Union Chancel Choir
Sandy’s friend from Eugene: Click here: Chris Keady plays John Ireland's Month's Mind
Spirit of the Living God (Red hymnal #297, Blue #322)
Breathe on Me, Breath of God (Red hymnal #295, Blue #316)
ACTIVITY for your whole family/with friends. Read the Gospel of John. It is awesome writing and the greatest story ever told—adventure, intrigue, mystery, and heroism beyond imagining. Enjoy! Discuss new insights, questions…and doubts. George and I would love to talk with you about it, too.
All is well with my soul. And if it is not, God's spirit is with me to help and guide me. All is well with my soul.
MUSIC see list above or find a meaningful or favorite song or hymn on YouTube
PRAYER by Cameron Wiggins Belim
May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake. May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable. May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making the rent. May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options. May we who have to cancel our trips remember those that have no safe place to go. May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all. May we who find disruption and discomfort in a quarantine at home remember those who have no home. As fear grips the world, let us choose love. When we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, inspire us to find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.
All those in our congregation who are grieving or fragile in health or finances
Union Church as new possibilities emerge
Ourselves and loved ones near and far
GOSPEL LESSON John 20:19-31
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 Jews, 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 over and over again*, "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.
*Greek “to tell” is a continuous verb form: they continued to tell him.
SERMON MEDITATION Doubts—Trust Me: You Want to Hear This
Click here for video: https://youtu.be/oWiprW359EA
MUSIC AND REFLECTION
Reflect on doubts that may have arisen for you. Later today talk with a trusted friend or Sandy/George. We share this journey.
May Christ's joy and peace of mind go with you. And may you experience being beloved, and that wherever you are, you will be growing and discovering new gifts of faith. AMEN.
DOUBTS John 20:19-29 NRSV Rev. Sandy Larson
You probably do NOT want to think about doubts—especially when pandemic and economic uncertainty loom. Yet each of us probably has doubts about the future. With sheltering in place—we may also have more conscious doubts about relationships with people or doubts about our own self-confidence.
Doubts are hard to admit, even to ourselves. Doubts are not easy to acknowledge because we resist admitting uncertainty and vulnerability. However, we have learned from experience that sublimating thoughts or feelings can stress our wellbeing. Doubts about God are especially hard to admit because doubt may seem to put our faith in jeopardy. Yet we all have questions from time to time. The risks of doubt about faith can seem daunting: Do we fear that doubt will cause our faith to crumble? Will disclosing our doubt cause other Christians to judge or avoid us? In light of huge challenges today, will our faith be strong enough?
Let’s take a careful look at doubts. Rather than allowing uncertainty to eat away at us, acknowledging doubt is a first step toward growing in faith.
Let’s RE-imagine the story about doubting Thomas in the Gospel of John: For a whole week after the first appearance of Jesus, the other disciples told Thomas, "We've seen the Lord! We're not making it up. We've seen him!" Thomas probably felt left out and even peeved, thinking "Yeah right. I'm having enough trouble with him being gone without your outlandish tales about Jesus reappearing. Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, I just can't believe it."
Thomas is most often negatively depicted as a skeptic and doubter. Yet haven’t we all experienced some aspect of faith that we found difficult to believe? I have doubted the existence of a human-like devil; I have doubted the reality of angels…and still wonder about an impending apocalypse. Most of us do not like to admit even to ourselves that we have doubts. Christians do not like to admit to others that we have doubts or questions about generally accepted Christian tenants. Some comedic guru has a solution: When in doubt, mumble. This is more than a humorous issue. Spiritual doubts seem to imply Unfaithfulness. We fear that others will be uncomfortable with us if we openly question miracles, resurrection, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit or the absolute power of God. Yet we would either be lying or unthinking if we never wondered about things like, does God really answer prayers; or if God is all loving, why does God allow pain and evil?
I rather admire Thomas. Thomas was honest and did not let things slide, despite the other disciples telling him to just believe. In Greek, the verb "to tell" is a continuous verb: the disciples continued to tell him, “We've seen the Lord! We're not making it up. We've seen him!" For a whole week, Thomas continued to hang around with the disciples and they continued to tell him, "We've seen the Lord!" Thomas continued to say, "Unless I see the marks in his hands and his pierced side, I can't believe.” Thomas had courage to stand up to his comrades, rather than sublimating his doubts. Thomas had an insatiable desire to understand Jesus and to find out what had become of him.
God doesn't push doubters aside. God is big enough to handle our toughest questions. A faith that doesn't have room for doubts has little room for wonder, mystery, or imagination. History testifies that Christian faith has room for more than we can possibly imagine.**
I’m convinced that Jesus appreciated Thomas’ inquiring spirit. Jesus responded positively to Thomas doubt; and Thomas’ faith grew because he addressed his skepticism.
Jesus offered to let Thomas touch the hole in his side. The story does not tell whether or not Thomas touched Jesus' wounds. This omission suggests he didn't ultimately need to have physical proof. The story leaves it open for listeners to decide—Do I need physical proof to squelch my doubts? Confronted by the gracious presence and offer from Jesus, Thomas exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" The presence of his Lord touched his heart. He may be the first person to ever declare Jesus not only as Lord, but also as God. Doubting Thomas, or better yet, honest Thomas became faithful, bold, believing Thomas.
Thomas did not scoff or discount what the others claimed. According to the original Greek Text, Thomas was a-pistos—which means un-trusting or not-believing. What Jesus says is translated well in NRSV: blessed are those who have trusted.* Yet Jesus warned Thomas and all generations to come: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Thomas gets a bad rap as "doubting" Thomas. He is not widely recognized as the disciple who first evangelized Iran and evangelized India until he was killed--for his faith. We might never have even heard that. We’ve heard emphasis on Thomas saying, "I'm not going to believe it." Hebrews 11 [v.1] declares “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” [Hebrews 11.1] We would like to be among those who have not seen and yet believe, but most of us are more like Thomas than we care to admit.
So…what are the pro’s and con’s of acknowledging doubt—especially spiritual doubts? What is GOOD about doubt? We can address our doubts/fears. The widespread devastation of pandemic shakes our faith. We are healed or remain broken, depending on how we face (or ignore) fears and doubts. We can face our fears and doubts or else armor ourselves with an immobilizing shield of denial. Doubt is a means to grow and mature. There would be something odd about a person who does not doubt. Something in their powers of observation would be "turned off!" Their apprehension of reality would be naive and childish. Doubt is not turning our back on faith, but thinking about it. Working through the process by asking sometimes tough questions is the way we learn and grow. If we keep seeking. We can develop more faith from reflecting and questioning than in just saying something without thinking about it. As Tennyson famously wrote, "There is more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds."
Facing our doubts can ultimately lead to faith. A key question is whether we will acknowledge our inevitable and healthy doubts and honestly address them until we find an answer? Will we trust God enough to question parts of what Christians are taught—so that we can find answers rather than living in petrified uncertainty? Will we be stuck with skepticism or will we trust God even in this crisis-ridden world?
Honesty about doubt can lead to resolving the doubt. Open confession of doubt can lead to deeper faith. This is not Christianity to wear as a costume to impress others. It's faith that comes from the depths of the soul. It's a faith that can transforms our lives. It's the sort of faith that I want. And I expect you do too.
Acknowledging our doubts or wounds can empower us to empathize with others who feel confused or hurt. The story about Thomas closes the earliest version of the Gospel of John. It ends like this: “…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." Jesus says in John 10:10, “I have come that you may have life in all its fullness.” Will we believe this? Will we trust that “in all its fullness” means harmony between all people, and between people and the biosphere itself? Will we trust enough to act on this? Christians face two dangerous approaches to faith. One is faith without any doubt, a faith so impatient with Thomas that it would cast him out for asking questions. Then, there is the opposite: criticism without faith. The world seduces many people away from the mysterious love of God. Many Christians do not doubt such criticisms of Christianity enough to double check their own faith. Faith without questions and doubt offers hope but shortchanges grace. Cynicism or shucking faith blocks hope and grace.
Thomas’ faith admitted doubt and questions. Thomas openly faced loss, suffering, and exploded hopes. He also sensed what he really needed. He doesn't deny his doubts or his faith. The story of Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Christ tells listeners that there is room for each of us to find deeper faith.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, We ask for your Spirit to be present with everyone who is struggling with their relationship with you or with other people. May they have confidence that you invite their questions. May they believe that you welcome them and will be with them through good times and bad.
*There is also a curious text dispute concerning the tense of the verb “to believe” in John 20:31. Text critics seem to be divided between those who think the Greek word which would mean “so that you may believe” or “so that you may keep on believing”) If John is writing to a missionary context when readers of this gospel are not yet believers, then ”so that you MAY believe” makes sense to generate faith. If John is writing to an established Christian community, then “so that you may keep on believing” makes most sense in bolstering a faith already present. Most translations skirt the issue by translating it “that you may believe” which could go either way. This may be similar to how in an Assurance of Pardon we pastors may say to the congregation, “Believe the Gospel—your sins are forgiven!” knowing that some who hear those words have believed that for a long time already and are now re-celebrating that belief even as some who maybe have not believed before could be called to faith via that same expression. Maybe that ambiguity works in also John 20:31. Those who believe find their faith deepened each time they read this gospel but those who have not known Jesus as Messiah before may well come to belief via that same gospel witness. —Scott Hoezee
**The Bible is surprisingly supportive of those with doubts. Abraham and Sarah were unsure of the message of God and were still chosen. Job doubted the love of God and yet God ultimately answered Job in the whirlwind. In Mark's Gospel, we hear of a father who came seeking healing for his son and help for his unbelief and Jesus healed and helped. We know from the great commission passage in Matthew that followers of Jesus had doubts about parts of the faith, and this was after Jesus' resurrection. We would expect some doubting after the crucifixion, but after the resurrection, the disciples actually saw Jesus with their own eyes, and they still had doubts. And, of course, Thomas asked to see the holes in Jesus' sides.