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8 April 2018 Sunday Message – Behind that locked door.

Reading: John 20:19-31

Message

I was talking to someone about how short this week was.

It seemed shorter for me. Tuesday was a write-off. I did mindless things like fixing stuff.

I didn’t even have the energy to tidy my desk though. That seemed too much.

I’ve often wondered why they call this Sunday “low Sunday” – this and the one after Christmas I think. Maybe the preachers are just flat from being flat out.

So we had this conversation – what if you just put a video on and watched in instead of a sermon?

Or if the preacher got up and said – “nothing to say today”.

Which reminded me of this story.

In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”

Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.”

Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.”

This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”

So, another friend and I looked at this passage for today.

There are so many choices. Things we could look at.

  • Like why the door was still locked a week later. When most of them had seen Jesus the first week. And why does one translation say the door was locked the first week and shut the second? (NRSV). Is the same word. Do translators have too much power?
  • What was Jesus doing when he breathed on them? Was this John’s description of Pentecost? (Genesis 2:7)
  • Do we really have the power to forgive peoples’ sins or not to forgive them? Is this where the Catholic idea of absolution comes from?
  • Is this the actual birth of the church?
  • Was Thomas really a doubter? Or was he just someone with Sherlock Holmes kind of talents.
  • Did he have a twin? Was his twin like Thomas? Did he believe or doubt? Or she? Could his twin have been Lydia of Philippi who traded in purple cloth? (Acts 16:19)
  • Why did Jesus keep saying “Peace be with you”?
  • What about verse 30? What were those other signs that are not recorded?
  • Do we have life in his name? Is this the abundant life he spoke about before in John 10:10? Is it abundant – “life to the full?” Or are we actually riding on empty?

(I love the Bishops Bible that preceded the KJV –  “I am come, that they myght haue lyfe, and that they myght haue it more aboundauntly.” (1576)

SOME THOUGHTS THEN

Last week we saw how Jesus called Mary by name – and how that opened her eyes to see he wasn’t the gardener.

This passage records these two visits by Jesus in a locked room a week apart.

In the first visit he breathes on them symbolically. The word for WIND and SPIRIT are the same here.

This is worth looking at a bit more carefully.

It follows their commissioning –  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.

Before his ascension and before the day of Pentecost – without a fuss – he turns the disciples into apostles – sent ones.

And empowers them.

If you are a reader of the whole of John’s gospel, you would join the dots.

From chapter 14:

Joh 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. Joh 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17  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. Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Joh 14:26  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

In chapter 15:

Joh 15:26  “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.

And chapter 16:

Joh 16:13  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

All of these verses sound a bit more dramatic than just having Jesus breathe on you.

You can understand why some people think this is a first instalment of some sort. Because Pentecost is far more dramatic isn’t it. And life changing.

I mean if you carry on from our Messy Church talk on Friday about Peter – you would have to add that Peter preached that ONE big sermon in Acts 2 that was the launch of a new bold person in every possible way.

TWO OTHER THINGS TO FOCUS ON TODAY:

Firstly:

  1. “Doubting” Thomas.

Was he really a doubter?

Think about John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.

This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).

They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:

Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him!”

Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life

Apart from his track record of courage, one thing gets my attention today:

It’s this – that Jesus was deeply and personally interested in him so much that in the second appearance he speaks to him directly. He recognises Thomas’ need.

And I think translations which say “stop doubting and believe” get it wrong.

It literally means – “do not disbelieve but believe”. Don’t be an unbeliever. That makes him no different from the rest. The rest of the disciples. And us. We all have these journeys as we come to faith.

Secondly:

     2.  Peace be with you.

Do you need His peace?

We’ve talked before about the power of grief.

Jesus repeats this peace greeting because they would have been slow to recover from this terrible and unjust Good Friday death.

Watch the passion of the Christ again – the movie.

You don’t walk away from that kind of event feeling peaceful.

They needed some assurance.  And so do we.

He still speaks to us – don’t live in unbelief. Trust me.

Here – let my peace uphold you.

And we too are sent – commissioned – to go in His name and share his peace.

And at the heart of our mission IS forgiveness.

W receive it. We celebrate it. We model it. We extend it to others through grace.

And we don’t always dish it out too quickly because we have to remind each other that our sins as human beings are actually serious. Deadly serious. Serious enough for Jesus to die for them.

It’s no surprise that ‘repent’ was part of John’s preaching (the baptiser), Jesus’ message, and Peter’s and the other apostles.

We have to turn away from our old ways and turn back to God again and again.

He says to you too today:

Don’t stay in unbelief. Trust in me (Jesus).  

Peace be with you.

Amen.

 

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Easter reflection – the Jesus we present

Readings: Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31

 Act 4:32  All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all

Act 4:34  that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales

Act 4:35  and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joh 20:19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Joh 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Joh 20:22  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Joh 20:23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Joh 20:24  Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

Joh 20:25  So the other disciples 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.”

Joh 20:26  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!”

Joh 20:27  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.”

Joh 20:28  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Joh 20:29  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Joh 20:30  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

Joh 20:31  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 MESSAGE

So we’re building loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus!

We saw a “Where’s Wally” puzzle this week. I’m glad I didn’t have to attempt it – or to find Wally!

Finding Jesus is an interesting idea. It assumes one of two things (or both I guess)

  • People are looking for Jesus
  • Jesus is lost!

Are people really on a search today? For fame maybe – or fortune. Money or meaning in life. Or meaning in money or mammon (the Bible’s term for worldly wealth) – the power of consumerism is still a major challenge. I suspect they are looking for something really – although many are not cognitively searching (using their minds) but rather surviving. Most families should not be vilified, though – they are working hard and providing for their children in an admirable way. Making ends meet, is the common term used.

The early church is sometimes set up as a model or paradigm for us today – on the assumption that there are enough similarities between people then and this generation to cause us to aim to be like the early church in every way.

Whether we aspire to be like the early church or not – we are very different. For example:

  • Few of us are Jewish (as in Acts 4)
  •  – verse 32 is challenging: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

We are not there yet. Put a bunch of Presbyterians together and it’s more like a fruit salad – often in the same bowl but not much agreement!

  • Few of us liquidate our assets and lay the funds at the feet of their spiritual leaders. There were no needs in the community because of this giving
  • Few of us can have this said of us: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.”

The story of Easter and the resurrection had clearly galvanised them into a powerful little group who were counter-cultural in a lot of ways. I think we are challenged by this passage from Acts – if we want community we need to broaden our thinking.

The Gospel reading today gives us a clue about how people connect to Jesus and Jesus to people. There are two things that spoke to me as I read this passage again:

  1. Jesus offered peace to the people he encountered. As the Prince of peace that makes sense. I’m not sure that we reflect that – we are often like people on the warpath with our opinions and views.

 Jesus declares “peace be with you” and shows them his hands and side. Why? He’s pointing them to the reality of the resurrection.  It was to this startling fact that the early church in the book of Acts pointed too. Listen again to what we heard:

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all

  1. Jesus offered a personal relationship to those who struggled to believe. Like Thomas – who unfortunately is remembered as “doubting Thomas” rather than “Honest Thomas”.

 So what was Thomas battling with? The resurrection I should think. He wanted evidence – he wanted to see for himself and touch those wounds.

 Thomas wasn’t there the first time. A week later Jesus does one of those Houdini acts – not escaping from a locked room but getting into one again. And he speaks to Thomas:

“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

 Even the men on the A team had things they had to work through!

 I wonder if it’s too big a step to take to say that Jesus still wants to speak peaceinto our lives and to speak to our individual needs and doubts – and our fears.

 We may well be in some locked rooms too – and we may be surprised that Jesus might want to join us and engage us in a conversation. Make a connection.

 I don’t think faith comes easily for some people. It’s possible that more of us are like Thomas than we are honest enough to admit.

 So we hide our thoughts and feelings – afraid of our own authorities – our leaders perhaps who we think will pounce on us if we are uncertain – or at least if we don’t exhibit their great faith.

That’s why it’s really important that we don’t preach at each other – forcing our particular way of seeing things on others.

There’s nothing more discouraging than a simplistic “well if you would only obey Jesus – He will sort it all out and everything will be fine”.

 “Trust and obey” is a lot easier to sing than to do when things are tough.

 If I was going to sing a song in times of trouble – I would rather see Jesus as a “bridge over troubled waters” or I would prefer “what a friend we have in Jesus” praying – “bear my griefs Lord”.  Or I would sing “Still” which is one of my favourites right now:

 Hide me now

Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hand

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father you are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father You are king over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

 The Jesus we present to the world – and the Jesus that should be seen in our communities (and I am thinking of small groups mostly where community really works (Someone once said there is no such thing as a congregation – it’s just a collection of small groups) – the Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus who causes there to be no needs – where people liquidate assets to make sure others have what they need – because of compassion and kindness and sacrificial living – and of course the clear idea from His teaching that treasure on earth is not the main thing – rather eternal treasure in heaven!

 The Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus therefore that makes it possible for our communities to be truly loving – honest – sorting out things – caring enough to face the truths of our messy lives in a safe place. How do you think they managed to get to that place where there were no needs among them? Simple – they talked about their needs! SO different from us who put our private use of money in a “private” basket.  Funny thing is that Jesus spoke of what we do with our money a lot!

 The Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus who shows up in the rooms we try to hide in and says PEACE BE WITH YOU. You can’t really open your life to this peace unless you acknowledge the storm! The moment people say to me (of something really messy) – Ah it’s all sorted – then I know they’re probably hiding it away – that pride is probably winning the war!

The Jesus we present and should see:

  • IS the Jesus who knows exactly what your doubts and fears are and will meet you at your point of need.
  • IS the Jesus who is so fascinating and attractive – so intriguing and so loving – that people will be drawn to Him when they see Him in us!

 What an enormous challenge! Are we remotely like Jesus?

 Are you? Do want to be? Is it worth the cost?

 And is the Jesus we present this Jesus? Or some other kind of person cut out from a few verses of the Bible?

 What amazing love – what sacrifice – the Son – the One Son of God – given for me! Taking my deepest pains and fears and anxieties to himself!

 So that I can be free!

 When we break the bread today – when you take some bread – if you dare to take it – you may well be taking the risk of becoming like that body – broken!

This Lord of all says he calls us friends.

The Creator of all becomes a servant – and calls us to serve too.

This greatest Lover of the world – calls us to love others too – no matter what we think about their theology or worship – their faith or lack of faith – their beliefs or their doubts.

When they find and follow Jesus – the most amazing things can happen.

 When we find this Jesus – and discover what He is really like – and follow Him – who knows how exciting that can be!

 Joh 20:19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Joh 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

(Republished from 15 April 2012)

Sunday sermon 7 April 2013 – “Doubting Thomas”

Text: John 20:19‑31

Sermon

Children aren’t afraid to ask questions or even to express some doubts.

David Heller in his little book, DEAR GOD: CHILDREN’S LETTERS TO GOD, has some questions children have asked…

 Dear God, What do you think about all those movies made about you around Easter time? I think they’re kind of corny, myself. Your buddy, Charles (age 9)

 Dear God, When Jonah was in the whale, was it a he whale or a she whale? Mike (age 7)

 Dear God, What do you do with families that don’t have much faith? There’s a family on the next block like that. I don’t want to get them in trouble, so I can’t so who. See you in church, Alexis (age 10)

 Dear God, When I grow up will I have to fight in the army? Will there be a war? I’m not chicken or anything. I just want to know in advance. Terry (age 10)

 Dear God, I have doubts about you sometimes. Sometimes I really believe. Like when I was four and I hurt my arm and you healed it up fast. But my question is ‑ if you could do this why don’t you stop all the bad in the world? Like war. Like diseases. Like famine. Like drugs. And there are problems in other people’s neighborhoods too. I’ll try to believe more, Ian (age 10)

 Dear God, Want to hear a joke? What is red, very long, and you hear it right before you go to sleep? Give up? A sermon. Your friend, Frank (age 11)

Today’s Gospel reading  is about a man who was like a child when it came to questions. If he had one, he asked it. If he had a doubt, he expressed it. His name was Thomas. Most of us know him as “Thomas ‑ the Doubter” or “Doubting Thomas.”

I want us to take a little closer look at Thomas, for I think he’s not always been treated fairly. In fact, I think we who live in an age that questions everything can learn something from Thomas about how to handle our questions and doubts. And we have them. It’s not always easy for us to believe. We are more like Thomas than we know or care to admit. And I suggest to you that that’s not so bad. For if we can use our doubts and questions like Thomas did ‑ to help strengthen our faith ‑ then we will be better disciples of Jesus Christ.

If we had only the first three Gospels, the only thing we would know about Thomas is his name ‑ for that’s all they tell us.  Thomas is often paired with Matthew as one of the twelve disciples Jesus chose. “Thomas” is the Hebrew word for “twin.” He is also called “Didymus,” which is the Greek word for “twin.” Obviously Thomas had a twin brother or sister who is never named. (One tradition says his twin was Lydia of Philippi, the seller of purple cloth who was converted by Paul).

So we have to look at the Gospel of John to get real insights into just who Thomas was.

Turn with me to John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.

This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).

They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:

Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die  with him!”

Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life. Thomas loved Jesus and was ferociously loyal to him. How many of us have been willing to follow Jesus, to let it be known that we are one of his disciples even if it might cost us greatly?

We also see here that Thomas leaned toward pessimism. “Let us go along with him, so that we can die too!” Thomas tended to expect the worst.

Someone said: pessimist is someone “who can look at the land of milk and honey and see only calories and cholesterol.”

Thomas instructs us even in this. It was difficult for him to follow Jesus for he was a natural born pessimist. It’s easier for an optimist for he always expects the best. But for Thomas, certain as he was that disaster awaited them, this was a tremendous act of faith and loyalty. Just because he was pessimistic, that was no reason to stop following where Jesus led. We, too, must not let a pessimistic attitude keep us from following Christ’s lead, even if we have grave doubts about just where we’re gonna end up.

Now turn to John 14.

Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going away to prepare them a room in the Father’s house. “You know the way that leads to the place where I am going,” he says. But notice what Thomas says in verse 5: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?”

Thomas  wasn’t afraid to ask questions, even to Jesus, when he didn’t understand something. And I’ll tell you this, Jesus never put him down for it or anyone who came to him with an honest doubt or question. For such a person is seeking to believe. The honest doubters and questioners did not bother Jesus as much as the know‑it‑alls, those like the Pharisees who would not open their hearts and minds to the truth he taught.

Thomas had questions. He asked them because he wanted to understand. I can identify with that. All my life I have been full of questions and even some doubts from time to time..

Doubts, questions does not have to be the enemies of faith, but can be an allies. And I tell you something else, if someone has never had any doubts or questions, I wonder if they have ever really thought about their faith or know what they believe. Often we do not really understand what we believe until some question, some doubt arises that makes us pray, study, talk, search for answers.

And I’ll tell you something else. A person who asks questions and even doubts doesn’t mean he or she has no faith. To the contrary, I think it shows that they take their faith seriously, so seriously that they want to understand and grow ‑ just like Thomas.

Now turn with me to John 20.

It’s the first Easter evening. The disciples had gathered behind locked doors out of fear of the authorities. Suddenly, Jesus is with them in the room. They see his hands and side. And they are filled with unspeakable joy. But look at verse 24. It reads,

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin),  was not with them when Jesus came.

I think Thomas wasn’t with them because his heart was broken. He was in deep pain. Just as he thought ‑ it had ended in a disaster even worse than he had imagined. Jesus had been arrest, tried, crucified and been dead three days. It was over. The man he had followed for three years, the man who he loved more than his own life, was dead. To gather with the others was just too painful a reminder of all this. So Thomas chose to withdraw and suffer alone.

Seems to me, my friends, that when we are hurt or in deep distress like Thomas, we have a tendency to do one of two things ‑ withdraw and suffer in silence, cut ourselves off from others, or reach out and embrace our family, friends.

Thomas chose to withdraw. And because he did, he missed out on the one thing that would have turned his sorrow into joy ‑ the presence of the Risen Christ!

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

To withdraw from the fellowship of the Christian family is to miss out on that special sense of the presence of Christ that gives us tremendous peace and joy. And, I think, as Thomas discovered, it is only within that fellowship that we begin to have our questions and doubts resolved.

The disciples, so excited, rush out and find Thomas. They use the very same words that Mary and the other women had used, “We have seen the Lord!” And Thomas makes that reply for which he has become famous or infamous, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (verse 25).

Thomas gets a bad rap because we think he’s the only one who felt this way. Wrong! Luke 24:11 says that when the women came to them and said, “We have seen the Lord!” that no one one believed them. The disciples thought it was nonsense! And here in John 20 we see that they did not believe until they had seen the Risen Lord, his hands and his side. THEN they believed. Thomas was acting no differently than they had. In fact, he’s just more upfront and honest about his doubts.

A week later the disciples gather again and this time Thomas is with them. Like before, Jesus appears to them, “Peace be with you,” he says. Then Jesus turns to Thomas and offers to allow him to touch his hands and his side. We’re not told if Thomas did this. I personally do not think he did. He fell on his knees and said, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas openly admitted his doubts, he faced them, and worked through them to the greatest confession of faith in Christ in the whole New Testament!

Tradition says that after the ascension of Jesus, the disciples divided up the world for evangelism. Thomas got India. There is a church in India that traces its roots back to Thomas. And I understand there’s a Saint Thomas Mount where, I believe, tradition says Thomas was killed while praying. We don’t know if any of this is true, but such faith, loyalty, courage and love for Christ would certainly be in keeping with what we know about Thomas.

So don’t let anyone tell you to stop asking questions or to suppress all your doubts. Ask them. Talk about them with those you trust. Don’t let them drive you away from the Christian fellowship but to it, for chances are the Risen Lord will help answers your doubts and questions as you gather with his people to worship, share, pray and serve. Make your questions and doubts lead you, like Thomas, to a greater faith.

Amen.

(From the archives)