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Sunday sermon 16 August 2015 – Secret Disciples, and Jewish insomniacs

Sunday 16 August 2015

Readings: John 3:1-21; John 19:38-42

We had a great time here at Tuesday church on Tuesday – and started thinking about this passage from John 3. Nicodemus is the man here – a member of the ruling Jewish Council – who comes to see Jesus at night. Perhaps he has insomnia. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be seen with this controversial preacher from Galilee.

What I love about the interaction they have is the way Jesus gives answers to questions that are not asked. But they are questions that need answering! I think if he showed up here, the same thing could happen. We might think we have relevant questions or comments – but really what matters is what he says. After all, he knows best does he not?

On Wednesday at home group we were talking about which gospel is best recommend for new Christians to read. Rob Harley in his talk suggested John’s gospel. Some of us had different views – preferring Luke for historical accuracy with his sequel in Acts, or Mark’s Gospel for brevity.

John in this gospel account takes us on this amazing journey of signs and responsive teachings by Jesus. Things progress quite quickly at the beginning.  There’s a prologue in chapter 1. Then there’s John the Baptist identifying Jesus. Then Jesus’ encounter with his first followers. Then there was the interesting engagement Jesus has with Nathanael.

In chapter 2 there’s the first major sign Jesus does at a wedding – turning water into wine (with his mum getting involved!). There must have been others. In any case he cleanses the temple in chapter 2 as well – and at the end of the chapter John lays out the difficulty here: Joh 2:23  Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. Joh 2:24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. Joh 2:25 He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

And in the very next chapter (chapter 3) John gives an example of a particular man:  Verse 1 reads: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.

The water into wine sign, together with whatever else Jesus had done, certainly got this specific man going – this Jewish guy with the Irish sounding name. Listen to what he says (after knocking on the door where Jesus was that evening):

He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2)

You always wonder what people are up to when they say something nice about you, and follow it by a “but there’s this problem…”. Jesus gets to the heart of things. I love the response – “I tell you the truth”.  Those “verily verily” sayings (as translated by the KJV).

This has to get your attention. Tom Wright translates it like this: ‘Let me tell you the solemn truth,’ Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-10 Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 27). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Joh 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

The question was – which we talked about on Tuesday – if you were to live your life again, would you do the same things – follow the same career, or do things differently? In the conversation I had with my son – who asked me this very question – I was clear that I would not want to go to school again. He was surprised – he thought I liked school. I didn’t like the bullying. What he didn’t know was that I was always the youngest in my whole grade. That can be tricky.

I reckon the best answer about the decisions you make comes from the wife of Billy Graham when speaking on prayer. She said something like this: “I am glad that God didn’t answer all my prayers. If he did I would have married the wrong man – more than once!”

Nicodemus’ question is reasonable – if you think only in terms of this world and the one shot we have at life. He says this: Joh 3:4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

This time he gets a real answer to his question – with an upgrade. Not only will you not see the Kingdom of God (which is the heart of Jesus’ teaching and the first major request in the Lord’s Prayer which shapes what we pray for afterwards too).

You won’t enter it either: Listen again:

Joh 3:5  Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

Joh 3:6  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Joh 3:7  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

Joh 3:8  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

 This bright lad with all the training is left scratching his head:

Joh 3:9  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

And this time he gets a real lecture:

Joh 3:10  “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

Joh 3:11  I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

Joh 3:12  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

The rest is history – as they say. John 3:16 forms part of that lecture that Nicodemus gets. Of course what we don’t know is who told John so that the story of the man who came to Jesus at night turns up in John’s gospel.

Like Thomas later in the gospel, questions get thorough answers in John’s gospel. Great teaching comes out of bad interviews. (Remember Thomas – when Jesus talks about where he is going in John 14:

 Joh 14:4  You know the way to the place where I am going.” Joh 14:5  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Joh 14:6  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Thanks Thomas.

We don’t hear much more about Nicodemus. He appears once in John 7 where he sticks up for Jesus on the basis of natural justice. He gets shut down.

Joh 7:43  Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.

Joh 7:44  Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Joh 7:45  Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

Joh 7:46  “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared.

Joh 7:47  “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted.

Joh 7:48  “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?

Joh 7:49  No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

Joh 7:50  Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked,

Joh 7:51  “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”

Joh 7:52  They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

Joh 7:53  [Then each went to his own home.

And then there is Jesus’ funeral. Listen again to what we heard in the second reading today:

Joh 19:38  Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.

Joh 19:39  He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.

One gets the feeling that it’s like sending too many flowers to a funeral – maybe out of regret.

Nicodemus – still recognised as the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.

Joseph of Arimathea is there: Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. Secret disciples. And the one that came to see Jesus by night.

Was Nicodemus a disciple?

I’m not really sure. Luckily for Joseph John wrote his gospel quite late in the piece. If Galatians was the earliest book in the New Testament to be written – John’s gospel is probably the last. Had it been written early – I guess Joseph of Arimathea would have lost his category of one of the earliest secret disciples!

It is a challenge for others too – for the wrong reasons. Later on in John 12 we read:

Joh 12:42  Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;

Joh 12:43  for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

I recommend you read John. Listen to Tom Wright on this book:

The gospel of John has always been a favourite for many. At one level it is the simplest of all the gospels; at another level it is the most profound. It gives the appearance of being written by someone who was a very close friend of Jesus, and who spent the rest of his life mulling over, more and more deeply, what Jesus had done and said and achieved, praying it through from every angle, and helping others to understand it. Countless people down the centuries have found that, through reading this gospel, the figure of Jesus becomes real for them, full of warmth and light and promise. It is, in fact, one of the great books in the literature of the world; and part of its greatness is the way it reveals its secrets not just to high-flown learning, but to those who come to it with humility and hope. (So here it is: John for everyone!). Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-10 Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) . SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Epilogue:

Of course there is this final question. We know that you can’t be a secret disciple in some places. And daily people are being martyred for being Christ followers.

And in some places it is wise not to publicise your faith – especially if you put others at risk.

What about me and you? Are we also lurking in the night or being secret followers of Jesus? Perhaps we are also John 12:43 followers unwilling to confess our faith publicly – as John puts it – “for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”

Are we going to be remembered like Nicodemus and Joseph? Or would it be better to be remembered like Nathaniel or perhaps Thomas.

Its worth reading John’s gospel to reflect on this.

Amen. Amen.

Sunday 27 April 2014 – Doubting and believing 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.

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)

Sunday Sermon 15 April – finding and following Jesus

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 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:

  • 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.
  •  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 peace into 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!

And so:

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.” 

Easter Sunday Sermon 2011 – review and reminder

Readings: John 21:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Sermon:

Do you remember the song:  “I can see clearly now the rain has gone”

Here it is:

I can see clearly now the rain has gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s going to be a bright, bright sunshiny day

I think I can make it now the pain has gone
And all of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day

Look all around there’s nothing but blue skies
Look straight ahead nothing but blue skies

I think I can make it now the pain has gone
And all of the bad feelings have disappeared
I can see clearly now the rain has gone
It’s gonna be a bright, bright
Sunshiny day
Test time – who wrote the song? Johnny Nash. When? 1972. If you know that – you’re no spring chicken, pardon the pun.

It ages me – and many of you! It’s a song that has a melody that sticks – like many older songs there is a melody of sorts!

When thinking about Mary on Easter Sunday – this song came to mind.

It’s the seeing clearly thing that intrigues me.

Do we see things clearly? Or is our judgment and view of life confused?

I want to suggest that the resurrection is in fact the lens through which we should be seeing everything.

So back to Mary to see this – a woman who knew sin and forgiveness – and the amazing grace through which Jesus takes the most broken of us and restores us to health again – in the sense of being whole forgiven and reborn people.

It’s dark when she gets to the tomb. In John’s account anyway. Mark’s Gospel places this visit “very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen,”

I suspect that John’s reflection places this in the dark for good reason – the theme of light and darkness in his gospel is central.

But more than that – there is the darkness Mary is in. How hard it must have been for her to see the man die who had restored her to a dignified life. People who lose the plot through unhelpful choices – whose lives are burnt out and tainted by failure, or overwhelmed by darkness – who then find love or light only to lose it again – are in danger of a deeper darkness.

You only have to work with the depressed to see that – or feel it, because it’s too dark to see.

Writers have suggested that the darkness is Mary’s darkness. And the exciting thing is the way in which it lifts! Listen to her words initially:

“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

She is in mourning and doing what one would do with the dead – seeking to complete an appropriate burial with dignity. Part of the indignity of crucifixion – apart from being stripped naked – was that often people’s bodies were not buried – but left to rot or be consumed by wild animals.

It’s the body she is looking for. It’s still dark for her.

Confused and shocked, she runs to the leaders of the group – Peter and John – announcing that the body’s gone.

It’s good that two men are fetched. Mary’s testimony as a woman in those days would not have been valid – it required two men. Such was the prejudice of the day that two partially blind men would have been accepted as witnesses, I suspect, rather than one woman with 20=20 vision.

The men are not much better. They’re not seeing clearly either. John – the writer of the gospel writing about himself – says this:

Joh 20:8  Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

Joh 20:9  (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

And then they go home – a clear sign that the lights are not completely on in their minds either. Probably went home to think about it. They certainly aren’t telling people the good news at this point. There’s no proclamation like ours – THE LORD HAS RISEN! HE HAS RISEN INDEED.

Mary stays there. She looks inside the tomb – and gets much more than she bargained for. It’s a lovely thing – that she sees angels. Even though the angels don’t shift her emotions.  Joh 20:13  They ask(ed) her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

Still looking for the body. Someone’s put the body somewhere –disposed of it in an inappropriate way.

Then she sees another someone, who says.

Joh 20:15  “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Still in the dark. Mary. Until she hears the voice – the personal call of her name:

 Joh 20:16  Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  She turn (s) (ed) toward him and cries (cried) out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

One can hear the words of John elsewhere in the gospel:

Jesus words:  “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (10:3-4).

Mary calls him “Rabboni!” Teacher!

There is recognition – that this really is the one who was dead. It doesn’t matter what the scholars say about the words – whether kyrie – translated as “Lord” or “Sir” is higher or lower than “Rabboni” – Teacher – is higher than Sir and less than Lord.

Anybody dealing with a dead person coming alive again would take time to figure out the theological implications and the title doesn’t matter.

“I have seen the Lord” is the stuff of transformation! Death is overcome. Grief is dispelled. Life is changed forever.

The resurrection is the lens by which we see the world from that day on.

And here’s the curious thing – even though our faith depends on this amazing event from the past – the resurrection means that “The present is determined by the future not the past.”

This is the power of hope. The forgiving Jesus who took Mary as one of his disciples despite her shady past gives new impetus to her future. This woman sits down and tells the men! “And she told them that he had said these things to her.”

Some people think that men have been forced to listen to women every since! It settles the idea that women should or should not speak in church, I think!

But this is Mary the messed-up one – she is now the transformed person and the credible witness.

She is given the task to tell then. And she does!

And Jesus backs up her testimony by appearing to the others too – even to Thomas who needed the tactile experience and confirmation.

The resurrection is the lens through which we see the world as Christians. If an apparent defeat and horrendous flogging and execution of an innocent man can lead to a sublime and glorious victory – and a woman like Mary can say with such certainty “I have seen the Lord”, then we need to see our brokenness and despair from this point of view as well.

The present is determined by the future!

We live in anticipation of a complete transformation of all things!

 1Co 15:21  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

1Co 15:22  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive,

says St Paul.

 1Co 15:23  But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

1Co 15:24  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.

1Co 15:25  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

1Co 15:26  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

 I can see clearly now the rain has gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s going to be a bright, bright sunshiny day

Johnny Nash could see things better when the rain stopped and the clouds had gone.

The resurrection ends the misty rain and dark gloomy clouds of all kinds!

It makes no sense to watch 3D movies without the 3D lenses.

Once we’ve seen this – even though we have not seen the Lord like Mary – we have Jesus’ word to Thomas as a reminder:

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.”

We can hear his voice! We can live lives with a completely different agenda! Because we are his agents ushering in a new order.

The Lord has Risen! He has risen indeed! Nothing but blue skies!!!

How are you doing this resurrection day?

Still in the dark? Still looking for the body? Hankering after the past?

Look to the future – and Jesus will take you into it and through it!

Amen.