Monday, 12 April 2010

11th April 2010

Year C Easter 2
Ashgrove West Uniting Church
Sunday, 11th April 2010.

Call to worship
Psalm 118:14-29 (Responsive) from Uniting in Worship

Hymn Together in Song 376 I know that my Redeemer lives

Prayers of adoration and confession

Loving God
we give you thanks for this season of Easter
for the reminder that you are master and ruler of all
that nothing, not even death, can overcome your will.

We give you thanks for the wonder of the crucifixion
that Jesus did not stop at coming into our world to share our life
but went so far as to share our death

We give you thanks for the miracle of the resurrection
that not satisfied with simply sharing our life and death
Jesus should make a way for us to share in his new life.

We thank you for this season of Easter
for the reminder that nothing can overcome your will
and that your will is to love us completely.

Merciful God
We confess our practical lack of faith
the times we live as if Jesus had not lived, died, and risen for us
or as if that really made no difference to our lives today.

We confess our self-reliance
those times we live as if we can do everything in our own strength
and we don't really need you.

We confess our self-centredness
those times we don't even notice where you are leading
or what the people around us need.

We confess our unworthiness
that despite all you have done we fail to be all the people
you have called us to be.

We are not worthy of your love and forgiveness
Yet, that is what you sent Jesus to give to us.
Help us to accept with open arms,
and to reach out and share this gift with those around us.
In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Declaration of forgiveness

.our sins are forgiven
Thanks be to God.

Kid's time (if Bec doesn't have a children's time, read Max Lucado's “You are Special”)

Hymn Together in Song 719 Big kids, little kids.

Scripture Readings
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

Sermon: Holy Doubt

I had a fascinating telephone call on Monday. A man with an Indian accent, who said he was from Aussie Telecom, offered me a free mobile phone. It would be delivered to my door, and I could use it for a month for up to $350 worth of calls, in fact I could use it for the next three months and never pay for the phone at all. I had a very strong suspicion that if he was offering me a phone for free, there was something he was not yet saying – something that was not free. He might not be telling me a straight-out lie, but the truth was gaining a definite slant. When he finally reached the point in his script where he asked how much I currently paid for my mobile phone, I had an opportunity for the first time since I'd mumbled “hello” to speak. And I said I didn't want to tell him and that I thought he shouldn't ring me because I was on the do not call list. He said that regretfully he couldn't give me the free phone, and hung up. And I wondered how many people would get free phones that would lock them into contracts that they would have to pay for over months or years.

I guess I'm a cynic. When something's too good to be true, I think it's probably not true. (But then I'm such a cynic that I think some of those “true stories” Brian tells us in his sermons might not be entirely true either.) When people send me those chain emails with warnings of horrible things happening, such as you'll grow a second head and your toenails will fall off if you use plastic in the microwave... I don't just forward the emails on. I look it up on the Snopes website, to see whether or not it's true. And because I'm such a killjoy, if it's not true, I tell the person who sent me the email that they've been had.

Maybe my being so mistrusting comes from my time as a journalist, when people told me all sorts of things that could often not be verified. That's why journalists always say “Joe Bloggs said” - because whether or not they could establish what Bloggs said was the truth, they heard him say it, so they know it's true he said it. Of course, if Bloggs has a history of speaking utter rot, most journos will do their best to find another source who can either verify or contradict what Bloggs said.

So maybe it's my background that makes me so untrusting. Of course, there's a lot of people in the world who aren't as suspicious as I am. To those people I want to say: I'm putting together a consortium to take over the Clem 7 tunnel – it's an investment with a guaranteed return at least 2000 percent in the first month – and I can let you into the deal for as little as five thousand dollars. But you have to make a commitment today.

I am such a cynic, I hardly believe anyone, that's why I love Thomas. He's the guy who wouldn't take anyone's word about what seemed too good to be true. He's the one who wanted to have proof. If it weren't for Thomas, we might well hear things like that passage from Revelation, refering to the “firstborn of the dead”, and think it was a line that belonged in a B-grade vampire movie!

Let's recap what's happened for Thomas, up to this point in the story. To say the very least, it had been a rough three weeks. There was the all the excitement of the Palm Sunday procession, with people shouting Hosanna! (which translates to “save us”).

There was the Passover feast, where Jesus took the symbols of the ancient festival, and started talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and telling them that one of them would betray him and the rest would abandon him. That had to be both quite disgusting, and incredibly shocking. (Remember, that while we are used to holy communion, they hadn't heard of it until then. Aside from what would happen later, this also sounds like it belongs in a B-grade vampire movie!)

From there they went to the garden, where Judas did betray him, the others fled, except for Peter, who would follow, but then deny even knowing Jesus.

There would be all-night trials, and arguments over jurisdiction, and by Friday pretty much the same people who yelled for Jesus to save them, were yelling that they wanted him dead.

Friday night, Jesus was dead and in the tomb. His shocked and frightened disciples were in hiding.

On Sunday morning Mary told a strange story of seeing Jesus alive outside the tomb. We don't know if any of the others believed her at that time. We don't know if they wrote it off as grief and hysteria, or if they suddenly remembered all the times Jesus told them he would rise again and started to believe it was possible. Sunday night, Jesus appeared, and the whole group of frightened disciples at last believed it was true.

Well, the whole group except Thomas did. Thomas wasn't with them. This is interesting. We don't know what he was doing, but with everyone else locked away out of fear for their lives, Thomas apparently had the courage, or the desperate need, to be outside.

When he heard the story, his response was to believe his friends had been conned. Someone had played a horrible, cruel, joke on them. Someone had come to their hiding-place, claimed to be Jesus risen from the dead, and everyone was so upset they believed it.

Thomas wasn't going to fall for anything like that. No-one was going to walk into the room claim to be their dead leader alive again, and fool him. Thomas was the one who said if it was too good to be true, it probably wasn't true. Thomas wanted proof. And he set a high standard of proof. He didn't just want to see and hear Jesus, he wanted to touch. Specifically, he wanted to touch the wounds of the crucifixion, and from the spear. He wanted to know it wasn't an illusion, an hallucination, a ghost, or someone in a clever disguise. (Yes, this was a time when people did fear ghosts.) If it was an illusion or ghost, it wouldn't have a physical body to touch, and if it was someone in disguise, he wouldn't be able to fake the wounds. In a time before DNA testing, or even fingerprinting, Thomas demanded the best possible test of Jesus' resurrection.

And on the following Sunday, he got his evidence. Once he'd seen Jesus, he probably would have been satisfied, but it was Jesus who insisted on meeting the standard of proof that Thomas set. That might have embarassed Thomas – but the purpose wasn't to do that.

On receiving his proof, Thomas utterered one of the strongest statements of faith in the Bible: “My Lord and my God.”

In this encounter, something very important happened for us. Thomas didn't just get the proof for himself. He got proof for us. We have recorded here that someone who set a high standard of proof, who wasn't going to be conned, had received sufficient evidence to believe Jesus was risen from the dead, that Jesus had done what only God has the power to do.

When Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” he was't criticising Thomas. He was speaking about the effect of what Thomas had done.

Because of Thomas, cynics like me can believe in Jesus. I don't need to see the proof, because I have very clear evidence that someone has.

People talk about “blind faith”. Faith isn't blind. Or it shouldn't be. If we had faith with no evidence whatsoever, people like Richard Dawkins would be right – we would most likely be deluded. We're not deluded – Thomas got us the evidence – so we have the blessing of being able to know what we didn't see for ourselves.

The Christian faith as a whole is not a delusion, it's whole central basis, the resurrection of Jesus, was tested out by someone who was sceptical and very determined to get to the truth.

Dawkins isn't the first, and certainly won't be the last person to attack Christianity on the basis of it being illogical. But the popularity of his work made it fashionable to believe that faith defies reason. Christianity has outlived all sorts of other things, and I don't doubt it will outlive the Dawkins fad as well.

We have proof that Jesus did rise from the dead, just as he said ahead of time he would do. From that, we can safely infer that all the other claims he made about himself are also very likely to be true. After all, his claim about being Son of God, is the best explanation we can possibly have for his resurrection.

If this is true, if Jesus is the Son of God and is alive, despite having been killed, then it follows that the millions of people since that time who have claimed to have encountered the risen Jesus, and those who still do claim to have an ongoing relationship with him, are not necessarily deluded.

I will concede that some clearly are deluded. I've spent enough time working with psych patients to accept that the “Jesus” some people believe they know is not the Jesus of Gospels.

So how do we know? Thomas had his test, his way to know that it really was Jesus in front of him. How do we know that the Jesus we think we know is the real deal? Thomas looked for consistency – if this really was Jesus who was crucified, then he would have the wounds of crucifixion.

We should also expect consistency. The Jesus we meet today, is, or ought to be, the same Jesus who lived, worked, taught and prayed, in the Gospels. I know the Jesus of a number of psych patients I have met is not the Jesus of the Gospels – because he is totally inconsistent with the Jesus of the Gospels. The things he says and prompts people to do are completely opposed to the teaching and behaviour of the Jesus of the Gospels.

If the Jesus we know encourages us to love God, and love our neighbour, that is consistent with the Jesus of the Gospel. If the Jesus we know encourages us to care for the world God has created, that is consistent with Jesus being Son of the God who created and cares for the world. If the Jesus we know understands our turmoils, struggles and doubts, and seeks to give us strength in our hardest times - that is consistent with the Jesus of the Gospel, who came into our world and shared the worst of it.

On the other hand if the Jesus we know encourages us to judge people or groups of people, to be self-centred or arrogant, to want to get ahead at the cost of others, then that is inconsistent with the Jesus of the Gospels. If the Jesus we know promises us and easy ride and a way to avoid the struggles and pain of this life – that is also inconsistent.

If we were to learn from Thomas, we would have a healthy amount of doubt in our faith. A healthy amount of doubt, is the amount that says, I want to be absolutely sure this really is Jesus, the Son of God, my saviour. Once our healthy doubt is satisfied with proof, then the next step to learn from Thomas, is the declaration of unshakeable faith – reasoned, not blind, faith. “My Lord and my God.”

Hymn Together in Song 363 My daughters and my sons hear tell



Prayers of the People

Loving God
we pray for the life of your church throughout the world
as it holds on to the truth that so many are unwilling to see.
We pray that your church will true to its calling,
will seek to follow Jesus' lead, and to work as his body in the world.
And we pray for this broken, hurting world.
For those who have lost much in disasters and wars
for those who have never had anything to lose
for those who have fled homes
and for those who supply comfort and care.

We pray for ourselves,
for the members of Christ's body in this community
In this Season of Easter, may we meet our risen Lord,
May we see and hear him clearly
May we again commit ourselves to him totally
and may we go wherever he leads us.

The Lord's Prayer

Hymn Together in Song 380 Yours be the glory, risen, conquering Son


Threefold amen.