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April 8, 2018, 2nd Sunday of Easter

 

 

LectionAid 2nd Quarter 2018

April 8, 2018, 2nd Sunday of Easter

The Need for Doubt

Psalm 133, Acts 4:32-35, 1John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31

Theme: Doubt and Faith

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

I have always thought that there is a “Monday Feeling” about the Second Sunday of Easter. Let us say you got a job and then suddenly you are on your first day and you are confused. Suddenly you wish you had more training as you watch everyone working away and looking knowledgeable and ready to go. You suddenly feel like hiding in the bathroom.
The disciples are facing the first day of the week, alone, tired, scared. "The doors were shut where the disciples were assembled." They were afraid of retaliation for their relationship with Jesus and they were shut in and shut down. Inward bound they were, but there they were finding only fear on the inside.
Suddenly Jesus appears and says to them, "Peace be With You." It must have been a truly fine moment in their inner sanctum. He not only made a big announcement; he also showed them his hands and his sides. He showed where the wounds were. Then from a deep hiddenness, the disciples return to joy. "Then were the disciples glad." You can almost feel the mood of the room lifting.
Again Jesus, having changed the mood in the room, repeated his greeting of peace. This time he adds a mission. "As my father has sent me, so I will send you." The disciples are first heard and feel peace, and then they are given a mission, and then given the power of the Holy Spirit. This third element makes the other two possible.
Following the triple message of peace, mission and Spirit, Jesus explains a little more of the power they have. The disciples are now, as Jesus is, able to forgive and to refrain from forgiveness. This is an enormous power because of the way it is stated positively and negatively.

Exegetical Comments

At the end of the commissioning and empowering comes the shadow. Thomas was not there. Thus, he did not receive the whole story or the empowerment. This gives the doubter the door he needs. "Unless I see the print of the nails and put my finger in the print of the nails and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Thomas gets his chance in a second appearance. Again, the doors are shut. Again, Jesus enters with the words of peace. And then he speaks directly to Thomas' doubts. He is clearly compassionate about Thomas' doubts as he invites him to touch the wounds he has borne. Thomas is appropriately repentant, "My Lord and My God." But this appearance was not just for Thomas it is also for us to remind us that there is a physical as well as spiritual element to resurrection.
In Paradox: The Spiritual Path to Transformation, by Bernard Tickerhood, we are asked to understand the mystery of these great Easter texts as having the shape of the cross or the shape of a paradox. We go out to go in. We hide to be found. We follow our very doubts the deepest of faiths.
Thomas arrives a disbeliever. He leaves as a profound example of faith.
If you have ever experienced the sense of being caught between a rock and a hard place, of knowing the "no-win" and "no way out" situation, Thomas can open the door to paradox and therefore the door to faith for you. He can reframe your life. From hating these kinds of tensions and being disempowered by them, you will learn to enjoy and appreciate tension. You will come to see the life in it. You may even become glad at the arrival of conflict.
Chaos theory is based on the magnetism of opposites. When Tickerhoof talks about paradox, he is not talking about the simple linking of opposites but about their unity and need of the other. Our doubt needs faith to heal it, but our faith also can use a dollop of doubt. Thomas was asking exactly the right question. Even Jesus, in his first appearance to the disciples knew that Thomas, or someone, would ask the question of proof. Thus, he walked in and gave them wounds to touch.
Then Jesus gives Thomas, the errant one, a special blessing. He speaks about seeing and believing. He understands doubts. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
Jesus is preparing the disciples to open the door. Jesus is preparing to take their inner boundary of faith and to go outside. There they will spread peace, forgive sins, and help people believe.
The twentieth chapter of John ends with an acknowledgment of an omission. More things will be done, more signs shown but they are not recorded in this book. Also, there is a reason for the writing down of the stories, which are written down: "in believing you might have life through his name."

Preaching Possibilities

One approach to these verses might be to take a very close look at how we all battle doubt. Doubt is a part of every day life. We should call for the celebration of doubt and the fact that doubt can often strengthen faith. The long journey of C S Lewis comes to mind as a great example. It is always good to acknowledge that doubt is often a part of the journey to Christ. We might want to acknowledge that embracing doubt as opposed to hiding from doubt might strengthen everyone’s faith.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

While Thomas was obviously someone who was not readily inclined to believe what other people told him, there are many people who are quite gullible. Police in Iran are searching for a phony sorcerer who conned a fellow into believing that he was invisible and could rob banks. When the man tried to use the power he thought he had, guards at the bank quickly overpowered him after he started grabbing money from customers' hands. During his trial, the man admitted that he had paid the equivalent of $625 to a fellow who gave him some spells and told him that if he tied them to his arm he would become invisible. The defendant said to the judge, "I made a mistake. I understand now what a big trick was played on me."

In the introduction to his Broadcast Talk given on 11 January 1942 (not included in the text of Mere Christianity), C. S. Lewis explained that he was asked to give the talks in order to provide a lay person’s point of view, not that of a parson. This strategy might have backfired in many cases, as there’s an old saying, “There is no greater ignorance than that of an expert talking outside his field of expertise.” Fortunately, Lewis knew his theology and his church history, and he also consulted clergy from a variety of denominations before delivering his radio talks.
Lewis also explained that the BBC programmers had invited him to give the talks because “I’d been an atheist for many years and only became a Christian quite fairly recently. They thought that would mean I’d be able to see the difficulties—able to remember what Christianity looks like from the outside.”
With his usual shrewdness, Lewis put his finger on one of the key reasons for his success as a Christian apologist. A careful look at Lewis’s teens and twenties reveals that he did not become an effective defender of the faith despite the fact that he spent so many years as an unbeliever. Rather his Christian books are compelling precisely because he spent so many years as an unbeliever.
Lewis’s spiritual journey (like that of St. Paul and St. Augustine) was an unusually long one. At age seventeen, C. S. Lewis explained bluntly to a Christian friend he’d known since childhood, “I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.” Fifteen years later, he would write to the same friend on a very different note: “Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things,’ . . . namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.” This turnabout did not reflect a “Damascus road” conversion; it took Lewis all of that fifteen years to change his mind.
The story of Lewis’s arduous pilgrimage is fascinating in itself, considering what a celebrated and far-reaching voice for Christian thought he has become. But Lewis’s spiritual struggles go beyond biographical interest: they cast fresh light on the paths which many other pilgrims take. The worldviews he considered and the issues he grappled with are still very much with us today.
Many thoughtful seekers since Lewis’s time have contemplated Materialism, the view that the physical world is all there is. If that is true, then, of course, any talk of spirit, of a house not made with hands, is mere wishful thinking. Today’s pilgrims are also confronted with alternative spiritual guides, the claim that occult experiments or paranormal research can provide a more “scientific” approach to spiritual life than Christian faith. Or they may be invited to affirm an impersonal Life-Force, a belief which offers a generalized sense of uplift without having to commit to any creeds or commandments. So, the spiritual avenues and byways Lewis explored for many years are not merely of “historical” interest.
As Lewis himself said, he certainly remembered “what Christianity looks like from the outside.” He understood atheism, he felt the force of its arguments in his bones and sinews. (The opening few pages of Lewis’s The Problem of Pain (1940) offer a more compelling case for unbelief than a whole stack of books churned out by the so-called “New Atheists.”) Lewis also understood the lure of the occult; indeed, he wrote in Surprised by Joy that if the wrong person had come along in his teenage years he might have ended up a sorcerer or a lunatic. And he was also acquainted with what would now be called “New Age” thinking, the assumption that some unknowable Absolute lies behind the veil of appearances.
Lewis weighed all these world-views himself, and eventually found them wanting. He once called himself a “most reluctant convert” to faith. But this very reluctance is a sign of Lewis’s spiritual integrity; he fully recognized that commitment to Christian faith would be a life-changing event, not just a casual decision about where to spend his Sunday mornings. And when he was ready to make the surrender of his will that was required of him, Lewis entered into faith with his whole heart, and mind, and soul.
Those who invited Lewis to give the Broadcast Talks chose more wisely than they knew. Apart from his vast intellect and sparkling prose style, Lewis’s enduring influence as a Christian thinker is assuredly due in no small part to the fact that he spent so many years as a non-Christian thinker. (http://www.cslewis.com/c-s-lewis-as-atheist-turned-apostle/)

There have been reports of stigmata across the centuries, cases where Christians have experienced modifications to parts of their bodies, particularly marks on the palms of the hands. An Oregon-based group has created its own absurd variation of that. The Church of Body Modification contends that piercings and tattoos are essential to their view of spiritual salvation. The group drew attention this past fall when a follower of that group filed a lawsuit against the Costco Wholesale Corporation. Costco had fired a young woman who refused to stop wearing an eyebrow ring at work. When she was terminated, she filed suit in federal court claiming that her employer had not accommodated her religious practice, as required by law.

Certainty is so often overrated. This is especially the case when it comes to faith, or other imponderables. When the Most Rev. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said recently that at times he questioned if God was really there, much of the reaction was predictably juvenile: Even God’s earthly emissary isn’t sure if the whole thing is made up!
The International Business Times called it “the doubt of the century.” Archbishop Welby’s admission had not just “raised a few eyebrows,” it declared, but “sparked concerns if the leader of the Church of England would one day renounce Christianity or spirituality as a whole.” Another journalist wrote excitedly, “Atheism is on the rise and it appears as though even those at the top of the church are beginning to have doubts.”
Despite the alarm, the archbishop’s remarks were rather tame. He told an audience at Bristol Cathedral that there were moments where he wondered, “Is there a God? Where is God?” Then, asked specifically if he harbored doubts, he responded, “It is a really good question. ... The other day I was praying over something as I was running, and I ended up saying to God, ‘Look, this is all very well, but isn’t it about time you did something, if you’re there?’ Which is probably not what the archbishop of Canterbury should say.”
But Archbishop Welby’s candor only makes him human. He may lead 80 million Anglicans worldwide, but he is also a man who knows anguish, rage, incomprehension and the cold bareness of grief. He lost his firstborn child, Johanna, a 7-month-old baby girl, in a car accident in 1983, a period he has described as “utter agony.” As a teenager he cared for an alcoholic father. When explaining his thoughts on doubt, he referred to the mournful Psalm 88, which describes the despair of a man who has lost all of his friends and cries out, “Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” The psalm reads bleakly: “Darkness is my closest friend.”
Faith cannot block out darkness, or doubt. When on the cross, Jesus did not cry out “Here I come!” but “My God, why have you forsaken me?” His disciples brimmed with doubts and misgivings. (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/26/opinion/julia-baird-doubt-as-a-sign-of-faith.html)

Just as courage is persisting in the face of fear, so faith is persisting in the presence of doubt. Faith becomes then a commitment, a practice and a pact that is usually sustained by belief. But doubt is not just a roiling, or a vulnerability; it can also be a strength. Doubt acknowledges our own limitations and confirms — or challenges — fundamental beliefs and is not a detractor of belief but a crucial part of it.
As Christopher Lane argued in “The Age of Doubt,” the explosion of questioning among Christian thinkers in the Victorian era transformed the idea of doubt from a sin or lapse to necessary exploration. Many influential Christian writers, like Calvin and C.S. Lewis, have acknowledged times of uncertainty. The Southern writer Flannery O’Connor said there was “no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe,” but for her, these torments were “the process by which faith is deepened.”
Mother Teresa, too, startled the world when her posthumous diaries revealed that she was tormented by a continual gloom and aching to see, or sense, God. In 1953 she wrote, “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself — for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.”’
And yet by this work, she helped many thousands of people. And it’s not always torment. Some live quite contentedly with a patchwork of doubt. Who can possibly hope to understand everything, and to have exhaustively researched all areas of uncertainty? How can we jam the infinite and contain it in our tiny brains? This is why there is so much comfort in mystery.
Just over a month before he died, Benjamin Franklin wrote that he thought the “System of morals” and the religion of Jesus of Nazareth were the “best the World ever saw,” though Franklin said he had, along “with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho’ it is a Question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.” A logical pragmatism.
My local pastor, Tim Giovanelli, a Baptist whose ocean-swimming prowess has lassoed scores of surfers and swimmers into his church, puts it simply: “For Welby, myself and many others, it is not that we have certainty but have seen the plausibility of faith and positive impact it can make. In a broken world, that can be enough.”
If we don’t accept both the commonality and importance of doubt, we don’t allow for the possibility of mistakes or misjudgments. While certainty frequently calcifies into rigidity, intolerance and self-righteousness, doubt can deepen, clarify and explain. This is, of course, a subject far broader than belief in God.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell put it best. The whole problem with the world, he wrote, is that “the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Of that at least we can be certain. I’m pretty sure, anyway. (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/26/opinion/julia-baird-doubt-as-a-sign-of-faith.html)

I meet many church-going Christians who would find it difficult to articulate why they believe as they do. Perhaps they absorbed faith as part of their upbringing, or perhaps they simply find church an uplifting place to visit on weekends. But if asked to explain their faith to a Muslim, or an atheist, they wouldn’t know what to say. As a matter of fact, the thought hit me personally: “What would I say?” That question prompted the book, which I wrote not so much to convince anyone else as to think out loud in hopes of coming to terms with my own faith. Does religious faith make sense in a world of the Hubble telescope and the Internet? Have we figured out the basics of life or is some important ingredient missing? C. S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book titled Mere Christianity, and I’ve narrowed that range even further, to Even More Mere Christianity.
The great divide separating belief and unbelief reduces down to one simple question: Is the visible world around us all there is? Those unsure of the answer to that question live in the borderlands. They wonder whether faith in an unseen world is wish (https://philipyancey.com/q-and-a-topics/faith-and-doubt)ful thinking. Does faith delude us into seeing a world that doesn’t exist, or does it reveal the existence of a world we can’t see without it?

This story invites us to consider the relationship between seeing and believing. Last summer researchers at UCLA announced they had developed a "vision chip" which can help some blind people see again. The development apparently could be a source of help to about one out of four elderly people who suffer from a form of eyesight loss that is now treatable. The vision chip works to replace the function of the person's retina when it has deteriorated. The vision chip acts like a photoreceptor which processes images and sends the appropriate signals to the brain to form an image. The first such retina prosthesis was implanted early last year in a patient at the Retina Institute at USC Medical Center.

How to have faith in the midst of a hostile environment is a key aspect of today's Gospel reading. The Talmud tells of a time when the government had issued a decree forbidding Jews to study the Torah. Despite the ban, however, Rabbi Akiba, continued to publicly recruit students and teach. When asked how he could take such a risk as that, Rabbi Akiba replied by telling a parable: A fox once walked alongside a river, and he saw schools of fish darting from one place to another. The fox said to the fish, "Why are you running away?" The fish responded, "Because of the nets that people are setting to try and catch us." The fox mischievously suggested, "Why don't you then come up here on dry land, and we can live together?" The fish declared, "If we are afraid in the place which is our natural habitat, how much more so in the place where by nature we are sure to die!" In other words, if remaining faithful causes us to live a precarious existence, how much more precarious would our existence be if we ceased being faithful in order to make ourselves safer.

The first assumption in the question that God ever intended to be visible!
In the first place the word "God" (capitalised) in English literary convention refers only to the God of Torah (Hebrew Bible), and in that text there is no image for God. The second assumption in the question is that God (see above) ever wanted anyone to believe in Him/Her (God has no gender). There is nowhere in the Torah that God says, "believe in Me". Instead He says, "know Me", which means it is possible for a human being to know God in some human way. As for trust, this needs to be seen in the context of the usage in the text. A non-scriptural example: if I say to a complete stranger "Trust me, do not attempt running across a busy highway, but rather use a pedestrian crossing controlled by a set of traffic lights", would the complete stranger distrust this advice? The first time the word 'trust' (batakh) is used in the Torah is in fact in the sense of mistrust, or misuse of trust, when Dina's brothers Shimon and Levi avenged her rape. The second time the word is used in Vayiqra (Leviticus) 25:18, it says "Wherefore ye shall do My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in trust (translated as safety)." Trust is therefore not an analogy to 'belief', but a reward for a conditional contract. Having said all this, there is a way to visibly know God exists. However, it seems to me the World is not quite ready for this experience. (https://www.quora.com/Why-is-God-only-visible-by-belief-and-trust-but-not-sight)

Seeing is believing. Or so the maxim goes. But the senses can fail you too, as anyone who’s ever dreamed dreams knows. He who doubts the creation cannot himself be a creator. This is why Descartes could never have been a poet. Even if he had been visited by the muse, most likely the results would've been poor; for one cannot pen verses in the dark. This is also why there will never be an unbelieving, atheistic Shakespeare. Nor can there ever be a godless Homer. Atheism is incapable of great art. (https://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/crede-ut-intelligas-love-belief-sight-and-poetic-knowledge)

Helping people to come to see has been a task that humankind has been pursuing for centuries. In 3000 B.C., the Code of Hammurabi set the cost of eye surgery at 10 shekels. If the surgeon botched the operation, however, the punishment was the loss of the surgeon's hand. In 400 A.D., a special clinic was established to care for sightless people in Cappadocia. In 1829, Louis Braille revised the raised dot system to make it a more efficient way for blind people to read and write. In 1929, Helen Keller began her work as a spokesperson and ambassador for the American Foundation for the Blind. In 1975, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, an independent, nongovernmental organization, is founded with the goal of preventing and curing blindness worldwide.

Undoubtedly Thomas must have wondered whether the other disciples were lying to him about Jesus or not. A new kind of lie detector has recently been developed. The experimental machine measures the amount of heat coming from around a person's eyes. The advantage of the device, the inventors say, is that you don't have to hook the person up to any machines and that the testing can be done without the person even being aware of it. The machine consists of a high-definition thermal imaging camera that is the size of a shoe box. According to the one researcher, "As people lie, there is a massive increase in blood flow around the eyes, and associated with it is sudden warming around the eyes, where the color changes to white in the thermal imaging display." To test the device, the research team had twenty volunteers commit a mock crime and then assert their innocence. Eight of the volunteers stabbed a mannequin and stole $20 from it, while the rest had no knowledge of the crime. The machine accurately detected lying about 80% of the time, a level of precision that is comparable to the standard polygraph machines that are used by law enforcement agencies.

Part of Jesus' conversation with the disciples involved commissioning them to carry his message into the entire world. Marketing executives are constantly looking for new ways to get their messages out to the public. This past fall Meow Mix Company began airing Meow TV. The program is a half-hour show that targets the nation's 85 million cats. The program features squirrels, bouncing balls, little fish swimming by, and all kinds of other things that cats love to watch. It is estimated that there are 35 million households in the United States that have pets, and about a quarter of the animals reportedly watch television.

The invitation to receive the Holy Spirit is an invitation to get in synch with what God is doing in the world. Lasers have extraordinary power, including the ability to slice through metal. But lasers are basically light waves. When we look at the light emanating from a regular light bulb, that kind of power is not there. That is because the light waves coming from an ordinary bulb are not in synch with each other. In effect, the peaks and the valleys of the various light waves tend to cancel each other's power. A laser, though, is a series of light waves that are in synch with each other, with the peaks and valleys of the waves matching up and reinforcing each other. Physicists call laser light "coherent" because of that unity that exists among the laser light waves. The Holy Spirit enables the church to unleash God's power in a coherent way.

"It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" (Arthur Conan Doyle).

"Faith may be defined as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable" (H. L. Mencken).

Before the disciples go out into the world and share the gift of the Spirit with others, they first must receive the Spirit themselves. Walter Wink tells of a woman in Texas who once told him, "You can't no more give someone something you ain't got than you can come back from somewhere you ain't been" (Walter Wink, The Human Being: The Enigma of the Son of Man [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002], p. 12).

"Church people think about how to get people into the church; kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; kingdom people work to see the church change the world" (Howard Snyder, Liberating the Church [Downer's Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity, 1983], p. 11).

Desmond Tutu tells about a rural Russian priest who was accosted one day by a physicist who rattled off all the reasons why he didn't believe in God. The priest, unfazed by the tirade, responded, "Oh, it doesn't matter. God believes in you."

For many Christians in third world countries or who have been in the midst of war or oppression, the critical piece of the Thomas story is that Thomas knew it was Jesus by his wounds. The fact that God was wounded by human injustice gives those who have been similarly wounded comfort, courage and hope.

Do you know its Jesus? While in Israel I was taken by Elijah Subbeth to a box canyon early in the morning. The fires were visible from where we sat awaiting the sunrise. In a sheep fold several shepherds had placed their sheep together for safekeeping during the night. They had slept across the mouth of the cave. They were the door. The younger shepherds left the fires early to go and prepare the tableland for the sheep' grazing that day. They went to remove briars and poison plants. They went to make sure a calm pool of water would be there for the sheep when they got thirsty. Finally, the older shepherds put out the fires and began to walk away from the cave like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Each one was singing a shepherd's song that was uniquely his. It sounded like a cacophony to me, but after about five hundred yards there was a tight group of sheep behind each shepherd. The sheep knew the voice of his shepherd and was not afraid of being lost in the crowd in the cave. Jesus appeared and reaffirmed "His voice" to His sheep.

I was always the last kid picked for the game. Now I am the first in my business. I wonder what that means…."

"And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been." Maria Rainer Rilke

"What was clear to any spectator was that the only link binding Maisie to either parent was this lamentable of her being a ready vessel for bitterness, a deep little porcelain cup in which biting acids could be mixed. They had wanted her not for any good they could do her, but for the harm they could, with her unconscious aid, do each other. She should serve their anger and seal their revenge, for husband and wife had been alike crippled by the heavy hand of justice….."Henry James, What Maisie Knew

"Who will cry when you die?" Have you hugged them today? By Email or by arms? From Life Lessons From The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. Robin Sharma

The following illustrations come from Joy In Our Weakness: A Gift Of Hope From The Book Of Revelation by Mara J. Dawn, Wm. B. Reedman's Publishing Co., 2002.
She pushes us to ask the right questions of our suffering. Instead of asking "how long" we should ask, "Who is God in the midst of this?"
Instead, it is in our weakness. "By participating in the suffering of those who are weak, we learn the sufficiency of God's grace."

"I formerly used the word Skillions to describe the uncountable grandiosity of the angelic choir but then a mathematical friend taught me about googols (ten with 100 zeros behind it) and googolplexes (10 to the goggle), numbers which still can't come close to the generality of heavenly praise! All the creatures of all time and all space resound with a great voice that the Slain Lamb is worthy to receive their adoration."

Consider composer Olivier Messiaen in his "Quatour pour la fin du temps" for violin, cello, clarinet, and piano. This work is inspired by Revelation 10. Written while he was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1941, Messian's Quartet performed the quartet on damaged instruments in the prison camp at Gorlitz in Silesia with three other inmates. The Fifth movement is very important and includes a broad cello melody: Marva Dawn says it "magnifies with love and reverence the eternity of that powerful and sweet Word."

Pachelbels' popular Canon in D is also understood as a consummate picture of God's grace. The same eight notes in the bass line repeat over and over and without any variation or change, just like the Trinity's love, says Dawn, while the texture above in the violins, violas, and cellos keeps changing intricately.

An unadorned limestone burial box apparently bought 15 years ago on the Jerusalem antiquities market may be the oldest archeological evidence of Jesus and the first object ever found that relates to a member of his family, an archeological journal announced yesterday. The box, or ossuary, typical of those used in the first century to bury bones, is inscribed `'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,'' and dates to around 62 AD, when early texts say that James, one of the first Christian leaders, was stoned to death as punishment for preaching about Jesus. Andre Lemaire, a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris and a specialist in ancient inscriptions, first saw the box last summer after meeting the owner by chance in Jerusalem. Since then, he and other scholars and scientists have checked the lettering style for historical consistency and tested the surface of the carved letters to make sure they were not forged. In an article released yesterday by the nonsectarian Biblical Archaeology Review, Lemaire pronounces both box and inscription genuine, though he concedes there is a small chance the ossuary held not the James of the New Testament, but the bones of a contemporary with the same name. Krister Stendahl, a New Testament theologian and former dean of Harvard Divinity School, said that the importance of the finding would be mainly personal. "Since I have never had any serious doubts about the existence of Jesus, it doesn't change any scholarly perception,'' he said. "It's just sort of beautiful, even moving, if it is true. I want it to be true.''

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship Invocation (Based on Ps 133)

Leader: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when all live-in unity!
People: It feels wonderful, like having precious oil pour on our head, which fills our nostrils with a sweet smell and makes your skin feel delicious.
Leader: Unity is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! It is pure and wonderful.
People: To live in Unity is a true blessing in life. To truly find the presence of God suddenly all around. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

O Lord, it is so easy to pray and then suddenly think our words and thoughts and hopes are disappearing into a black hole where they are never heard. O Lord it is so easy to just stop thinking about You and wishing to be with You. O Lord it is so easy just to fall into doubt into uncertainty and never leave.
We confess that doubt can stop us. We confess that doubt can get in our way. We confess that doubt can take over. We confess that doubt can blind us. We confess that doubt can make us deaf. We confess that doubt can separate us from You.
O Lord confess that we often get swallowed up by doubt and do not use it to once again find the joy of You in our lives. We hope like Thomas to see You and find belief. We hope like Thomas to cast aside our doubt and find joy in Your presence.

Prayer of Dedication

Take these little gifts we give to help those who wish to find You. Make these gifts work to help others. May they bring food to the table of those in need of food and may they bring knowledge to those who exist in confusion and doubt. May they help stop spiritual, mental and physical hunger in world. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Lord, we live in a world where being faithful is something that everyone considers odd. Lord, we live surrounded by those who use faith but get no power from faith. We live in a culture which scoffs faith and makes living in faith something not normal. We see entertainment that makes going to church and being faithful only something for morons and fools. O Lord, we live in a world not just of doubt, but of ridicule, so we come this morning to celebrate our faith, to see our faith not with the eyes of television or the news, but in terms of real life. We come to celebrate our real life in You, our Creator and the source of all the love and good.
Believe it not we thank you for our doubt, we thank you for the uncertainty we have to fight, we thank You for that bit of Thomas in our lives. Help us realize that our doubt can strengthen our faith, that the sudden re-awakening and renewal brought by faith and doubt can strengthen our bonds to You. Bring us closer O God, bring us closer. Amen.