Index

Sundays
2nd Quarter
2020

 

J Nichols Adams et al

April 19, 2020, 2nd Sunday of Easter

 

 

LectionAid 2nd Quarter 2020

April 19, 2020, 2nd Sunday of Easter

The Big Job Ahead

Ps 16, Acts 2:14a, 22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Theme: Discipleship and/or Implementing Easter

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

We as a world and as nations still have a big job ahead to help others avoid the virus that has shut down the world. But as a church we know all that. Easter is over. The celebrations are over. The Cantatas, passion plays, and spectacles have begun to fade into memory. Life is getting reorganized again with Jesus taking His old dependable place in the background of our lives. Slipping in and out of the shadows. Discreetly not intruding upon our getting on with being good folks. Word comes to Thomas that Jesus has not remained in Heaven following His resurrection.
He has been reportedly seen in a room by the other disciples. Thomas is beside himself. He declares that he will not believe unless he can place his hand in the wound in Jesus’ side and his fingers in the wounds in Jesus’ wrists. He fully believes this bully declaration to put an end to any further need to answer to Jesus.
Consider what happens when God submits to one’s demands. It is an awesome event. Gideon was called by God’s angel to lead Israel to victory over the Midianites. They were warriors. They came to gather the crops from the storehouses of Israel. Gideon saw himself as the least of the least in the tribes of Israel. Surely he would be excused. No? Well, what about a test? God consumed the offering upon the altar with fire. Gideon then placed a fleece upon the ground demanding God make the fleece wet and the ground dry. Finally, Gideon asked God to make the ground wet and the fleece dry. Well, God had met his every demand. What was left to be done? Gideon had no choice left except to obey God and lead Israel against the Midianites. For each time God had submitted to Gideon’s demands, Gideon’s army was cut in size from 32,000 to 10,000 to 300. Nothing changed.
Gideon had demanded and God had delivered; now surrendering to God’s will was his only way to keep faith with His God.
Thomas’ situation was similar. Jesus’ second appearance coincided with Thomas being present with the disciples. “Put forth your hand into my side.” “Place your fingers in the wounds to my hands.” Thomas did and he knew the game was over. The games of appearing to be committed only when it is profitable for oneself, of talking about what one is going to do for God to impress others, and of being with the other disciples only when it is convenient are revealed for what they are. They are people playing religion, accepting for themselves cheap grace, and confusing others by refusing to sacrifice our will to His Will for us.
Thomas’ response, “I believe, help my unbelief” reveals the dual nature of our broken lives. One does believe, but in the light of Jesus submitting to our demands one sees how our belief is mixed with our unbelief. If we have a good excuse, we can remain free. The great people had the good excuses and refused to use them to excuse themselves from the stage of life. Roosevelt could not walk. Truman had only a high school education. Eisenhower had a major heart attack. Kennedy’s back was crippled in the war and he suffered with Addison’s disease. Beethoven was deaf. On and on one could go. When one is offering up excuses most of the time they will be struck down by our friends. The temptation comes when they accept our excuse as a genuine reason for our lack of participation.
If Jesus has appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, what of the one who was not there? Was he being cut out? Surely Jesus knew he was not there before he passed through the door and appeared to the group! Thomas could have said, “I was not there when he reconstituted his team. I was willing to follow Him, but I was left out of the organizational meeting.” The disciples could have said, “Yeah, you missed it and now you have missed out. Thomas would have been a good one to have along, but we understand.” Missing the boat is an acceptable reason in polite company for not being on board.
Like Gideon, Simon Peter, and all who meet the risen Christ, Thomas had his excuses wiped out. He had his rationales made irrational. His faith that Jesus was the one and his hope that Jesus would redeem Israel had been transformed into the love that would change the world. Thomas refused to play at faith.
Thomas went, according to tradition, to India. There he established the Church and served Jesus with his life. He became a martyr, dying rather than renouncing the risen Christ who had taken the time long ago in an upper room to submit to his demands and put him back on track.
People make a “deal with the devil” when they say they “would give anything if I could just...” Literature is full of stories about people being given a wish, or three wishes, but in every case they are tragic stories. God does not make deals, but we do make promises to Him.
A soldier promises to give his life in service to others, if he returns from the war. An invalid from a sick bed promises to be kinder to those serving her, if she recovers. A person of means promises to build a hospital, if his child recovers from a dread disease. Each of these people is placing themselves in a position to have Jesus submit to their demands.
The truth is God does not make deals. The soldier may be killed in action. The invalid may die. The child might not recover. But if the prayed for result happens, humility, not arrogance, should accompany it. Thomas’ response when our prayers are answered is very good, “I believe! Help my unbelief!”
The soldier should do his or her best to make other’s lives better and safer. The invalid should begin being kinder. The man should begin building the hospital. All of this should begin before the demands are met. If the man sees the need for such a hospital for his child, he should ask God to help him see the need for other children, regardless of how his “deal” comes out. Jesus does submit to one’s demands sometimes. When it is in His Will, when it serves His purposes, when He knows we are serious, like Thomas, Jesus will appear and reenlist His children again.

Exegetical Comments

I couldn’t possibly do that!’
He stood staring at the committee. They had just offered him, not the job he had applied for, but the one above it. The senior position in the whole division. He would be running an entire department. A huge budget. Overseeing a wide range of the company’s operations. He simply wasn’t up to it.
‘Well,’ said the chairman, ‘we think you can. Of course it’s going to be a big responsibility. But we can help you. We believe you’re the right person for the job, and we’re going to change some things around so you get the right assistance. The specialist advice. All of that. You’ll have everything you need so you can do it.’
Now read verse 23. ‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.’ How do you feel about that? Are you up to the job? Of course not! But worse is to come. ‘If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained!’ If anyone imagines they are ready and willing to take on that task, they need to go back to school for a few strong lessons in humility.
But Jesus thinks the disciples can do it. Indeed, he’s not asking them if they would like to; he’s giving them a command. They are to go and do it.
But of course, that’s not the whole story. They could come back at him and say, ‘But we thought only God could forgive sins!’ And they’d be right. God is going to forgive sins—through them. The command comes after the crucial promise and gift: ‘Receive the holy spirit.’
The holy spirit! Jesus has said so much already about this spirit, his own spirit, the spirit which is the father’s special gift to his people. Now the time has come.
The point of receiving the holy spirit, it’s clear, is not to give the disciples new ‘spiritual experiences’, though to be sure they will have plenty. Nor is it to set them apart from ordinary people, a sort of holier-than-thou club—though to be sure they are called to live the rich, full life of devotion and dedication that is modelled on Jesus’ own. The point is so that they can do, in and for the whole world, what Jesus had been doing in Israel. ‘As the father has sent me, so I’m sending you’ (verse 21).
That’s the clue to it all. How does the unique achievement of Jesus, in one time and place, affect all other times and places? How does the message he preached, which made so much sense in first-century Palestine, spread to other cultures and peoples who aren’t thinking about God’s kingdom, who aren’t waiting for a Messiah, who don’t look at the world like that at all?
There is all the difference in the world between something being achieved and something being implemented. The composer achieves the writing of the music; the performers implement it. The clockmaker designs and builds the wonderful clock. The owner now has to set it to the right time and keep it wound up. Jesus has accomplished the defeat of death and has begun the work of new creation (notice how John again stresses that it was the first day of the week). His followers don’t have to do that all over again. (This, by the way, is why the early church didn’t say exactly the same things that he said. That confuses people who think that Jesus was just a great moral or spiritual teacher. They then wonder why his followers kept talking about him instead of simply repeating what he had said. The answer is that they were implementing his achievement, not trying to duplicate it. That would have been the real disloyalty.)
Jesus’ mission to Israel, reaching its climax in his death and resurrection, is thus to be implemented by the disciples’ mission to the world. That’s why they need the holy spirit: Jesus’ breath, God’s breath, to enable them to do the job they could otherwise never dream of doing. (Wright, T. John for Everyone, Part 2 [2004, London] pp. 148–151)

Preaching Possibilities

We all live in a world of doubt that everything will get back to normal. That we will ever be able to go out and shake hands. We doubt that we will be able to go out and see friends at a restaurant. We live in a world of doubt.
As we face as a whole Globe the fight against the Corona Virus we understand why we as a church must continue to work day by day. We must remind the world that the best way to help everyone is to find the forgiveness and power of Jesus in our lives. Jesus showed us that sin and death are defeated so we must also bring this story to the world.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

Idea generation is a crucial process for businesses looking to innovate and gain competitive advantage. When you generate ideas with your workforce, ecosystem, customers and beyond - you'll collect invaluable insight to improve processes, create breakthrough products or services, disrupt markets and much more. So having a defined process to take these ideas generated and put them into action is a powerful necessity.
Here is a list of 10 steps that follow the idea management process from idea generation to implementation.
1 - Idea Selection
So you've noticed a good idea. Whether you have received an email to an inbox, a notification in your idea management system, or have opened a note from a suggestion box, everyone shares the same starting point - idea selection.
Just because someone has suggested an idea themselves, it does not mean that they are always the right person to see it through to completion. It is on you as an innovation leader to find a person with the right strengths, professional aspirations and experience to deliver this project in a meaningful way - innovation cannot be a secondary priority.
At this point, you also want to make sure that the person chosen to lead this idea will have some form of resources available to start making it happen. If you cannot delegate preliminary resources at this stage, you're going to have major problems implementing this down the line.
There is no obligation for your selected idea to be a fully-fledged business case. At this stage, an idea is understood to be a hypothesis and might well be altered or changed later.
2 - Scrutiny Of All Aspects
Analytically evaluate all aspects of your potential opportunity like an investor. The larger the project, the more the idea's ROI will be scrutinised. Key aspects of your overall assessment are:
The potential target audience you wish to reach
The potential value this idea or product could represent for your business
How much of a 'risk' does this represent (of course, what you define as a risk is up to you)
Market viability - does anyone actually want this?
While ROI doesn't always reflect a financial value, it is important you are fully aware of the benefits and risks that follow with your project.
3 - Feedback
Collect opinions from people aware of the market, competitors, business model and similar business experience. Their practical expertise, and that of target customers, will help predict the likelihood of idea success. The real test is when the product is launched, but this preliminary research gives a hint.
Build a wide range of opinions - as wide as you can. This is essentially what you did in step 2, but shared outwardly. Find your community - whether that be your stakeholders, your employees or your customers.
Gathering feedback
4 - Feedback Reaction
Make necessary changes to your product, strategy and business plan according to the feedback. Anticipate the needed capital to reach set targets. Design an implementation plan with the main objectives in the short term and who will execute them.
Just as important as receiving feedback is how you respond to it. At this stage it is important to understand the value of compromise over resilience. While a full-speed-ahead attitude is admirable, the nature of your idea at this stage is vulnerable to the biggest barriers to innovation - sign-off and funding.
At this stage, you will also need to start thinking about sourcing the capital required to turn this idea into reality, as you will most likely be asking for funding, or at the very least, resources.
It is vital at this stage to take the feedback in and adapt to meet requirements. What matters most is getting a minimum viable working product / project off the ground, even if it's not the fully-scoped idea you had in mind; there is plenty of time to reiterate and grow from here.
5 - A Basic Version / Product
Rather than setting yourself the overly ambitious goal of creating a finished product straight away, focus on simplifying and getting a bare minimum offering out there first. It's important to keep development open to change and feedback, and by holding back until something is 'just right' you ensure that you gain minimal ranges of opinion - and are far more likely to be caught out.
A bare minimum offering shows target customers what the product is or will eventually be. A good idea is to build the basic product as quickly as possible, and to make it inexpensive - you have to present a low barrier for entry.
What often gets misconstrued - in the tech space especially - is that getting a product to market isn't at all about working fast, cutting corners and doing an overall rushed job. You don't need to drive yourself into a crazy rush just to get your product finished and out there. On the other end of the scale and maybe equally as damaging - you mustn't scale back your ambitions to tiny projects just to ensure you don't spend too much time. Both of these result in a sub-standard offering. The key is to start with your minimum viable product (MVP), get that right and functional and then build from there.
6 – Hitting The Market
Get your product to market quickly and start examining customer reactions. While one manufacturer waits and refines their product to make it ideal for customers, a competitor sells successfully an acceptable similar product. But why force out an unfinished project? Many would react in shock being advised to release something that’s not done. So, why does this matter?
It matters because right now, it is essentially still just you and your idea. Even with co-workers and even stakeholders involved, it is still entirely internal. You assume that people would be interested in your project, or buying your product, but you have nothing of any real weight until you test to find out. A minimum viable project isn’t just a way to get a working example live so your market can start engaging, it’s also a very good way to minimize risk.
If your project doesn’t have the reaction from the market you’ve expected, here is where you can go back to the drawing board without losing a significant investment.
7 – Go For A Test Drive
Early testing of business experience factors such as pricing model, visual branding, messaging and customer experience can be done at this stage. This by no means is your final version, but keep in mind the promises you make in this stage as everything is still up for change. This is a dry-run for your business, where you can gauge real market response. It is entirely up to you how narrow or broad your test drive is.
This is also, even more so than the product itself, the perfect testing ground for marketing messaging, sales pitches, promotions and campaigns.
8 – Corrections And Improvements
This is quite possibly the most important stage of the ten. How you respond to feedback will determine how close your product will resonate with the market. Remember, you want criticisms and questions; if you get only positive responses back you’ve either created something perfect (nice!…but…unlikely) or your audience just isn’t the right one. In truth, this is also stage 11; you will want to continuously improve your offering, and there’s no better way to do that than to listen to what your customers struggle with. If focused on a more digital deliverable, this is an incredibly useful QA stage of sorts to test User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI).
Additionally, if your MVP’s UI & UX are causing confusion, something needs to change here as your product is only going to get busier and more developed.
Positive feedback
9 – Growth Planning
Updates on the product, business plan, marketing and financial strategies enable expansion. If it really proves to be a winning pitch, this is also a good time to gather resources and raise capital. This is where you truly start building for the future. Your idea is no doubt exploding with potential features, implementations or applications, and this is where you get to map out exactly what your idea’s picture of success is, as well as the timeframe in which you wish to achieve these goals. As you’re currently sitting at MVP status, you will want to evaluate exactly what is required to drive you forward. Key aspects to focus on in this stage are:
Roadmap of product updates
Overall business plan
Marketing strategy
Resources required
Capital required
Appropriate stretch goals
10 – Time To Expand
It might be the last point, but it isn’t the end of your journey. Expansion should always be followed by corrections and improvements, followed again by expansion. It is a constant cycle of continuous, autonomous improvements that we call Everyday Innovation. With a proven business strategy, an ambitious expansion plan, engaged stakeholders already invested, a ready and responsive market and an outcome that will continue to grow and improve, your idea is set to take on the world.
This example of a success story would not be possible without the right idea management process in place. Since innovation plays a central role in every sustainable business strategy, many companies rely on innovation software to help them capture, evaluate and implement the brightest ideas. (https://www.wazoku.com/10-steps/)

 

 

In the national Gallery, London hangs a painting by Cima da Conegliano entitled The Incredulity of St. Thomas. It was the altarpiece for the chapel at Portograuro near Venice for nearly three hundred years. It modeled penitence: the change of heart and mind for the Order of St. Thomas who commissioned the work. Thomas leans forward and in the midst of the disciples he places his finger in Jesus’ side. Jesus looks into Thomas’ eyes and recognition lights up the eyes of Thomas. His worries are being dissolved and his faith is being aroused. Thomas is being lead from isolation to participation. Being an altarpiece gives one the clue to its purpose. Viewing the painting as one prepared to celebrate Mass with others who were followers also, gave one the assurance that Jesus does not leave us alone with our doubts.

John Riley went on his first hunt alone in the river swamp near his home as an eleven-year-old boy. His father took him to the edge of the swamp and said, “The sun is over your shoulder as you walk into the woods. When you are ready to come out, just walk toward the sun and you’ll come to the road.” Off he went into the great adventure of hunting alone. He did not notice that it became cloudy as the day passed. It was time to go home. He looked up and saw only an overcast sky. He took his best guess and began to walk out of the swamp. After about an hour he saw a footprint near a creek he recognized as his own! He panicked and sat down on a log and began to cry. A hand reached out and grasped his shoulder. It was his father. “You did not think I would leave you alone the first time you went hunting alone. Get up and let’s go get some supper.”

William Faulkner said in his acceptance speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, “I believe that man will not merely endure: He will prevail. He is immortal not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”(James B. Meriweather, ed. Essays, Speeches, and Public letters by William Faulkner [New York: Random House, 1965] p. 120)

Of the thirteen original colonies only Georgia was established in the eighteenth century. It was the last of the thirteen. It, like Thomas, was added to the group late in time, completing the number of original colonies. Like Thomas, Georgia gave a good defense of her being included. It was through Georgia that John Wesley and his brother Charles were introduced to the New World. It is always appropriate to meet again for the sake of one who has not yet been included.

In a world reeling with doubt there are a few ideas that seem to be fundamental in life:
1. Whom the gods would destroy, they would first make mad.
2. Persistent effort will win over flashy, sporadic brilliance.
3. Truth will prevail.
4. Reality is more important than appearances.
5. We cannot save ourselves.
(Judson Ward, Walking the Road of Faith [Atlanta: Scholar Press, 1994] pp 107-110)

What if Thomas had not been present at the second meeting in the upper room? John Greenleaf Whittier has a line in his poem, Maude Muller, that reads: “For of all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.”

Craig Larson’s son Mark practiced gymnastics for several years and was about to begin learning to do a double back flip. He would use a trampoline for practice. He wore a belt buckled to two ropes that went up over thirty feet and crossed pulleys to support him. The ropes were held by his spotter who could save him if he flipped off the trampoline by pulling on the ropes. He was getting the hang of it. Then one Saturday when his spotter pulled on the ropes, one of them came unclipped from his belt. The remaining rope took him to the scene of an accident by swinging him pendulum-like off the trampoline into the wall. Now there was a crisis of faith. Suddenly he did not know what to expect. There was also a crisis of confidence. “The same sort of thing happened to me a few times in my ministry. I thought I knew what I could expect from God. Then something came unclipped, and I swung in a direction I did not anticipate, leaving me disillusioned and sometimes pondering whether I should quit.” (Craig Brian Larson, Pastoral Grit [Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers,1998] p.106)

Thomas was not there! Do we have to be everywhere all the time? Why point out his absence? He could have been taking a break. “If I cannot rest, I betray an inflated view of my own importance. The discipline of rest is a regular embrace with humility, through which my soul, often striving and straining like a dog on a leash, finds peace.” (Craig Brian Larson, Pastoral Grit [Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1998] p. 66)

“What the Lord does with someone else is none of my business. My concern must be with the command of my Lord to me. I cannot allow comparisons with others distract me from the one thing that truly matters: following Jesus.” (Craig Brian Larson, Pastoral Grit [Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1998] p. 103)

Thomas knew he had missed something profound by missing the last meeting of the disciples. He wold not be satisfied until Jesus answered His prayer to be in His presence one more time too. “There is no religious life without our being profoundly affected: doctrine without experience is empty; religious experience without doctrine is blind.” (Donald Saliers, The Soul In Paraphrase [New York: The Seabury Press, 1980] p. 20)

When what one asks of God and what God does for one coincide, there one stands upon holy ground. When David Livingstone said he would go to Africa, as God was looking for someone to go, a covenant was created. When Mary said yes to being the handmaid of the Lord, just as God was looking for the best way to become one with his people, a prophecy was fulfilled. When a person tired of running from God, turns and runs into his arms, love is experienced and fears are vanquished. Thomas asked Jesus to do what Jesus was already willing to do: reestablish the certainty of his faith. Does God do this to make us powerful? No, he does it to make us available again.

“Good men, heroes, make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes have the most terrible consequences imaginable. We should not be spared criticism for them, but it is unlikely that the judgments made by others will be as severe as our own regret.” An excellent assessment to bear in mind whenever we approach St. Peter in the gospels! (“Bob Kerry, War Hero.” John McCain. The Wall Street Journal, 4/27/01)

Jesus comes looking for each of us. Years ago an Assembly of God preacher named David Wilkerson took the Bible message to the streets of New York City, and Teen Challenge was born. Over a century ago Hudson Taylor took medicine and Bibles to China and China Inland Mission was founded. One day in your life a Voice came to you, through a parent, teacher, friend, book, movie, song or silence. That Voice whispered your name with more love than you thought could ever exist, and you said “Yes!”

Belief gives us a new vision for a new age. Faith is the content of what we believe and the courage for what we do. Hope is the light toward which we walk and the staff with which we walk. Love is who won’t let us go when the waves get big and who won’t let us quit when the path gets steep. Love says "He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother, She ain’t nasty, she’s my sister.’ Hope says, "Lean on me when you’re not strong, darkness will give way to dawn.’ Faith says, "Too bad they’ve surrounded us, it means we can attack in any direction.’ This vision of new life is rooted in Jesus Christ. This vision of a new life brings a new age to our old life.

Belief does give a new vision for a new age. Faith thus becomes the ability to take the next right step. Hope thus becomes the willingness to see opportunity in every roadblock. Love then becomes the persis-tence to seek the good for person beside us. Our community and our nation needs these fruits of belief now more than ever— faith, hope and love. We are witnesses to these three things by the authority of Jesus Christ whose life exemplifies faith, hope and love. We are agents of these three things by the power of the Holy Spirit whose gifts empower faith, hope and love.

“Most men waiting on Death Row become Christians,” said Sr. Helen Prejean “and you have to ask "why?’ It is because only the Christian gospel addresses the profound moral dilemma of forgiveness for heinous brutality. Only Jesus Christ offers the spiritual power to live graciously under nearly inhumane conditions.” Such is the power unleashed in the soul when Jesus helps our unbelief. (Personal conversation with the author).

Conversion breaks the power of sin. Each Gospel writer tells us this good news in a slightly different way. But the message is unmistakable. Jesus is the Messiah whose word of power, touch of mercy, or instruction of faith liberates us from the fear of punishment, chains of guilt, and stains of shame. John describes this simply as "new birth.’

Communion infuses the power of grace. Luke’s description of life among earliest believers is still an accurate depiction of a healthy congregation—spending much time together in a fellowship meal and an instructional time devoted to hearing the witness of those who most fully know Jesus. Such a breakfast held on the beach was what finally touched Peter in this text.

I remember looking out of my study window one spring day in Indiana and seeing my oldest son wrestling with bales of hay left over from the Nativity Scene. Since he was only about five years old, but clearly intent on achieving some purpose, I decided to see what he was up to. As I quietly made my way near him, I could hear him talking to his Imaginary Friend – and finally saying, “The boy needs help!” At that point I stepped out where he could see me and offered him my help. We spent an enjoyable hour building a "barn’ for his "cows.’ St. Peter makes a similar request in this text—but Jesus is no Imaginary Friend.

Stroll through any bookstore and you cannot avoid the “Self-Help” section. It may not be the biggest section in the store, but one message is clear—people feel bereft of resources to address the conditions of life. From general conditions of life to specific guidance on everything from saving for retirement to raising kids, people want help and there appears to be no shortage of folk willing to sell you the answer. In times past this information was passed down within the family or through an informal network of community resources—the family physician, local banker and wise pastor—or by having a family member whose length and quality of life generally qualified them as possessing enough wisdom to guide others.

Life has not become more complex—we have forgotten Who to ask for help. I say this because as I read the "answers’ that are in the self-help books it is clear the answers are the same ones readily available to anyone willing to listen to the wisdom of past generations. Know God. Be honest with yourself. Treat others the way you desire to be treated. Be your child’s parent, not your child’s best friend. This wisdom, especially that first bit of wisdom, is germane to us on any Sunday. Clearly Peter knew both how to ask for help and who to ask for help.

Christ’s first action toward us is to be helpful. This is the enduring portrait of Jesus after Easter—He is a Recognizable Companion who appears among the disciples with words that reassures them of His peaceful intentions. He is the Reassuring Companion who seeks to relieve their anxieties about His identity. Inevitably Christ’s posture toward humanity points to His sacrifice on our behalf so that we are fit to be in the presence of the Father rather than a posture of accusation. Christ does not come with an accusation about our failures (our own conscience does a pretty adequate job of that). Christ is more intent on infusing us with the resources to make us fit for his service.

Jesus’ first word to the disciples after the resurrection was “Peace.” In our often war-torn world, who symbolizes peace for people today? That was a much debated question last year in Mostar, a city in the former Yugoslavia, whose population is divided between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats. The discussion arose when it was decided to erect a peace memorial in the city. At first, such names as Pope John Paul II and Gandhi were suggested, but neither man won favor among both populations. In the end, the city chose the martial arts legend, Bruce Lee, to be their symbol of peace. As a result, Mostar commissioned a life-size bronze statue to be made. Bruce Lee has no real connection to Mostar, with Lee being born in San Francisco before his family returned to Hong Kong when he was still a baby. He then went on to make four martial arts movies in the early 1970s before dying from a swelling of the brain in 1973. Lee “appealed to both constituencies because he was not affiliated with either group’s political movement.” Officials in Mostar hope the statue will turn into a tourist attraction, luring Bruce Lee fans to flock to their city. (The Telegraph , 9/12/04)

Since the Gospel story is so familiar to most Christians, we may overlook the amazing fact that instead of seeking revenge against those who had wronged, Jesus’ proclamation is “Peace.” Such a declaration reveals how much of a gulf often exists between what we do and what Jesus would have us do. When someone wrongs us in someway, especially if we’ve been violently attacked like Jesus was, our first inclination tends to be for revenge. Researchers, for instance, have demonstrated that areas of the brain that are linked to enjoyment and satisfaction “lit up in young men when they punished others for cheating them.” In the experiment conducted at the University of Zurich, participants were paired up and each connected to PET scanners to record their brain activity. Player A could then give all or some of the money that had been given to him to player B, who had the option of giving some or all of it back to player A. If the first player gave all his money, the amount was immediately quadrupled, and player B was allowed the share in that reward that was given to player A. If, however, player B refused to share, player A had the right to punish him by taking away some of his money. The scientists detected “a clear sense of satisfaction among the players who penalized their partners.” One psychologist commented that instead of being based on calculated reason, “revenge tends to be driven by passion.” (Reuters, 8/27/04)

Believing what is new is never easy for us, even when what is new leads us closer to the truth about God. As more ancient, and more accurate, texts of Scriptures were discovered during the nineteenth century, church leaders were forced to decide whether to accept the more original readings of some passages, or whether simply to ignore them and cling to the old, familiar versions of the readings. Biblical scholars convened at Westminster Abbey in the 1870s to suggest revisions to the King James Version of the Bible, based on the new manuscript evidence. Among their recommendations was a proposed revision to 1 John 5:7, which traditionally had been rendered: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” The newly discovered manuscript evidence revealed that the passage in the King James Version was a later interpolation, not a part of the original epistle. Likewise, the new manuscripts showed that Acts 8:37 also needed to be revised. The King James Version had the eunuch proclaim that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God” before he is baptized, when in fact the most ancient manuscripts did not contain such a confession of faith. Washington Gladden observed that when he sat down at a gathering with twenty other Congregational ministers, he was the only one who thought they should inform the people about what they now knew to be true. (Richard Wightman Fox, Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession [San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004], pp. 276-77)

Sometimes we hesitate to believe new things because we are reluctant to let go of our former ways of thinking. The word “pagan,” for instance, originally referred to unindoctrinated country-folk who clung to old versions of nature worship. The medieval church despised those rural worshipers so much that those who lived in villes (villages) became known as villains, implying that their ways were wicked and evil. (Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code [New York: Doubleday, 2003], p. 36)

Do we allow Jesus to place demands upon us, or do we place our demands upon Jesus? Earlier in the Gospels we witness Jesus’ family resisting the work he was doing. In fact, various passages speak of Jesus’ mother and brothers “calling” Jesus. That perhaps implies that they were trying to impose their call on Jesus rather than allowing Jesus to call them. Quite possibly they were so familiar with Jesus that they found it unseemly to be asked to believe in him. (Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Cynthia L. Rigby, eds., Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary [Westminster John Knox, 2002], p. 36)

The Gospel of John eventually goes on to say that such writings as the Gospels were set down on paper for us to help bolster our belief. While we might sometimes wish for a first-hand encounter with the risen Christ, such as the apostles experienced, the Gospel writer reassures us that by reading the Scriptures, we have an opportunity to share in the very same faith that the first believers enjoyed. The problem today, though, is that many people are less inclined to read as they used to be. In order to entice British men away from watching so much television and to encourage them to read more books, Penguin Books launched an innovative campaign. The company announced they would be sending a beautiful model through the streets of the country, and a 1,000-pound prize would be given to any man who was spotted reading a selected title. The plan is for a different title to be chosen each month. Penguin Books also announced the results of a poll that found that 85% of women say “a man could increase his chances of getting a date by talking about a favorite book.” In contrast, more than half of all men said they thought that “simply flattering a woman would be sufficient to win a date.” (Reuters, 6/7/04)

One of the truly significant aspects of how the Gospel of John narrates the story of Easter and the subsequent events is the prominent role that Mary Magdalene plays. Without question, she is portrayed as the church’s first evangelist. Yet as we encounter the disciples’ fearful hiding in today’s lection, we realize that even for those first apostles there was a struggle between belief and unbelief. Just as Mary Magdalene played a major role at a time when it was basically a “man’s world,” even today, when it is still often a “man’s world,” there are women who wield considerable influence. Forbes magazine presented a list last year of the world’s one hundred most powerful women. At the top of that list they placed U. S. National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice. Ranked second was China’s Vice-Premier, Wu Yi, who was followed in the listing by Sonia Gandhi, leader of India’s ruling Congress Party. (“Rice tops list of powerful women,” BBC, 8/21/04)

The disciples undoubtedly realized that professing faith in Jesus could very well lead them to the same cross that Jesus faced: “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” (C. S. Lewis)

In our culture today, “belief” often amounts to nothing more than “opinion.” We might say, “I believe it’s going to rain today,” but such a “belief” hardly compares to the kind of “faith” the disciples were invited to profess: “Belief is truth held in the mind; faith is fire in the heart.” (Joseph Fort Newton)

While the disciples were in a state of unbelief, they were paralyzed, spending their days hiding in the shadows. Only when they accepted the challenge to believe were they empowered to go forth and accomplish God’s will: “It is cynicism and fear that freezes life; it is faith that thaws it out, releases it, sets it free.” (Harry Emerson Fosdick)

Thomas is much like Ellie Arroway in the film Contact, a person who trusted his senses and mind, rather than accepting things on faith. While still a little girl, Ellie lost her faith when her father died just out of reach of the medicine that could have saved him. She became a radio astronomer because of her insatiable curiosity about “what’s out there.” Believing that there might be an intelligent life form attempting to communicate with us, she headed a project to monitor and study the electromagnetic waves continuing bombarding the earth. She met and became involved romantically with a man who was a theologian, the two engaging in many debates over science and religion. Ellie maintained that everything must be proven empirically—until she experienced something which she could not prove to others. Her long search of the heavens bore fruit when a series of transmissions turned out to be not random but coherent. It was a series of instructions on how to build a complex machine, indeed, so complex that it required international resources to under gird the project. Although they do not really understand the machine, its purpose seems to be to transport a small group of humans to the place where the aliens live. After one attempted flight ends in disaster, Ellie becomes a part of a second team that will venture forth into the unknown. She experiences a thrilling reunion with her dead father, but when she returns, the observers tell her that nothing happened. To them the machine never left, even though to its occupants a long time seemed to have elapsed. Ellie faces a skeptical panel of her fellow scientists who will not accept her story as what actually happened. She is forced to fall back on what people of faith have always known—that there are some things to which we can only bear witness. Reason and facts lead us only so far, after which faith takes over.

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship

Leader: In our times of doubt and fear, protect us, O Lord!
People: Those who search for help elsewhere look in vain! The Lord alone is our refuge!
Leader: Even when darkness surrounds us and danger lurks in the shadows, God is faithful! God will save us!
People: Rejoice in the Lord! God’s faithfulness never ends!

Prayer of Confession

Ever-living God, we have heard the Easter proclamation. We have sung the hymns that celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. With our lips we have affirmed that “He is risen indeed.” Yet in our hearts we continue to harbor shreds of doubt. We yearn for a personal revelation like those first apostles experienced. We desire an opportunity for our eyes to see the risen Lord and for our hands to touch his resurrected body. Merciful Lord, forgive our lack of faith. By Your Spirit, enable us to trust Your Word and to trust the faithful witness of those who have gone before us. Empower us to step forward in faith to believe and to live as your faithful disciples. In the name of our glorious Lord and Savior we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Holy Lord, again and again You offer Yourself to us. In this hour as we present our gifts before You; we offer ourselves to You. Touch our lives and lead us to declare with a new boldness the faithful love that You have for all people. With our prayers, with our acts of worship, with our deeds of service—with all that we say and do, form us into faithful disciples; through our Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Faithful Lord, last week churches across our nation were filled with worshipers. Trumpets blared and jubilant throngs joyfully sang “Alleluia.” And with bold affirmations, we announced that Jesus Christ is risen, that he is risen indeed. Yet today the pews in most churches are not nearly so crowded. And in comparison to Easter Sunday, our worship today seems more reserved and less exultant. So we wonder if the good news of last Sunday is really true. We wonder whether the good news we heard last Sunday of Jesus’ resurrection has a truth that goes beyond just one day, whether it possesses a truth that is meant to grasp hold of our lives and direct us forevermore.
Gracious God, You know the doubts that creep into our hearts. You know those concerns that hold us back from committing ourselves to You as we should. So we pray that You would reach out to us even now and dispel those fears. Create within us a renewed passion; kindle within us a burning desire to believe the good news and to announce Your gospel to all creation. In our church, show us the ways that You want us to serve You. Among our families, neighbors, and co-workers, lead us to demonstrate our faith through what we say and through what we do. And in our communities and in the world, guide us to be instruments of the new life that You desire for all the world. We ask these things in the name of our risen Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.