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Prelude

Welcome

Call to Worship

Leader: Easter Sunday has come and gone, but the Easter season continues.

People: Let us prepare to meet the resurrected One again.

Leader: Disciples of Jesus, do not cower in fear in a locked room!

People: Let us throw open the doors to the risen Christ!

Leader: Christ gifts us with the Holy Spirit, a gentle breath on the cheek.

People: Let us worship God in spirit and truth!

*Hymn of Praise                       # 189   O Spread the Tidings ‘Round

Invocation        (the Lord’s Prayer)       Father, we believe  that in the beginning was the Word,   and the Word was with God,   and the Word was God, He was in the world, and the world came into being through him,    but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own,    and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him,    who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.    Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him,    Caiaphas condemned him, and Pilate sentenced him,    while the crowds yelled, "Crucify him!  Crucify him!" At Golgotha we nailed him to the cross,    while the soldiers cast lots for his clothes. We thought he was finished    when his body was laid in a garden tomb,    but early on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came running to tell that he was not there. Then Jesus appeared to Mary, and after that to the other disciples, and then again even to Thomas who had doubted. "Blessed are those who have not seen    and yet have come to believe," Jesus said. Now, thanks be to God,    we too believe    that Jesus is the Messiah,    the Son of God,    and that through believing    we may have life in his name.

Psalm 16

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.  I say to the Lord,
”You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup, you hold my lot.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.

I keep the Lord always before me; because He is my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.

For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life.  In your presence there is fullness of joy;

In your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Our  Offering to God                (Rev 1:8 NLT)  ""I am the Alpha and the Omega--the beginning and the end," says the Lord God. "I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come, the Almighty One.""

Doxology

Prayer of Dedication                 O Lord, we pray that you would use these offerings in ways that would bring glory to your name. 

*Hymn of Prayer                      Spirit of the Living God

Spirit of the living God fall a-fresh on me.

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me,

Melt me, mold me, fill me, us me. 

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.

(repeat using us in place of me)

Pastoral Prayer                         God of all creation, hear our prayers for your world and your people. We lay before you our Easter hopes and resurrection dreams — visions for a world of wholeness, an end to poverty and violence, the healing of divisions and the mending of brokenness in communities, families, and within ourselves. Like Thomas, we want to believe that you are with us, uttering words of blessing and peace. But we plunge our hands into the wounds of the world, and our belief wavers. Our doubt increases, until like Thomas, we cry out: My Lord and my God! How can we sing of resurrection in a suffering world? How can we preach the good news with integrity and depth? How can we have life in your name while too often the world around us deals in death?

It is possible through your grace. We believe; help our unbelief. Send us a full measure of your Spirit, that we might continue to make peace, to repair broken lives, to preach your liberating news, and to dream resurrection dreams. Amen.

*Hymn of Praise                       # 187   Breathe on Me, Breath of God

Scripture Reading                     John 20:19-31  

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  Again Jesus said "Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."  And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

Message                                   Behind Locked Doors

     The disciples have just gone through the most difficult weekend of their lives.  Jesus has been tried in a mock trial, // Jesus has been murdered in the most awful manner known in the ancient Roman world, // Jesus body has disappeared from the tomb. // The disciples are hopeful that Jesus is alive, but they are horrified by the possibility that some of the Jews might come after them.  As they huddle, frozen in fear, behind locked doors, they are not quite sure who they can trust, for Jesus is no longer with them as their leader and they are fearful for their lives and do not know about their future. // They recognized the bitterness of the Jews who had plotted against Jesus, and they were afraid that their turn would come next.  So they were meeting in terror, listening fearfully for every step on the stair and for every knock on the door, afraid that the Sanhedrin would send someone to arrest them also.

     In this time of hopelessness Jesus comes and stands among them.  He is once again in their presence.  Do they dare believe their eyes?, did they hear Jesus say to them "Peace be with you!"?.  Yes, he is really with them.  He shows them the nail print in his hands and the hole in his side which proves that he had actually died.  But he is now alive!  So that they may know without a doubt he repeats to them his greeting and blessing.  "Peace be with you!"      May God give you every good thing.  Then Jesus gave the disciples the commission which we must never forget.

Jesus told his disciples that God had sent him into the world, and he was sending them into the world.  Westcott called it the Charter of the Church, saying that it meant three things:  1st:  it means that Jesus needs the church.  Jesus had come into the world with a message for all humanity and now he was going back to His Father.  His message could never be taken to all people unless the Church, working together as his body, took it.  The Church was to be a mouth to speak for Jesus, feet to run his errands, hands to do his work.  JESUS IS DEPENDENT ON HIS CHURCH.  2nd:  It means that the Church needs Jesus.  People who are to be sent out need someone to send them; they need a message to take; they need power and authority to back their message; they need someone to whom they may turn when they are in doubt or in difficulty.  Without Jesus, the Church has no message; without him she has no power; without him she has nothing to instruct her mind, to strengthen her arm, or to encourage her heart.  THE CHURCH IS DEPENDENT ON JESUS.  3rd:  The sending out of the church by Jesus is parallel to the sending out of Jesus by God.  The relationship between Jesus and God was continually dependent on Jesus' perfect obedience and perfect love.  Jesus could be God's messenger only because he delivered to God that perfect obedience and love.  It follows that the Church is fit to be the messenger and the instrument of Christ only when she perfectly loves him and perfectly obeys him.  The Church must never be out to communicate her own message; she must be out to communicate the message of Christ.  She must never be out to follow man-made policies; she must be out to follow the will of Christ.  THE CHURCH IS DEPENDENT ON LOVE AND OBEDIENCE TO GOD.

Are we as a local church dependent on God the Father, and God the Son or are we behind locked doors for fear of........

Jesus again identified himself with his Father. He told the disciples by whose authority he did his work. Then he passed the job to his disciples of spreading the Good News of salvation around the world. Whatever God has asked you to do, remember: (1) Your authority comes from God, and (2) Jesus has demonstrated by words and actions how to accomplish the job he has given you. As the Father sent Jesus, Jesus sends his followers … including you.

It seems to me that the next statement in today's scripture reading should help us not to be immobilized by fear.  Jesus breathed on them the Holy Spirit. 

This may have been a special filling of the Holy Spirit for the disciples, a foretaste of what all believers would experience from the time of Pentecost (Acts 2) and forever after. To do God’s work, we need the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. We must avoid trying to do his work in our own strength.

There is life in the breath of God. Man was created but did not come alive until God breathed into him the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). God’s first breath made man different from all other forms of creation. Now, through the breath of Jesus, God imparted eternal, spiritual life. With this inbreathing came the power to do God’s will on earth.

Jesus was giving the disciples their Spirit-powered and Spirit-guided mission—to preach the Good News about Jesus so people’s sins might be forgiven. The disciples did not have the power to forgive sins (only God can forgive sins), but Jesus gave them the privilege of telling new believers that their sins have been forgiven because they have accepted Jesus’ message. All believers have this same privilege. We can announce forgiveness of sins with certainty when we ourselves have found repentance and faith.

Have you ever wished you could actually see Jesus, touch him, and hear his words? Are there times you want to sit down with him and get his advice? Thomas wanted Jesus’ physical presence. But God’s plan is wiser. He has not limited himself to one physical body; he wants to be present with you at all times. Even now he is with you in the form of the Holy Spirit. You can talk to him, and you can find his words to you in the pages of the Bible. He can be as real to you as he was to Thomas.

Jesus wasn’t hard on Thomas for his doubts. Despite his skepticism, Thomas was still loyal to the believers and to Jesus himself. Some people need to doubt before they believe. If doubt leads to questions, questions lead to answers, and the answers are accepted, then doubt has done good work. It is when doubt becomes stubbornness and stubbornness becomes a life-style that doubt harms faith. When you doubt, don’t stop there. Let your doubt deepen your faith as you continue to search for the answer.

Jesus’ resurrected body was unique. It was not the same kind of flesh and blood Lazarus had when he came back to life. Jesus’ body was no longer subject to the same laws of nature as before his death. He could appear in a locked room; yet he was not a ghost or apparition because he could be touched and could eat. Jesus’ resurrection was literal and physical—he was not a disembodied spirit.

Some people think they would believe in Jesus if they could see a definite sign or miracle. But Jesus says we are blessed if we can believe without seeing. We have all the proof we need in the words of the Bible and the testimony of believers. A physical appearance would not make Jesus any more real to us than he is now.

To understand the life and mission of Jesus more fully, all we need to do is study the Gospels. John tells us that his Gospel records only a few of the many events in Jesus’ life on earth. But the Good News includes everything we need to know to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, through whom we receive eternal life.///     There is no peace but in the will of God.  God's will is our  peace and there is no other peace.  God's service is perfect freedom and there is no other freedom.  ///    John 14:27  Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your  hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.// 

 From America's population of 240 million, (40%) have no religious affiliation.  73 million (31%) are Christians "in name only."  That leaves 169 million (71%) of the total U.S. population who are unchurched and unbelievers.  Both groupings of stats tell us we have a lot of missionary work to do here at home -- and lots of opportunity for our fellowship to grow!    -- Win Arn's Growth Report, Volume 13. Copyright 1986           

*Hymn of Response                 # 481     So Send I You

Right Hand of Fellowship          We welcome in the name of Jesus Christ these who have come to join in the life and ministry of the Baptist Church in Warren.  As you receive them do you promise before God and in their presence to give them your love and encouragement as they grow in their Christian life and commitment?   WE DO

In the name of Jesus Christ and on behalf of this congregation, I welcome you into the membership of this church and extend to you its right hand of fellowship.

Kathy- This certificate indicates that you are a member of this church in good standing with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that such membership entails.

Eph 2: 19-22    You are no longer stranger and aliens ,but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of  God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Communion

*Sending forth              Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you

"Go into all the world, and announce that Christ is alive. 

Help people in their doubts, and lead them into faith.

And as you go, may the peace of Christ be with you, now and always.  Amen.

*Postlude


Animating Illustrations

“When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead,” wrote author Flannery O’Connor. “This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty.”


“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says God ... “who is and who was and is to come.” There is no specific identification — not male, female, old, young, black, white or anything we can pin down. Just this large, mysterious, yet strangely intimate, Someone. Notice the verbs — all parts of the infinitive to be. If God is any part of speech, God is a verb, representing both existence and action. Forgive me for trying to pin God down even that much, but I find it irresistible. The old classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, says God may be loved but not thought of.
— Muriel Lipp, “Doubting Thomas and Believing John,”


How easy is it to label someone? We do it all the time. When a coworker doesn’t complete a project on time, we call her a procrastinator. When a neighbor lets the weeds grow wild and rarely mows the yard, we call him lazy. When a classmate calls us friend then talks about us behind our backs, we call him a traitor.
Haven’t we done just as those apostles did — labeled this missing disciple, Doubting Thomas? Perhaps we are so uneasy with our place in the “fellowship” that anybody not here is suspect. Perhaps we dislike being here enough that we resent anyone not here. Perhaps we do not feel like we belong enough to want to be with each other. Maybe we named him “Doubting” just because he wasn’t behind locked doors.
Time out! Today let us consider Thomas from a different perspective. Not Doubting Thomas but rather Thomas doubting. Let’s think of him as being one who was not going to be deceived, or who didn’t want to be misled; Thomas is not gullible. In John’s gospel (20:25), Thomas says to the other disciples, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
—Barbara Jordan, “Thomas doubting,”


“There are days, some more than others, when I take leaps of faith,” says Cheri Blauwet, a wheelchair racer, to Fast Company magazine (September 2004). “When you see a pothole coming at 35 miles per hour, you just have to close your eyes and pray that you land on the other side.” Cheri has been paralyzed from the waist down since she was 15 months old, when she was run over by a tractor in a farming accident. But she grew up being treated like her siblings and other kids, and has always been encouraged to be freethinking and independent. She has won marathons in Boston, New York and Los Angeles — as well as being a medical school student at Stanford.


 

| The Verifier Approach|   4/3/2005When professionals investigate a mystery, their expertise can actually get in the way — they tend to rely entirely on principles from their specialties. They often miss the big picture. Qopchedy qokedydy qokololy qokeedy qokedy shedy.

Try saying that!

The best cryptologists in the world have been unable to decode the 400-year-old document from which those words, if indeed they are words, are transliterated.

[NOTE: For this to make sense to the congregation, you will need to project these words on a scene, or have them printed as part of the worship bulletin.]

Called the Voynich manuscript, these words are taken from a book discovered in an Italian villa in 1912 and named for the dealer who purchased it. It’s comprised of 234 pages and is hand lettered in an unknown code. There’s no punctuation or any indication of where sentences begin or end, but the volume is richly illustrated with watercolor images of plants not known on earth, apparent astrological signs and constellations not known in our solar system, strangely proportioned naked women and intricate systems of liquid-carrying tubes.

During World War II, the Allied cryptographers, the experts who broke the Nazi ciphers, played with the Voynich in their spare time, but made no headway. Other professionals, including linguists, botanists, mathematicians, astrologers, medievalists and literary scholars have taken a run at the Voynich, too, but have all come up dry, as have numerous amateur puzzle-solvers.

Recently, however, psychologist Gordon Rugg, who teaches at Keele University in England, came up with what is probably the solution. Working on the manuscript at home in the evenings, he finally concluded that it says — nothing at all!

Rugg proposes that it’s an elaborate hoax generated by an Elizabethan con artist to dupe a king into paying a large sum to acquire it. Indeed, the first known owner of the Voynich was the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, who reigned from 1576-1612. He paid 600 gold ducats for it (about $30,000 in today’s money), believing it was the work of the 13th-century philosopher Roger Bacon.

Though this hoax possibility had occasionally been suggested, no one took it seriously because the document appeared too elaborate to be a fraud. Rugg, however, actually demonstrated how the so-called language of the manuscript was generated, and now many cryptologists and others are finding Rugg’s conclusion persuasive.

More important than the manuscript, however, is the type of investigation Rugg brought to the riddle. He calls it the “verifier approach,” and it has promise for solving more important puzzles, such as how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease or to learn more about the origins of the universe.

The verifier approach looks for gaps in logic, research or experimentation, and then explores those. When professionals investigate a conundrum, they tend to rely on the principles from their expertise; the problem gets thoroughly considered from their niche perspectives. But often that means these experts miss the big picture, with the result that there are approaches that nobody examines. And sometimes the solution lies somewhere in one of the overlooked gaps.

Rugg argues that experts, whom he defines as someone with 10 years in a discipline, have no more reasoning power than anybody else, but they do have a lot of experience — experience that can blind them to things that seem to fit their expertise but are actually something different.

He argues that experience causes professionals to rely on what he calls “pattern-matching.” A doctor, for example, has seen many cases of chicken pox, and so when you present yourself to him covered with spots, he probably doesn’t use sequential reasoning to arrive at a diagnosis. You match the pattern his experience has taught him is chicken pox, and so he quickly labels your ailment, and usually he’s right.

But suppose you actually have something that looks similar to chicken pox but is actually more life-threatening? Then pattern-matching fails and thus leaves room for the verifier approach.

With his approach, Rugg draws a map of the field, indicating what areas have been researched and what kind of expertise has been applied. Then he looks for what has not been considered. He solved the Voynich puzzle not because he was smarter than others, but because he went looking for what the others had not contemplated. In the Voynich case, no one had seriously investigated the hoax theory.

The verifier approach is a new thing in science, but there is a sense in which it is also quite old.

Case in point: On the first Easter, when the other disciples told Thomas they had seen the risen Christ, Thomas refused to believe it. Their story didn’t fit into Thomas’ field of expertise, which was an experience-based understanding of life and his “pattern matching” approach to problems.

If he couldn’t see Jesus with his own eyes and touch the wounds on Jesus’ hands and side — that is, make the claim match the patterns of reality with which Thomas was familiar — then the account of his companions could not be believed.

Thus when Jesus later appeared to Thomas, it was an event in one of Thomas’ blind spots. Until that moment, Thomas had been relying on his prior experience of life to tell him what was real.

But experience is colored by what we bring to it, by our culture and training, by our upbringing, and so forth. One mother always used an instant mix whenever she made mashed potatoes, and her son grew up thinking that’s what everybody did. Then he got married, and the first time his wife fixed mashed potatoes, she peeled and cut up real potatoes. He looked at them cooking on the stove and said, “Why go to all that work? Just use instants.” But when they sat down to eat, he found the real mashed potatoes delicious and finally understood that there had been a gap in his culinary experience. Such are the limitations of experience.

So Jesus does not come merely offering instant potato buds; he doesn’t offer Thomas a new experience. He does give Thomas a pattern-matching opportunity by holding out his hands and giving Thomas permission to touch them.

By this point, however, Thomas is convinced. Like the other disciples, Thomas now believes because of the evidence in front of him.

Then Jesus makes a comment that shows that for the rest of us, he is calling for more than experience-based discipleship. He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” and in so saying, he calls for a faith-based model in which all people will have the same opportunity the apostles did — to embrace him as Lord.

The difference is that the apostles experienced the risen Christ — a personal post-resurrection visit from Jesus — and therefore believed. Thomas and the rest of us are invited to believe the risen Christ, and therefore and on account of this, experience him.

It is a faith-based verifying approach, rather than an empirical, experiential or pattern-matching approach to discipleship.

Sound nuts? Tertullian (ca. 155 to 222 A.D.) when similarly challenged, shrugged and said, “Credo quia absurdum!”

Jesus himself seemed to be talking about the value of experience when, on another occasion, he told some who questioned his teachings that, “Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own” (John 7:17). But he wasn’t touting experience as a sufficient ground for discipleship. Rather he was indicating that experience could confirm that a decision made by faith was the right one.

Like reason, experience can point us toward faith and bolster faith’s decision afterward, but at some point, if we are to know the truth of the risen Christ, we’ve got to take a leap of faith at the gap that reason and experience don’t cover.

That leap of faith is the verifier approach.

Or maybe we should say it differently. The “leap of faith” phrase, though used in both secular and religious conversations today, is credited to Kierkegaard. But he didn’t really say it. As Kierkegaardian scholar M. Jamie Ferrera, Professor of Religious Studies and Philosophy at the University of Virginia, points out:

“Kierkegaard never uses any Danish equivalent of the English phrase ‘leap of faith,’ a phrase that involves circularity insofar as it seems to imply that the leap is made by faith. He does, however, clearly and often refer to the concept of a leap and to the concept of a transition that is qualitative; ... moreover, he clearly and often refers to such a qualitative state of transition to religiousness and to faith in an eminent sense, namely, a Christian religiousness. Thus, even if the concept of a leap of (made by) faith is foreign to the terminology of Kierkegaard, the concept of a leap to faith remains central to his writings.” [emphasis added]

To expand on what Ferrera says, a leap of faith focuses on the action of the leaper, while the leap to faith focuses on the reliability of the ground on which the leaper lands.

Applying that understanding to Jesus’ comment, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” suggests that the blessedness is because those who commit themselves to Christ by faith discover that they have landed on solid ground, a terrain able to bear the weight of their commitment or the weight of their doubts. It’s a solid place to stand.

That terra firma is what the writer of Hebrews testified to when he wrote “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Why should we care about the verifier approach? Most church people already consider faith a valid pathway to the risen Christ.

Yet given our normal reliance on empirical evidence, we sometimes are apologetic about faith, as though it were a more flimsy basis for commitment than what can be observed and demonstrated by concrete experience or supported by the scientific method.

Still, there are things that must be real even though they are counterintuitive, and we have nothing available to us to confirm those things but faith.

Rugg’s verifier approach reminds us that expertise often means narrow thinking, and it tells us that many solutions lie in the gaps between what experience and reason tell us.

Jesus says that not seeing but yet believing addresses the most important gap in this life of ours, and puts us on solid ground ever thereafter.


Sources:

D’Agnese, Joseph. “Scientific method man.” Wired, September 2004, 112-121.

Pierson, D. “On Kierkegaard and Faith,” Tekton Apologetics Ministry, tektonics.org.

Woods, Michael. “Cryptologists call mysterious manuscript a hoax.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 21, 2003,post-gazette.com/pg/03355/253466.stm. ----

Commentary Even if an overused turn of phrase for preaching this passage, “believing is seeing” aptly describes the message of John 20:19-31. This text demonstrates how the risen presence of Jesus overcomes his disciple’s failure of vision, which further challenges present readers to see more clearly with eyes of faith.

Much is made of Thomas’ doubt. But before we too quickly perpetuate Christianity’s historically dim view of Thomas’ skepticism, we might do well to give some scrutiny to the fear of the other disciples. There is a hint of this fear earlier in John 20 when the two disciples’ curiosity about the empty tomb quickly dissipates (20:10) in contrast to the steadfast determination of Mary to stick around and find out the rest of the story (20:11-16).

Even though Mary has already informed the disciples about her encounter with the risen Jesus (20:18), 20:19-31 opens with the disciples huddled in fear behind locked doors. Here, if the disciples actually do believe Mary’s good news, they do not seem to trust in it enough to be unafraid. Prior to witnessing Jesus’ appearance for themselves, the other disciples are just as much in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” camp as Thomas is.

Jesus begins to overcome the fear of the disciples and the doubt of Thomas by saying, “Peace be with you” (20:19, 21, 26). This is a common enough salutation. At the same time, it is highly significant within the flow of John’s gospel narrative, for this greeting recalls the assurances of peace Jesus gave to the disciples during his discourse with them at the Last Supper (14:27; 16:33). Moreover, this assurance is connected to the coming of the Holy Spirit (14:26; 16:13). Consequently, when Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” he gives voice to the fulfillment of a holy promise, which is enacted through the concrete blessing of his physically dwelling among them once more.

After the disciples and Thomas confirm Jesus’ resurrection and come to believe, Jesus then proceeds to equip them for the future (20:21-29). In the case of the disciples, Jesus essentially constitutes them to be the church by sending them forth (20:21 [compare with Matthew 28:16-20]), filled with the power of the Holy Spirit (20:22 [compare with Acts 2:1-4]), and authority (20:23 [compare with Matthew 16:18-19]).

As for Thomas, Jesus encourages him to believe not only as the result of physical confirmation (20:27), but also because of faith that transcends the benefit of verification through the human senses (20:29). Here, Jesus’ words about the blessing of walking by faith and not by sight (20:29b) are particularly meant as much for readers as for Thomas. Indeed, 20:29b sets up a transition where the narrator turns from the story at hand to directly address readers in the second person (20:31).

The passage features theological insight emphasized rhetorically. In 20:21, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent (apestalken) me, so I send (pempw) you.” Why is the second verb pempw and not apostellw (I send)? After all, there is an obviously more direct and logical correspondence between apostellw and apestalken, which would further suggest the noun, apostolos (apostle), and reinforce the disciples’ transition to becoming apostles. A lexical review indicates that apostellw denotes more authoritative and official action than pempw

Perhaps the writer of John is highlighting the distinction wherein Jesus has more heavenly authority in being sent than his earthly disciples do. This is reminiscent of other stories in John’s gospel where the heavenly is contrasted with the earthly (for instance, the distinction between spiritual rebirth and physical rebirth operating in Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus [3:3-4]). John 20:21 reminds us that we need to be equipped by a power beyond our own resources to be Christ’s followers and to serve as ones who go forth in his name.

John 20:27, 29 deals with faith and vision through juxtaposition. At the end of 20:27, the Greek offers a strong contrast between apistV (faithless) and pistoV (faithful). Here, instead of “Do not doubt but believe,” a more accurate and forceful translation of mh ginou apistoV alla pistoV is “Do not become faithless but faithful” [emphasis added]. Then 20:29 underscores the difference between faith that emerges from having seen Jesus and faith that emerges without having to see him. Such contrasting bolsters the theological gist of the passage while likewise providing a rhetorical model for the preacher to drive home homiletical points in the sermon.

Along with recording how Jesus equips the disciples and Thomas, 20:19-31 concludes with the author breaking into the gospel account to clarify for readers that the text itself is a means of equipping all who take up and read it — so they “may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,” and “may have life in his name” (20:31). As a narrative in which the disciples experience Jesus fulfilling past promises and preparing his followers for the future, 20:19-31 opens readers’ eyes of faith so that they can identify markers of the living power of the risen Christ presently in their midst. What we have here is testimony that resurrection power extends into our lives.

In her book, Seeing the Lord: Resurrection and Early Christian Practices (Fortress, 1994), Marianne Sawicki describes gospel texts as delivery systems from the first-century Christians through which we gain the competency to be aware of the presence of the risen Christ. The gospel witness to the resurrection — fulfilling the past and preparing the future according to God’s purposes — is written for us so that we may come to believe.

In believing, we are equipped with a whole new way of recognizing the activity of the risen Christ when we encounter it. Sawicki puts it this way: “Our ancestors in faith chose the technology of text as the delivery system for the body of Jesus. It was not the only option they had to choose from. People in the ancient world knew very well how to preserve bodies in their material sameness. There are scores of mummified corpses still with us from Egypt, and most of them are far older than Jesus ... But the body of Jesus is not with us like some crumbling souvenir, like a faded flower pressed nostalgically between the pages of a venerable old book. He is as alive as the screaming foundling in the AIDS ward. He is as fresh as challah on Friday night” (285).

Thus we walk by faith, with new sight and vision for life in Christ’s name. ----

Animating Illustrations “My world is made meaningful not by what I can evaluate and define,” says organist Ann Hossler in Sacred Journey (June 2004), “but by what I can appreciate and adore. I find there is a profound difference in what I find interesting and what I find important.” ----

A defendant was on trial for murder. There was strong evidence indicating guilt, but there was no corpse. In the defense’s closing statement the lawyer, knowing that his client would probably be convicted, resorted to a trick: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all,” the lawyer said as he looked at his watch. “Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom.”

He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened. Finally the lawyer said, “Actually, I made up the previous statement. But you all looked on with anticipation. I therefore put it to you that there is reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty.”

The jury, clearly confused, retired to deliberate. A few minutes later, the jury returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty. “But how?” inquired the lawyer. “You must have had some doubt. I saw all of you stare at the door.”

The jury foreman replied: “Oh, we looked, but your client didn’t.” ----

“When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead,” wrote author Flannery O’Connor. “This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty.” ----

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says God ... “who is and who was and is to come.” There is no specific identification — not male, female, old, young, black, white or anything we can pin down. Just this large, mysterious, yet strangely intimate, Someone. Notice the verbs — all parts of the infinitive to be. If God is any part of speech, God is a verb, representing both existence and action. Forgive me for trying to pin God down even that much, but I find it irresistible. The old classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, says God may be loved but not thought of.

— Muriel Lipp, “Doubting Thomas and Believing John,” April 22, 2001, Seekers Church Web Site, seekerschurch.org. ----

There’s a story making the rounds on the Internet that tells about a company in Canada that began ordering parts from a new supplier in Japan. In its order, the company noted that an acceptable quality allowed for only 1.5 percent in defective parts.

The Japanese sent the order, with a few parts packaged separately in plastic. The accompanying letter said: “We don’t know why you want 1.5 percent defective parts, but for your convenience, we’ve packed them separately.” ----

How easy is it to label someone? We do it all the time. When a coworker doesn’t complete a project on time, we call her a procrastinator. When a neighbor lets the weeds grow wild and rarely mows the yard, we call him lazy. When a classmate calls us friend then talks about us behind our backs, we call him a traitor.

Haven’t we done just as those apostles did — labeled this missing disciple, Doubting Thomas? Perhaps we are so uneasy with our place in the “fellowship” that anybody not here is suspect. Perhaps we dislike being here enough that we resent anyone not here. Perhaps we do not feel like we belong enough to want to be with each other. Maybe we named him “Doubting” just because he wasn’t behind locked doors.

Time out! Today let us consider Thomas from a different perspective. Not Doubting Thomas but rather Thomas Doubting. Let’s think of him as being one who was not going to be deceived, or who didn’t want to be misled; Thomas is not gullible. In John’s gospel (20:25), Thomas says to the other disciples, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

—Barbara Jordan, “Thomas doubting,” April 18, 2004, Crossroads Presbyterian Church Web Site, crossroadspres.org. ----

When a dispute arose during a game of billiards one day, King Louis XIV of France asked one of his courtiers to settle it. The man said — without looking up — “Sire, you are incorrect.”

“But you didn’t even see the shot!” the king exclaimed.

“No, sire,” the man replied, “but if there had been the slightest doubt, the gentlemen who did see it would have all cried out that you were in the right.” ----

Dan Barker is the public relations director for the “Freedom From Religion” Foundation. From age 15 to 32 he says he was gung-ho into Christian work, preaching, doing missionary work, and visiting house-to-house. He immersed himself in all the accepted practices of the Christian religion. He even went to a “Christian” college and majored in “Religion and Philosophy.”

The faith he once proclaimed he now calls “an erroneous way of thinking” and an “ill-conceived” worldview. However, he says he should not be blamed for believing and acting as he did, “based on my limited knowledge back then.” He explains, “Should children be blamed for believing in Santa Claus?” Eventually, he says, he came to realize “there is no evidence for Christianity” and “no need for it.”

Empty churches are a painful sign of the effects of this. I passed a beautiful stone church in Manhattan, but the sign was blank. I asked some workmen nearby, “Is this church still open?”

“Yeah — as a nightclub.”

—David Holwick, “Doubting Thomas,” April 3, 1994, Rev. David Holwick Web Site, tonga.globat.com. ----

Any personal achievement, whether it’s a long marriage or getting a degree or climbing a mountain or starting a business or raising a family begins with a belief that it is possible. Believing precedes seeing.

It’s like the two people who were sent to a remote country to sell shoes. One wrote back, “I have terrible news. This is a godforsaken country. Nobody here wears shoes. I’m coming home.” But the other wrote, “This is a wonderful country. Nobody here wears shoes ... yet! Send me 5,000 pairs!” It’s all a matter of attitude, what you believe, and how you choose to see.

—Rich L. Smith, “Some things must be believed to be seen,” April 18, 2004, Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ Web Site, westmorelanducc.org. ----

“There are days, some more than others, when I take leaps of faith,” says Cheri Blauwet, a wheelchair racer, to Fast Company magazine (September 2004). “When you see a pothole coming at 35 miles per hour, you just have to close your eyes and pray that you land on the other side.” Cheri has been paralyzed from the waist down since she was 15 months old, when she was run over by a tractor in a farming accident. But she grew up being treated like her siblings and other kids, and has always been encouraged to be freethinking and independent. She has won marathons in Boston, New York and Los Angeles — as well as being a medical school student at Stanford. ----


Children's Sermon Place a bag of lollipops in front of the children. Hold up a red lollipop and ask them to tell you how they know it is red. Because they can see it. Hand each child a lollipop, and have them close their eyes. Ask them to tell you how they know it is round without opening their eyes. Because they can feel it. Have the children open the lollipops, and ask them to tell you how they know it is sweet. Because they can taste it. Then ask them if we can know something without seeing it, feeling it, or tasting it. Tell them the story of Thomas, and how he wanted to see and touch Jesus after he had been raised from the dead. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29). There are some things that we cannot see, like the goodness of God, or the love of our parents, or the concern of our friends. But we can always believe in this goodness and love and concern, even if we cannot touch it or taste it — we can believe in these things because they have been true in the past, and they will be true in the future. The best things in life cannot be seen or held on to, but if we believe in them we will not be disappointed. Goodness and love and concern are even better than lollipops, because they can last forever. ----

Worship Resources Call to Worship

Leader: Easter Sunday has come and gone, but the Easter season continues.

People: Let us prepare to meet the resurrected One again.

Leader: Disciples of Jesus, do not cower in fear in a locked room!

People: Let us throw open the doors to the risen Christ!

Leader: Christ gifts us with the Holy Spirit, a gentle breath on the cheek.

People: Let us worship God in spirit and truth!
Prayer

Pastoral Prayer

God of all creation, hear our prayers for your world and your people. We lay before you our Easter hopes and resurrection dreams — visions for a world of wholeness, an end to poverty and violence, the healing of divisions and the mending of brokenness in communities, families, and within ourselves. Like Thomas, we want to believe that you are with us, uttering words of blessing and peace. But we plunge our hands into the wounds of the world, and our belief wavers. Our doubt increases, until like Thomas, we cry out: My Lord and my God! How can we sing of resurrection in a suffering world? How can we preach the good news with integrity and depth? How can we have life in your name while too often the world around us deals in death?

It is possible through your grace. We believe; help our unbelief. Send us a full measure of the Spirit, that we might continue to make peace, to repair broken lives, to preach your liberating news, and to dream resurrection dreams. Amen.
Music Links

Hymns

Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain

Thine Is the Glory

Breathe on Me, Breath of God


Praise

I Love to Be in Your Presence

Spirit of the Living God

Unto the Lord |

 

 

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