Call to worship and welcome
God is spirit, and those who worship God
must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)
Wherever we are, we join in spirit and truth, to hear and meditate on God’s word, to praise him and to call on him for help.
Prayers of adoration and confession
you have been the dwelling place of your people in all generations;
your mercies are more than we can number,
and your compassion is without end.
Grant us now the help of the Holy Spirit,
that we may praise you for your goodness and mercy,
receive your word with joy and thanksgiving,
and give ourselves again to you in love and service;
(The following is based on Psalm 96)
We sing to you a new song, the song of our hearts, the song of our lives,
We sing to you and bless your name, our song tells of the salvation you bring to your people.
We declare your glory to the world, and your wonders to all people.
You are great, and greatly to be praised;
You are above the idols of the world, you are the Lord who made the heavens and the earth.
You are due all honour and majesty, and power and splendour surround you.
We bring before you the offering of our worship,
We worship you in the beauty of holiness; and look to the time when the whole earth bows before you.
As we bow in awe of your glory, we confess that we have sinned.
We have sinned against you.
We have sinned against one another.
We have sinned by intention.
We have sinned by neglect.
We have sinned by ignorance.
For all that we have done that is wrong, we are sorry.
For all the times we have spoken the wrong words, or failed to speak the right ones, we are sorry.
We bring our burdens to you. To lay them at the foot of the cross of Jesus our saviour.
By his grace, we ask you to forgive us and change us,
To guide us in your ways, and to strengthen us to do you will.
Put kind words on our lips, and good works in our hearts.
Help us to love one another, even as your son loved us.
Assurance of forgiveness
The apostle John writes: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” - 1 John 1:9
And so, having confessed our sins, we are assured of Christ’s of grace to us all: “Our sins are forgiven.”
Thanks be to God.
Prayers of Intercession
As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to march across the world, impacting the lives of millions of people, I am commencing our prayers this morning with a prayer prepared by the Jesuits in America, a country perhaps more than any other, at this time, in need of our prayers today.
Jesus Christ, you travelled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.”
At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.
Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.
Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbours from helping one another.
Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.
Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.
Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace.
Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.
Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.
Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions that will help prepare for or prevent future outbreaks. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth.
Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many people suffering from this illness or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare.
In place of our anxiety, give us your peace.
Jesus Christ, heal us.
Easter is finished. We have celebrated in new and different ways. But one thing remains the same – Your love in sending your Son, Jesus, who having died on the cross, rose again on that glorious Easter Day. He died that we might live in an eternal relationship with You.
May we all be encouraged to use this special season as an opportunity to invite those who are not regular attenders at church to link into our website, or that of some other church. Make us bold! Make us brave!
Within our congregation, we give you thanks that we have not experienced any members succumbing to the virus. Keep us safe, we pray. But we do pray for those at risk in our families. We place before you Alison Roeth in Turkey. And our son, David and his family in Burnie, Tasmania where his wife, Mel, is a registered nurse at the local hospital which has been closed down while a deep clean is completed.
We pray for those who need healing and comfort in these uncertain times, especially those who have lost their jobs.
We pray for Ken and May that they will experience wisdom as they assess the best care arrangements for May into the future.
We pray for John and Bronwyn, and any others that we know, as they continue their respective treatments. May they receive the usual good care we expect of our health professionals.
We pray for Margaret Robinson and her family as they grieve the passing of her mother in the last week. Uphold this family in your loving arms, particularly given the separation enforced on the family with state border closures. Bless them all as they reflect and remember this gracious lady, a servant of yours.
And so we offer these prayers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who taught us when we pray, to say:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Bible Readings John 20:19-31 (NRSV)
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
From doubt to belief
Our gospel reading today from John’s gospel tells us how Jesus, after his resurrection, appeared to the disciples, and it focuses on one disciple in particular: Thomas – the Twin. He’s best known, of course, as ‘doubting Thomas’ – in fact the phrase ‘doubting Thomas’ is cemented in our language, and it’s used in contexts far removed from scripture and from church.
I do feel for Thomas. He’s remembered mostly for that one thing, and I don’t think it’s fair. Doubt is something that we contemplate in church, because doubt and belief are somewhat intertwined, and as we meet and get to know Jesus, we go on our own journey from doubt to belief.
That doesn’t mean that all doubts will be dismissed or all questions answered. But the essence of our shared faith is just that: faith. Faith in Christ. Belief in Christ. Trust in Christ.
It is possible to believe various facts about Jesus: that he was a good teacher, that he was crucified, even that he is the son of God – without actually believing in him.
And indeed, Thomas’ reaction when confronted with the risen Jesus, wasn’t about accepting facts, it was about faith, trust and belief.
[Jesus] said to [doubting] Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” (20:27)
Thomas didn’t say. “Yes! I see now that you have risen from the dead”.
Instead his reaction was one of faith: Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28)
And interestingly, that is the most profound declaration of Jesus’ identity in any of the gospels – Thomas identifies Jesus as God. Not a man of God. Not the Son of God. But rather, Jesus is God.
Thomas has gone from doubt to that declaration of faith in Jesus. He says my Lord and my God.
And yet, it’s always for the doubt that we remember Thomas - not for his faith.
And even that assessment, if we look at the exchange in context, is not really fair to Thomas.
We know the story: When the risen Jesus first appeared to the disciples, Thomas wasn’t with them, and when they told him the good news, he didn’t believe it.
[Thomas said 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.” (20:25)
And while that statement has become famous, Thomas was certainly not the only one to need solid evidence of the resurrection.
Just go back to the beginning of our reading:
When it was the evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were 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 rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (20:19-20).
Just like he would later do with Thomas, Jesus showed the other disciples his pierced hands and his wounded side – and it wasn’t until he’d done that, that John tells us that the disciples were overjoyed.
And yet Thomas – who required no more proof than the others – is the one who’s remembered for doubting!
Jesus presented himself to Thomas and the other disciples, and went on to appear to many others – Paul speaks of Jesus appearing to Peter “and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time…” (1 Corinthians 15:5-6a).
So those appearances of Jesus were important in establishing both the fact of the resurrection, and also in making it clear who Jesus is – that he is the messiah, that he is the Son of God, that he is someone worth putting your faith in.
We know those appearances didn’t continue, and Jesus was only present on earth for forty days until he ascended into heaven.
But of course people didn’t stop turning to Christ when he ascended, and the history of the church from the book of Acts through to the present day shows the staggering growth in the numbers of believers – people who have turned to Christ without seeing him physically.
And really, that is just as Jesus foreshadowed: in verse 29, Jesus tells Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
So we need to think about what it is that convinces those later believers – those who have not seen and yet have believed - that Thomas – and indeed the other disciples – didn’t have?
Why doesn’t someone today need the same evidence that Thomas and the others needed? Why don’t we need it?
It’s sometimes suggested that the number of witnesses has grown – that a thousand people making a claim is more convincing than a dozen, and that a hundred thousand more convincing still.
But the difference, I think, is that the subsequent generations of Christians have had the Holy Spirit working in their hearts. The idea of God becoming incarnate, dying and rising again is beyond each one of us, without the help of the Holy Spirit.
And we see that in this reading: Jesus appears to the disciples and convinces them of his resurrection based on his physical presence – showing them his hands and his side.
And then he commissions them – in verse 21 “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when he was baptised by John in the Jordan River, that the Holy Spirit descended on him:
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.” (John 1:32)
And John the Baptist also spoke about Jesus bestowing the Holy Spirit on others: “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33).
And that was way back at the beginning of John’s gospel – and here near the end it is happens:
Verse 22 “…he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Sometimes this passage is called “John’s Pentecost”, and it does seem that Jesus breathes on the disciples and, in that act, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And as you might know in the original Greek, the word for “breath” is the same as the word for “spirit”.
But it is a bit hard to put together with the events that the book of Acts tells us occurred at the day of Pentecost, though it fits with other events recorded in Acts where the good news of the kingdom and the gift of the spirit don’t progress at the same rate (Acts 10:44, 19:1-7).
However we understand the arrival of the Holy Spirit, it does seem to be, that it is the action of the Holy Spirit within us that enables us to take the leap from hearing the message, from knowing things about Jesus, to believing in him. It’s not by force of character, or the finely honed argument or the eloquence of a speaker, which brings people to faith, it is the work of the Spirit in their hearts.
And that can take many forms: It can be slowly growing in faith over many, many years. It can be a blinding flash of light. A moment of inspiration. Or a gradual realisation.
Famously, John Wesley came to faith, after years of failed ministry and disillusionment, when he heard a reading of Martin Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans, and he realised what God’s grace in Christ truly meant. It was his conversion experience – and he later described it simply as "I felt my heart strangely warmed".
It was the Holy Spirit acting in him. He’d known and believed all the facts about Jesus already, but it wasn’t until that encounter that he moved on from believing facts about Jesus to putting his trust in him. Soon after he began taking the gospel of Christ to the people, in churches when he was invited, and preaching in the fields, in halls, houses and chapels, when the churches would no longer allow him to preach.
We so often think that life-changing encounters with God should feature bright flashing lights, trumpets and clashes of cymbals. But sometimes they are simply our hearts being strangely warmed. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
But we mustn’t forget that gift comes a corresponding service. Having breathed the gift of the Spirit on the disciples, Jesus tells them in verse 23, ”If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
That’s pretty daunting, isn’t it? If you forgive sins, they are forgiven. If not, they are retained - they aren’t forgiven.
Forgiving sins is what all Christians are called to do. Think about the Lord’s prayer: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Forgiving sins is part of being a Christian, because Christ forgave sins.
Even when we’re confronted by evil, injustice, unfairness, exploitation we need to be open to forgiving the perpetrators. It’s a tough thing to do – but think of Jesus praying for the forgiveness of those who were killing him on the cross.
Our reading this morning ends at the end of John chapter 20, and was likely the original end of John’s gospel – with John adding the last chapter some years later.
But here, having described the journey from doubt to belief, first of the other disciples, and then of Thomas, and then the blessings that will flow to subsequent generations of Christians through the Holy Spirit, John goes on to mention how what is recorded in his gospel is only a fraction of what he knows of Jesus.
He says “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.”
We have the other gospels – and indeed the rest of the bible – from which we can learn more of Jesus. But John’s comment points out the inadequacy of human writings in capturing the full nature of Jesus.
John says that even though not everything is recorded, what is recorded is enough. That with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, what is written is sufficient to come to know, and put our trust in Jesus.
John writes: ”But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31)
Which of course echoes the words of Jesus himself from chapter 3, that we know so well – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him will not die, but have eternal life”.
Thomas’ – and the other disciples’ – doubts were put to rest by the physical presence of the risen Jesus.
Today, our doubts are put to rest by the presence of the Holy Spirit, if we will only open our hearts to the Spirit’s presence.
Even today though, there are those that seek physical evidence of the events of the scriptures, evidence of the existence of God. Some people are convinced that if we can just show people some sort of evidence of a seven day creation, or the remains of Noah’s ark, or the site of Jesus birth, or some other thing, then people will be convinced. They think if they can just confront people with hard evidence, then they will become believers.
But we don’t need to rely on or seek such evidence. We come to know Jesus today through the scriptures, through the witness of faithful Christians of all the ages, and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
And blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Blessed is each one of us.
Benediction & blessing
God has loved us with an everlasting love, and even when we were far off, he met us in his son Jesus and brought us home. We come to know Jesus today through the scriptures, through the witness of faithful Christians of all the ages, and through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
And as we have been reminded today: blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
As we finish our time together, let us be assured of that blessing – the blessing of God almighty: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Hymns for this week:
Looking Out: Lockdown
Next week: 26 April 2020
Theme: "How long?"
Bible Readings: Psalm 13, 1 Peter 1:17-23
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19, Acts 2:14a, 36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35