Scugog Island United Church
April 24th 2022 Second Sunday of Easter John 20: 19-31
Call to Worship
The gospel tells us that any place we gather
is a space where we may encounter the risen Christ.
There is no barrier that can stop Jesus
from spreading peace to those who follow him.
May we meet Jesus at this time in this place.
May we, like the disciples,
receive the holy Spirit
and be inspired to believe that Christ is Risen.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Lighting The Christ Candle
Hymn- VU 213 “Rejoice, the Lord is King”
Farewell Service: Rev. Ned’s final service with Scugog Island United Church will be on June 5th.
Annual Meeting on April 24th
Jean Law, Elsie Nicholson, Terry Petroff, John and Diane Findlay, Nancy and Don Scarrow, Debbie McIntyre, John Black, Lynne and Ian McLeod, Nellie Van Dyke, Tim Pelyk, Bob Currie, Derrek Linton, Sharen Bobbie, Ed and Jane Williams, and Bill Statton.
Call to Confession
After death, Jesus returned to his friends and blessed them with words of peace and the promise that if they forgave the sins of any they would be forgiven; if they retained the sins of any they would be retained. At this time let us join our hearts in prayer that we may choose not to retain sins, but to receive the peace of Christ and find forgiveness.
Prayer of Confession
Loving God there are times when instead of extending the peace you have given to us we sow discord. There are times when instead of offering forgiveness we hold onto resentment. There are times when our actions create barriers to being the community you call us to be. Forgive us God for when our actions do not reflect the grace that has been shown to us. Help us to live into the peace that Jesus gave us and to let go of the brokenness that keeps us from you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Words of Forgiveness
The stone that sealed the tomb,
Was no barrier to God’s love.
The door that was locked tight in fear,
Was no barrier to God’s love.
The doubts and skepticism of the disciples,
Were no barrier to God’s love.
Our own doubts, fears, shortcomings and sins,
Are no barrier to God’s love.
God’s love comes to us where we are and there is no barrier that can separate us from it.
With God all things are possible.
Through Jesus Christ we see that God’s love has the power to bring, peace, forgiveness, and new life. We are forgiven. We are loved.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymn VU 341 “Fairest Lord Jesus”
Prayer of Illumination
The stories we share have power. The stories we tell about ourselves have the power to shape us. The stories we tell about others can change the way we see them. God you know the power of stories. Help us to hear your Word and find ourselves in the great story of your love.
Scripture: John 20: 19-31
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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.”
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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 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.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.
The disciple Thomas is known as doubting Thomas. I don’t think this is entirely fair. The other disciples all doubted the testimony of the women that Easter morning. They heard that the tomb was empty, Peter and John even ran to the tomb to confirm it. But the disciples still considered it to be an idle tale. The disciples only believed when they saw Jesus for themselves with their own eyes. Why should Thomas be called doubting just for asking for the exact same evidence his fellow disciples needed in order for them to believe? When Thomas is given the same proof that the others had, he accepts it quickly and changes his perspective.
The story of the disciple Thomas is important because it establishes that there will be a change in the way people come to believe. During Jesus’ life, people came to believe in him by witnessing his miraculous signs. There were a few who came to believe in Jesus while witnessing his crucifixion, such as the thief on the cross next to him who says, “remember me when you come into your kingdom” or the Roman solider who sees Jesus die and declares, “surely this was the son of God.” Then there are those whose belief is renewed after Jesus’ death by seeing the empty tomb and hearing that Jesus has risen. But how will people who didn’t see Jesus’ miracles and who weren’t around to witness the crucifixion and resurrection come to believe?
The gospels were written at a time when soon there would not be a single person alive who witnessed these things. Soon no one would be able to tell others about their firsthand account of following Jesus. The challenge that Thomas faced, believing that Jesus was risen not based on his first hand witnessing of it, but based off the testimony of others would soon be the challenged faced by all future Christians. We did not witness Jesus’ miracles first hand, we were not at the cross when he died, or at the tomb when he rose. Like Thomas, we are asked to take the words of others on faith.
I see Thomas as a disciple for our age. On the one hand we need the gifts that he displays. We need to use our doubts and skepticism to test claims that are made of God. Jesus warned about false prophets and those who would lead others astray. So good judgement is important. Before we believe something we need to verify it to the best of our ability. Thomas uses his discernment to consider what the other disciples are saying and comes to the conclusion that what they are saying cannot be true. He is willing to stand on his own, when everyone else disagrees with him. This must have taken a great deal of courage for him to stand alone and say that he is not ready to believe.
There is a place in our life of faith for doubts and skepticism. At the same time, we know we need to balance this with an openness to hear things that challenge what we know. The theologian René Such Schreiner in her commentary on this passage pointed out that the Greek word for believe has an additional meaning which is trust. When Jesus says, “Do not doubt but believe.” And “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” It also carries the meaning, “Do not be doubting but trusting” and “are you trusting because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to trust.”
Trust is essential for a community to exist. An absence of trust is the end of the community. If there is an absence of trust it causes a fear of conflict. Which ironically is worse than conflict. Because when we are afraid of conflict we avoid it. That doesn’t mean it goes away or gets resolved, it just means we invest more energy toward denying the problem exists than we put toward dealing with the actual issue at hand.
Thomas shows he is willing to stand alone for his conviction and there is nothing wrong with that, but he also shows that he is not willing to put any trust in the testimony of his fellow disciples and that is completely disruptive to the possible health of the community.
If Jesus had not intervened I could imagine this becoming just as contentious as the polarized conversations of our day. Whether it has to do with political views, religious beliefs, vaccination status, health mandates, or people’s differing attitudes on the events of the day, there are divides that can quickly become polarized and disrupt relationships. There are chasms that are already dividing families and communities and until we learn how to cross the divide those divisions will likely become larger. Dr. Betty Pries, a specialist in conflict transformation and leadership, wrote a helpful article about transforming polarized conversations. [If you’d like to read her wonderful article follow this link: https://credenceandco.com/congregations/april-2022-transforming-polarized-conversations-2/?mc_cid=9e98ed93c4&mc_eid=7971d86447]
She comments that one of the ways people avoid conflict is by avoiding one another, but it is when we avoid talking with each other that people move to the extremes and make false assumptions about one another. The first step to crossing the divide and transforming a polarized conversation is to find the desire within to commit to reaching out and opening ourselves to the other person. Adopting a spirit of curiosity rather than one of judgement is a helpful way to keep ourselves open to hearing the other person so that there might be understanding. I think of the quote from St. Francis of Assisi, “May I seek to understand, rather than be understood.” When our goal is to understand the other person, rather than to make sure the other person understands us we move closer to reaching across the divide. Being curious about where the conversation will take you can also be helpful in keeping humble, patient, and courageous; all of which are needed for transforming polarized conversations.
Another thing that Dr. Betty Pries pointed out is that often an issue seems to be an either-or. Either you support this, or you don’t. She points out that beneath these either-or divides there is a both-and. She gave the example of mask mandates, it seemed like it was an either-or. Either you support them or you are against them. But below the either-or, there is a both-and. Those who support were concerned with the welfare of neighbours and the community as a whole, those who did not support were concerned with the rights of individuals. Both of these things are good. We want a society where people are concerned with the needs of both neighbours and individuals. Both of these are valuable principles. If we only had individual rights we would fall into anarchy, if we only think of the whole or majority we risk marginalizing the voices of individuals. So when we encounter an either-or issue that is causing division our goal is to look below to see if we can find the both-and principles because that is where we will potentially find common ground.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples he starts to rebuild trust so that his ministry might continue in them. He starts by speaking peace to them, repeating those words “peace be with you.” He doesn’t immediately send them out the door back into the world, but shows them his hands and side. Only after they have processed that it is Jesus returned to them does he bless them with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will guide them forward to continue the ministry of Jesus.
This ministry will take them into many risky situations. And that is why trust is needed for the cooperation to get started. When Thomas returns we see that there still needs to be more trust built before the disciples are ready to leave that locked room and continue their work. But even after they receive the Holy Spirit they still need to build trust. When Thomas returns we see that there is not yet enough trust in the community for him to trust what they are saying. After the trauma they experienced it was difficult for them to trust. Jesus returned and slowly followed the same steps with Thomas so that he, like the others could trust once again. This was how the chasm between them was crossed and the possibilities for moving forward from that locked room were opened up.
While Jesus did appear to Thomas and the other disciples he has a message for us and all the countless generations of people who did not walk with Jesus during his earthly ministry, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Remember that René Schreiner said believe in the Greek also means trust. Coming to trust and believe in Jesus is through the power of sharing God’s story and finding our place in that story. The gospel writer concludes this passage by saying, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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 Thomas we learn that doubts, opinions, and disagreements are good things when they are combined with trust. When we build relationships of trust, these are things that can help us to grow, understand one another and learn about God. May we have integrity like Thomas to discern carefully what others tell us and also the courage to reach across divides. May we experience the Spirit of the Risen Lord in our lives so that we may be an Easter people and proclaim new life through our words and actions. May it be so. Amen.
Hymn: VU 326 “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
Prayers of the People (from Celebrate God’s Presence)
God of Resurrection, we cry out to you from a spent world where we knoq the Good Friday of innocent suffering and death, of night smothering light of dreams dissolved. We stumble amongst the tombs in our lives and long to find them empty. God of Resurrection, we long to sense your presence, and feel the pulse of your power. Bring Easter to our hearts, and to our lives. For now is Christ arisen, planting life and love in the weary soil of our lives, bringing day to the withering soul, restoring hope to the lost. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Offering Prayer (from Celebrate God’s Presence)
You, O God, are the Easter One. You are the holy source of resurrection. You are the dancing spirit of life. We offer these gifts in gratitude for hope returned, for the mystery of your grace, and for the promise of resurrection.
Blessing (from Celebrate God’s Presence)
God of Easter send us forth to live the power of resurrection, that we and all creation might be one with the living Christ; to whom with you and the Spirit, one holy God, be honour and praise, now and forever. Amen.
Go Now in Peace