Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Follow the Signs to Joy

1 John 1:1-2:3; John 20:19-31
April 12, 2015
© 2015
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio 1571-1610
I am intrigued that though many if not most commentators on Jesus' invitation to Thomas to touch his wounds do not think Thomas did it, but many painters do want to portray Thomas with his finger in Jesus' wounds. I believe John 20:27-28 is intentionally ambiguous to prompt our pondering. So what do you ponder?
The Sunday after Easter is sometimes called “Low Sunday” because the faithful core people are the ones who come. Associate pastors are assigned to preach to the small crowd. So why should we preach on “Doubting Thomas” when the most convinced are the ones who are there? Nowhere does the New Testament call Thomas a doubter, but “the Twin.” We are Thomas’ twin who believed when he saw, so we who have not seen may be blessed with the joy of life in Jesus’ name.
I will tell Thomas’ story from John 20:19-31 with a couple of variations from the usual translation that I believe are not only more accurate but more helpful.
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.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.25So 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.”
26A 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.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop becoming an unbeliever and become a believer.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.
Thomas was no different than the other disciples. They didn’t believe Mary Magdalene when she told them, “I have seen the Lord.” (v. 18) Thomas didn’t believe when the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” (v. 25) When Jesus appeared on Easter evening, he showed the disciples his hands and his side. A week later, Jesus invited Thomas to see and touch his hands and side.
The New Testament does not call him “Doubting Thomas,” nor does any Greek word for doubt occur in this story. The verbs in verse 27 indicate movement in a direction, not a condition. “Don’t move toward becoming an unbeliever, but move toward becoming a believer.”
Jesus does not classify people as believers or doubters, rather Jesus is concerned about the direction we are headed. Even we who have believed for a long time can easily drift toward living as unbelievers without joy.
We sometimes think believing means affirming a correct understanding of God’s existence and nature. But verse 31 is clear that believing is not the goal but rather the path that takes us toward joy-filled life in the name of Jesus.
We are Thomas’ twin who believed when he saw the risen Jesus, so we who have not seen may be blessed with the joy of life in Jesus’ name.
When read as a question, verse 29 sounds like Jesus is scolding Thomas. While it could be a question, the NIV is correct that it may also be an affirming statement, “Because you have seen me, you have believed.” Read that way, Thomas has seen the risen Jesus on behalf of all of us who have not, thus we are blessed through Thomas’ seeing Jesus.
1 John 1:1 speaks of the Apostolic witness of having heard, seen and touched the word of life – the risen Jesus.
Jean Vanier is the founder of the L’Arche movement of over 100 communities of compassion for mentally handicapped folk, through whom Christ is revealed. He wrote, “Jesus invites each one of us, through Thomas, to touch not only his wounds, but those wounds in others and in ourselves, wounds that can make us hate others and ourselves and can be a sign of separation and division. These wounds will be transformed into a sign of forgiveness through the love of Jesus and will bring people together in his love. These wounds reveal that we need each other. These wounds become the place of mutual compassion, of indwelling and of thanksgiving. We, too, will show our wounds when we are with him in the Kingdom, revealing our brokenness and the healing power of Jesus.” Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John
We are Thomas’ twin who believed when he saw the risen Jesus, so we who have not seen may be blessed with the joy of life in Jesus’ name.
Jesus spoke to all of us when he said to the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” By the Holy Spirit, Jesus sends us to announce the forgiveness of sins. The first verb in each clause (forgive, retain) indicates an instantaneous action, while the second verbs indicate an enduring condition that began before the first verbs. So it is not that we create forgiveness by ourselves, but we announce the forgiveness God has already made available through Jesus.
1 John was not written as an evangelistic tract but for Christians. It assures us that when we acknowledge our struggle with sin the one who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That is what empowers us to proclaim forgiveness to all. 1 John 1:4 promises joy for those who both announce and receive forgiveness by coming to believe in Jesus.
Jonathan Brink will soon become your pastor to announce Christ’s forgiveness to you and to lead you in proclaiming Christ’s forgiveness to your neighbors. Hebrews 13:17 encourages us to follow our spiritual leaders so that they keep watch over our souls with joy and not sighing. Making our spiritual leaders sigh is harmful to us, but we receive joy when watching over us is a joy to them.
We are Thomas’ twin who believed when he saw the risen Jesus, so we who have not seen may be blessed with the joy of life in Jesus’ name.

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