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Sunday Service, 18th April 2021

Led by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Welcome

Call to Worship

Isaiah 2:2−5

In the days to come the mountain where the Temple stands will be the highest one of all, towering above all the hills.

Nations will come streaming to it and their people will say; “Let us go to the hill of the Lord, to the Temple of Israel’s God. He will teach us what he wants us to do; we will walk in the paths he has chosen.

He will settle disputes among great nations. They will hammer their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning-knives.

Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again.

Now, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light which the Lord gives us.”

Hymn 715 – Behold! The mountain of the Lord

Prayer

Almighty God, we thank you for your continuing presence in our midst – you are closer to us than the air we breathe. Creator of the universe yet one we can call Abba Father. Near us and yet beyond us, Father AND Almighty God.

Lord, your love for us warms our hearts and yet it brings tears to our eyes, as we remember the pain you carry for humanity.

Lord, your love for makes us want to cry out in praise and yet it creates a stillness within, a peace that no words can express.

Merciful God, we confess that we find it difficult to live our lives as we know we should. We are full of good intentions but we find ourselves so easily swayed from doing and saying what we know we should. We are distracted by busyness and self-interest and handicapped by a lack of confidence and an insensitivity to others.

Help us to turn our minds away from ourselves and focus on you and on your forgiving and accepting love. Forgive us, cleanse us, renew us we pray, as we remind ourselves of the words that Jesus taught his disciples to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

Children’s talk

Good morning. I wonder how much you know.

I think a good way to test some knowledge is in the form of a quiz, but as many of you are in the comfort of your own homes I thought we would keep it simple with a true or false quiz, so do play along!

  1. Hamsters can run up to five and a half miles at night on their wheels.
  2. Cows can make 21 pints of milk in one day.
  3. The inside of tennis balls are made from wool.
  4. The reflective pattern on emergency vehicles is called Battenberg.
  5. The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on the planet.
  6. The human skeleton consists of 207 bones.
  7. You cannot cry in space.
  8. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, was afraid of the dark.
  9. Crocodiles have sweat glands.
  10. Elephants are the biggest mammals in the world. The egg of a hummingbird is the smallest egg in the world.
  11. Cricket is the national game of India.
  12. The Amazon river has native dolphins.
  13. Female reindeers do not have antlers.

(Answers T, T, F: rubber, T, F: Pacific, F: 207, T, T, F, F: Antarctic Blue Whale, T, F: field hockey, T, F)

I’m sure many of you did very well but I wonder if anything was new knowledge to you. I wonder if when you got something wrong you trusted me enough to believe me when I tell you the correct answer.

Perhaps something intrigues you more and you want to look it up and understand why or how it’s true or false or learn more about the topic – what evidence you might want to gather so that you believe and understand. Maybe you’ll consult a factual source or look for pictures, maybe ask someone who knows more on the topic. Either way, it’s natural to want to know more and to check for ourselves when we only hear a glimpse of a fact. In today’s story Thomas does just that, so let’s hear our Bible reading for today.

Scripture reading

John 20:1931  

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

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.”

Jesus and Thomas

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.”

The Purpose of This Book

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.

Hymn 403 – Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell: Thomas – failure or example?

On the Sundays post-Easter we are encouraged to consider the Gospel narratives associated with the Resurrection. On Easter Sunday we focused on the reaction of the women as they received the news of our Lord’s resurrection and the response of the two travellers meeting the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus. Last Sunday we turned the spotlight on Peter, his journey following the tense dialogue with Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, his denial in the courtyard of the High Priest, his return to the inner circle of disciples by the shores of Lake Galilee and the new commission the Lord presented to Peter to become a shepherd to God’s flock.

This morning I suggest that we take a step or two back in time to the Upper Room and ask ourselves the question as to whether we see Thomas as a failure or as an example to follow.

Some of us may consider it insulting to be compared to Thomas. Perhaps as we look at him we see him as a failure, a doubter. But truth be told we know little about him. We are familiar enough to know that he was the disciple who doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Let’s examine those negative impressions and allow ourselves to walk in his shoes and perhaps discover in him some positive qualities that will in turn help us to be better disciples of the Lord.

The New Testament gives us very little information about Thomas. In the Synoptic Gospels all we know about him is that his name is listed among the twelve disciples. Anything we know about him is to be found in the Gospel of John, although even there he is mentioned on only three occasions.

The first time we meet Thomas is in the 11th chapter of the Gospel. In this episode, word came to Jesus that his friend Lazarus was extremely ill. Out of desperation Mary and Martha had sent word to Jesus, hoping that he would come and heal their brother. However, instead of dropping everything and going to Bethany, Jesus continued his ministry.

A few days later, however, Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus was dead and that he was returning to Judah. When the disciples heard this they became visibly upset. They were troubled not so much because of Lazarus’s death but because of their own welfare and future. They remind Jesus in no uncertain terms, “Lord, don’t you remember the last time you were in Judea? The Jews tried to kill you. They wanted to stone you. If you go back, they may very well succeed.”

It was at that moment we first meet Thomas. Fully realising the danger of returning to Judea, he nevertheless spoke up and said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

What a statement! What an affirmation of faith! These are powerful words; words that take us back to something that Jesus was to say on another occasion: “Greater love has no man than this; that a man lay down his life for a friend.”

This affirmation of Thomas must have taken a great deal of courage on his part. Instead of calling Thomas the doubter, perhaps we should recognise him for the risk he was willing to take.

Following Jesus involves all of us in a certain amount of risk. There is risk in committing ourselves to being a member of the Church, bearing in mind the demands that such action could have on our day-to-day living, the commitment that is asked of us. It is a risky matter to tell a friend or a colleague about Jesus. We could be labelled “holy” or even “a religious nut”. It can be a risky endeavour to commit ourselves as a church to face the possibility of doing church differently from the way that things have been done in the past. Here I speak from experience, as someone who would fight to the end to cling to what I see as our Christian heritage.

Think for a moment of some of the men and women throughout the history of the faith who have been willing to take a risk.

There was Moses who stood up before a great military force and led the Israelites out of Egypt.

There was David, a young shepherd boy who took a risk and faced the mighty Goliath on the battlefield with nothing but a sling in his hand and a faith in God.

It was a risky matter for Peter to stand up on the day of Pentecost and deliver that first sermon.

It involved risk for Paul to preach to the Roman Emperor, for Martin Luther to nail a copy of his complaints on the church door, for Dietrich Bonhoeffer to call Hitler’s Germany sinful. It took risk for Mother Teresa to devote her life to the leper colonies.

Thomas could also join the list of risk takers.

The next time we see Thomas is on the night of the Last Supper. This was to be, for Jesus and his disciples, a long night with moments of pain and anguish. Just hours before his death Jesus longed to share some special insights with his disciples; for example, think of the words we find recorded in the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel; “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”

It was at that moment we once again hear from Thomas. He breaks into the conversation to ask a question: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas could be described not only as a risk taker, but also as someone with an inquisitive mind. He certainly wasn’t someone who considered himself to know all the answers. Instead he was an individual who wanted to know more on certain subjects. He wanted to understand what Jesus was saying and he was willing to interrupt Jesus to ask a relevant question.

As Christians it is important to have enquiring minds. Sometimes we allow ourselves to be satisfied with knowing Jesus on a superficial level. Thomas wanted to know more. If Jesus was going somewhere, he wanted to know the details and he wanted to be with him.

The third time we meet Thomas is in the 20th chapter of John’s Gospel. It was Easter Sunday and the disciples were gathered together in a house, that is, everyone except Thomas. The doors were locked because they were afraid of the Jews. Suddenly, Jesus appeared and said: “Peace be with you.” And he gave them a commission that “just as the Father had sent him, he was sending them” and he left. Naturally the disciples were excited. They had seen the risen Lord! One of the first things they wanted to do was to share their news with Thomas. Surely Thomas would be able to share the same joy they felt, but no. He looked at the disciples, and said: “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in my hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Was Thomas’s reaction really so unexpected? No, I don’t think so. Thomas loved Jesus. All his hopes and dreams had died on a cross and now it seemed as if Jesus’ own disciples might just be mocking him.

Aren’t we a bit like Thomas? On occasions unless we see something with our own eyes or hold it in our hand, we have a hard time believing. Yet that is the heart of what the Gospel is all about: Faith! Hope! Our faith is so often based not on seeing, but on what we experience in our hearts.

It would be interesting to know what the next eight days were like for Thomas. His fellow disciples had, no doubt, a sense of peace about them. They had seen Jesus, but Thomas must have been miserable. In his mind and heart Jesus was dead and therefore he missed out on the joy that the risen Messiah offered.

However, the days did pass and once again the disciples were gathered together, but this time Thomas was with them. Once again Jesus came and stood in their midst. Jesus didn’t waste a moment. He went straight over to Thomas and said: “Thomas, here is my hand, put your finger in it. Here is my side, thrust your arm into it. Stop doubting and believe!”

Thomas responded to Jesus with what many have considered to be the climax of the Gospel of John. He exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas the doubter is now Thomas the witness. For the first time in the Bible, Jesus is called God. He had been called Lord, Teacher, Son of David, and even Son of God, but now, one who had doubted gave the greatest testimony of all. He proclaimed; “My Lord and my God!”

So what conclusion do we come to? Is it Thomas the failure or do we see Thomas as an example to follow?

I suggest that neither of our titles is relevant as far as Thomas is concerned. I don’t think he should be criticised or celebrated. Like us, he was a human being. Yes, he did doubt the testimony of the other disciples, men with whom he had spent the previous three years. Didn’t he trust their word? Perhaps he was wrong not to do so, but before we dismiss him and present him as a failure perhaps we should spend just a moment looking into a mirror. Haven’t we experienced similar moments of doubt? Haven’t there been questions regarding our faith that have puzzled us, frustrated us? Like Thomas we too are human, we too have our failings, but it isn’t wrong to ask pertinent questions, it isn’t wrong to seek answers before moving on. It is a staging post in life that most of us visit on our Christian pilgrimage before moving on.

As far as looking on Thomas as an example is concerned, despite our lack of knowledge of the man, what we do know at least encourages us to take risks at times, to ask questions and when we find the way ahead to join with Thomas in proclaiming: “My Lord and my God.”

Prayers of Intercession by Rob Matthews

Almighty God, Our Heavenly Father, you promised through your Son Jesus Christ to hear us when we pray in faith. We pray for our church here at Wardie and particularly for our locum Bob Gemmell who continues to provide spiritual leadership and very many other forms of help to us during our interregnum. We continue to pray for the nominating committee as they seek to find our next minister. We pray for Ann Inglis as she guides this process and Mo as she continues to lead our children’s work.

As we struggle from time to time to accept all aspects of our own Christian belief, as did Thomas, please help us deepen our trust in the Lord. May we be strong enough to show others the love of Christ and bring more people to know God. Strengthen all your Church in the service of Christ; that those who confess your name may be united in your truth, live together in your love, and reveal your glory in the world.

We pray for the world and world leaders, that they may work together during the Covid pandemic to make wise decisions in order to defeat the virus and save lives. Sustain our nation, and other people all round the world, give wisdom to all in authority; and direct this and every nation in the ways of justice and of peace; that we may honour one another, and seek the common good.

We pray for the sick and anyone in need known personally to us. Give strength to all doctors, nurses, care-workers. Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, give them courage and hope in their troubles, and bring them the joy of your salvation. Hear us as we remember those who have died in the faith of Christ. According to your promises, grant us with them a share in your eternal kingdom. We pray for the souls of all who have died recently, and ask for your comfort to those who mourn. In particular we remember the family of Gordon Hay, who died this week aged 99, and we give thanks for his steadfast faith and service to our church and community as an Elder for over 60 years. We also remember in our prayers Her Majesty the Queen as she grieves for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose funeral was held yesterday. God of our lives, we give thanks for the life of Prince Philip, for his love of our country, and for his devotion to duty. We entrust those whose passing we grieve to your love and mercy, through our Redeemer Jesus Christ.

We pray for our children as they return to school this coming week, in some cases for the first time since before Christmas. We pray that this return may be sustainable; quell any nervousness as they return to be with their friends and help them re-adjust to more traditional teaching styles, and we pray for their teachers as they adapt to the new norm with face masks and social distancing.

Living God, Your word to us through the Risen Lord is: Peace be with you. Amidst the disturbance of the times, may we hear your word and embrace the peace you offer.

When the foundations are shaken and the certainties no longer sure, may you speak to us in the still small voice of calm.

When we are fearful and troubled, may you speak to the depths of our fears and still our troubled hearts.

Living God, Your word to us through the Risen Lord is: Peace be with you. As we experience the renewal of life within our family and community, may we bear witness to your abiding presence among us.

Risen Christ, you filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope, strengthen us to proclaim your risen life and fill us with your peace, to the Glory of God the Father,

Amen

Hymn 432 – How often we, like Thomas. Listen here.

Blessing

May the risen Lord be with you to uplift you, to inspire you, to guide you,
to give you a glimpse of glory,
and now may the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
rest upon you and remain with you and with all whom you love, now and always.