Today, we had an “Observation Sunday” which is where we go to a different church, to observe worship there. This is a great idea, as we get ideas on how other people structure their services, buildings, morning tea, etc. But as with all things, you can often learn what not to do. Today’s experience had us asking all sorts of questions, because it could have been so good. But, if we were looking for a church to attend, we wouldn’t go back to the one we went to today. In fact, had we not been going to observe, we probably would not have gone in at all. Continue reading Welcome at church?
As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Do Not Doubt, but believe, was given at Rosebud Salvation Army on Sunday 7 April, 2013. The Bible reading was John 20:19-31.
This past week has been a bit of a shock to the system. We came down on Maundy Thursday, got straight into things with the Haagidah dinner, Good Friday, Dawn Service and Easter Sunday. Then that afternoon, we headed back up to Melbourne for lunch with Liesl’s family, then we stayed in Melbourne to do some study on Monday, before heading down that night to be back here for the 8am prayer meeting, and starting our ministry here with Janette and Geoff. And already, I must say, that they’ve been great, and have shown us a lot already in this short time, but I do have to say that my head doesn’t really know where it is right now.
In the Church’s calendar, today is the first Sunday after Easter, and while through Easter, we focus in on the Death and Resurrection, it is this period that the church can really look forward to. We are in the time of remembering Christ’s days on earth post resurrection, and everything that means to us. Christ may have risen last Sunday, but he lives on in the hearts and the lives of those who worship him in his church. There are, however, so many who live just for the Big holidays. “CoE Christians” they’re sometimes called – Christmas and Easter. The two biggest days in the Church’s calendar, where we also get the largest congregations. Now I’m new to the Salvos, but I’m sure the same principle applies. In the Anglican Church, the Sunday after Christmas and after Easter were always known as Low Sunday. After the massive high of Christmas and Easter, the Sunday after was traditionally when we would get our smallest attendances of the year. Christmas, I can understand that. But Easter – the story isn’t over yet. Jesus is Risen! But that’s not the end of it. Christ rose from the Grave, but he hadn’t finished here on earth, and even though he had to ascend into Heaven, he left behind the Holy Spirit to continue the work here on earth.
Today we’re looking at a reading that takes part firstly still on that Easter Sunday, then on the following week. Jesus has risen – but he still has work to do. But just like my week this week, the Disciples are not quite sure where their heads are at right at the moment.
Despite the knowledge, there’s still doubt
The disciples had a really crazy day. It started with their teacher, that they had devoted three years of their lives to, being dead. The one who had taught the revolutionary message of a new way, of a new kingdom, the one they believed to take this new kingdom to fruition, was dead. The seed of doubt had been planted. Then one of the women, Mary, had come saying the body had been stolen. Peter and the beloved disciple confirmed that the body was gone. The seed of doubt grew – had someone stolen the body? Had something miraculous happened? Even when Mary returned saying that she had seen Jesus, they still weren’t certain.
They met that night, ten of the apostles, and a number of disciples, to discuss the events, and to worship. They locked the door, because they were still fearful as to whether the Jewish leaders still had it in for them or not. They knew Jesus’ teachings, they knew the events of that day so far, yet when Jesus appeared, he still deemed it necessary to show his wrists and his side to show where he had been pierced. They then realised what had happened and they celebrated.
Thomas had even more information than the disciples who were there that night. Thomas wasn’t at the meeting that night, and despite being told by the disciples that Jesus appeared in the room with them, he still couldn’t bring himself to believe. This was a big thing for Thomas. Earlier – on the way to see Lazarus’ dead body, Thomas had exclaimed “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” This was a statement of blind devotion to Jesus – he was willing to follow him even to death. Yet when doubt had crept in, unless he saw with his own eyes, he couldn’t be brought back to that faith.
When there is doubt, faith flourishes
It’s so easy for us to have doubts these days. There is so much pressure from the world to have us doubt our faith, or for us to have to prove it beyond doubt. Even last Sunday, Easter Sunday, I was watching on Sunrise a creationist who was willing to put up $10,000 for an evolutionist to disprove the bible in a court – even if this guy wasn’t the most convincing of creationists himself. People want us to prove, beyond all doubt, that Christ is saviour. The problem comes is that Jesus himself said that there would always be a need for some doubt, because where there is doubt – that is when faith can flourish.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We have not seen with our own eyes. We can read the stories, we can study the biblical accounts, we can know our own accounts of God in our lives, but there will always be people who try to explain away those experiences. This is where faith comes in. In Hebrews 11:1, Paul writes that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Though we did not see Christ crucified and risen, we have faith that this embodies our hope – that on the cross Christ paid for our sins, and in the resurrection God accepted that payment.
When we embrace this doubt, that is when our faith can grow. The doubts that we may have actually provide the space for our faith to grow, and when that happens Jesus provides us with a rich reward.
With faith and belief, comes life
At the end of this passage comes a little epilogue from the writer of the fourth gospel. Verse 30-31: “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 signs that are written in the Gospel of John are written so that we may come to believe that Jesus IS the Messiah. When we have faith in that, when we come to believe, the result is that we are given life in Jesus’ name.
Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we have a guarantee that tells us that we are free. We have a new life, where we can live in the hope that Christ has paid for our sins, and we no longer need to live in them. The guarantee that we have in Christ’s resurrection tells us that we are free – so let’s live that life! Let’s give up the sins that we hold on to, because we’re holding onto a bit of doubt. Jesus commissioned his disciples with the words “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” God sent Jesus to bring people into a relationship with him, to know him, and to know the life that he gives. As his disciples, we are commissioned with those same words – we are sent, and the Father sent Jesus. We are sent to spread his message, and to tell others about what Jesus has done in our lives, whether that’s through words, or through actions, or just through our lives.
Live the life that Jesus gave, and share your faith
Some of you may know that I have just recently come back from Manus Island, working in the Refugee Processing Centre there. In our role there, The Salvation Army is not allowed to proselytise, however despite this I had many opportunities to share my faith. This was just through living life with the community members, and when they asked why I did the things that I did, it all basically comes back to one answer – Because of Christ, who lives in me. As an Anglican, evangelism was a difficult thing for me – we weren’t very good at it, and I never saw myself as gifted in it. How surprising it was in my first college review for one of the staff to say that they saw in me a strong gift of evangelism. See for me, evangelism isn’t just telling people about Christ, and seeking converts. It is living the life that Christ has asked of us, and being open for the opportunities when they arise.
Isn’t that, after all, what Jesus did? He lived the life that God had sent him to. He engaged in the community, and lived according to God’s will. Because of the way he lived, people were attracted to him. That’s what he meant when he says “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” So start living the life that Jesus has called you to, and living out the faith in your everyday life. Jesus died that we may have new life. Let’s spread that new life to everyone that we meet.
The perfect Sunday comes in finding balance. Balance between sharing time with God, and finding time to have a sabbath. So often, our Sunday will be absolutely packed – for example last Sunday, when we went from Church in the morning, to a nephew’s birthday on the other side of the metro area, to a friends 22nd on another side of the city once again. It was literally non-stop. And while we had great times while we were there, when we fill our weekends with days like these, we get to Monday and think, where did our weekend go?
Sometimes, I think that the perfect Sunday is actually a Saturday. A day when we get the time to really sit and relax. Wake up slowly. Enjoy that first coffee. Maybe see some friends or family in a relaxed environment. Have no rush about anything – it can always get done tomorrow.
What’s your perfect Sunday?