Tag Archives: Thomas

Stage 2 of Faith Development: Checking it out

given on Sunday, May 7, 2017:  Mini-series on the Four Stages of Faith Development

Scripture Connections:

Luke 10:38-42, NLT

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

John 2:23-John 3, NLT

23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. 24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. 25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,[a]you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.[b] Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.[c] So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony.12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man[e] has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.[f]

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[g] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.[h]

John 10:1-10, NLT (from the Lectionary)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me[a] were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.[b] They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

John 20:24-29, NLT

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[a] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Reflection: Stage 2 of Faith: Checking it out. . .

Who would have ever believed we could have seven inches of rain in just three days! We are so fortunate not to have the long-lasting effects that so many are experiencing along the small rivers and tributaries in the southern areas of our state. Yet, in the middle of the mind-numbing videos of flooding pops up surprising and unbelievable are stories of survival. What seems impossible to believe is real and God has to be present through it all.

Faith is believing what you do not see. The floodwaters are what we see; but even as the water recedes, we watch to see the reality of what remains. In the middle of last weekend’s storm, we drove past a garden that we knew had been planted, was growing well and was well-tended.

The muddy, floodwater so completely covered the garden that there was not even a clue that the rows of seedlings were even there. I wondered if there was any chance that the garden would survive. Yet nature is resilient, and as I drove past that garden just three days later, the seedlings were once again standing up and reaching for the sunlight.

Checking out something that seems impossible to believe for one’s self is part of faith development. I could not believe that the force of the floodwaters would leave that garden in tact, but when I checked it out, I confirmed what I thought I knew. The same need to check out Jesus’ story is the second stage of faith development.

The story continues to be shared and preserved. Yet, the story of Jesus’ resurrection left so many and still leaves so many with questions. How do you believe something that goes against everything we know. When the body dies, there is no way that three days later it can be missing, much less alive. Even the closest disciples had to run to the tomb and see it with their very own eyes.

And even then, the reaction was of disbelief and fear. There was no rational explanation. Jesus’ appearance as recorded in the gospels provided the disciples proof. Now two thousand years later, we must depend on the words preserved in the Bible to assure us of the truth.

To continue developing one’s faith, checking it out and learning about Jesus is simply part of the process of becoming Christ-like. Look at the stories of all Jesus’ contemporaries and how they had to check out The Story:

  1. Mary and Martha knew Jesus personally and valued that friendship. Yet even Martha struggled to follow the cultures custom of hospitality while Mary ignored those expectations and sat at his feet to learn more of his teachings (Luke 10:38-42)
  2. Consider, too, Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader. Something about Jesus and his message/ministry seemed impossible to believe, so he went under the cover of night to talk directly to Jesus. He had to check it out for himself. (John 12:23-3:21)
  3. Finally, Thomas the Apostle had questions. Even after the crucifixion and the resurrection, Thomas struggled to believe what seemed impossible. Jesus understood that uncertainty and stood before him with the open wounds in his hands, side and feet so Thomas could touch them and believe. (John 20:24-29)

Story after story in the Gospels show how people, whether faithful Jews, Gentiles, Roman citizens, or pagans, heard about Jesus and his message/ministry and still struggled to believe.

Change is difficult and then to have this man say he was the Son of God defied, and continues to defy, what humans know to be true. There is no guilt is questioning the reality of The Story, and checking it out is part of learning the truth. Reading the Bible, studying it in community, researching more about the story, and even testing the New Covenant in today’s world is part of faith development.

Whether we are Mary, Martha, Nicodemus or Thomas, we have heard The Story and believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We continue to seek for better understanding so we can grow in our faith. As modern disciples, we do the best we can to live our faith so others may see faith in action.

John Wesley, the son of a preacher, followed his father into the ministry. He was raised knowing the Story, and even he struggled to understand. He continued preaching and searching for answers; and on May 24, 1738, he reported to his brother Charles that “his heart was strangely warmed” (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999) which is referred to as Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience:

About a quarter before nine, while he [a Moravian, reading from Martin Luther’s work] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. 

The brazier’s house was but a few steps away, and John Wesley hastened thither to hail his brother with the rapturous words, “I believe,” and to join him in singing the new hymn, Where shall my wondering soul begin. . . (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999)

Today we continue our own practices in faith. We attend Sunday worship, we read the Bible, we meet with small groups, we worship, and we serve. Or do we? The impossible-to-believe story may be something we have learned, but are we checking it out and learning the reality of the story?

Wesley’s own experience ignited his own ministry and we follow his methods today to continue in our own faith development. Through his work, we have two sets of guidelines that we can follow to continue developing our own faith: the acts of piety and the acts of mercy. Have we used these tools to grow in our faith?

Personally and communally, Wesley recommends that we follow the practices to grow in our faith as well as to share our faith:

  • Works of Piety
    • Individual Practices– reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
    • Communal Practices– regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study
  • Works of Mercy
    • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
    • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

Accepting what seems impossible to believe, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation, is the first stage in faith. The second stage is to check out, to learn as much as one can about Jesus Christ and his ministry. As Wesley did, so do we, and in that process we may experience “a heart strangely warmed” too. Wesley’s ministry became inspired, ignited by the Holy Spirit:

Making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is part of a spiritual adventure that is empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as churches engage in the means of grace. Spiritual goals are accomplished by connecting the means of grace with proven vital church practices such as planning, strategic direction, prioritization, clear focus and alignment. (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

As our faith develops, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our faith practices can ignite our own lives and only God knows what seeds of faith grow into.

Today, we join in the service of the cup and the bread. Wesley called communion, or Eucharist, one of the works of piety. As we join together to share the elements, we are joining in the community of believers. The Story continues because we have checked out the story and believe. We join in sharing the bread and the cup because we are part of the Christian community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, almighty,

We know the story. We struggle to believe.

Even Wesley struggled, but he prayed these words:

O, thou Saviour of men, save us from trusting in anything but thee! Draw us after thee. Let us be emptied of ourselves, and then fill us with all peace and joy in believing, and let nothing separate us from thy love in time or eternity.” (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

And we join in his words,

Seeking to follow Jesus and all the disciples before us.

Lead us in faith so that we may, too,

Have hearts strangely warmed.

 

As we grow in our faith,

May we follow the examples of your faithful

As we serve one another in love.

In the name of God the creator,

the son Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen

Works Cited

An Account of John Wesley’s Life. General Board of Ministries. 2017. http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/The-Wesleys-and-Their-Times/Account-of-the-Life-of-John-Wesley (accessed May 4, 2017).

Chapter VII: The New Birth. The Wesley Center for Applied Theology. 1999. http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/john-wesley-the-methodist/chapter-vii-the-new-birth/ (accessed May 4, 2017).

The Wesleyan Means of Grace. United Methodist. http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace (accessed May 4, 2017).

 

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Continuing the Mission by Praying It Forward

given on Sunday, April 3, 2016

Thank you, Margie!  You post triggered this sermon.

Scripture: John 20:19-23

19 That Sunday evening[a] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Reflection: Part A

The catch phrase “Pay it forward” may be overused. The movie about a middle school student’s social experiment has impacted our society for about 20 years. The theme is a version of John Wesley’s saying to do all that you can for all you can in any way you can.

Why do catch phrases like “pay it forward” or “what would Jesus do” or even movements such as “Random Acts of Kindness” make such an impact on society? Do such phrases make life changes? Do they teach God’s story? Do they keep God’s mission alive? Yes.

Scripture: John 20:24-29

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[b] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Reflection: Part B

Put yourself in the position of Thomas. He has walked side by side with Jesus. He talked with him in casual banter as well as serious theological discussions. He witnessed with his own eyes the miracles Jesus performed. There was no uncertainty that he knew God’s mission much less that God’s messenger was Jesus.

Jesus had selected or called him to be one of the next generations of Abraham’s descendants. He was identified as one of the faithful entrusted to keep The Story and the mission alive. Thomas had no reason to doubt who Jesus was. But Jesus knew that there was doubt even in this Apostle.

No matter what age we are, doubts will creep into our thoughts about the reality of Jesus. No one can fully comprehend the reality of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Only upon our own death will we erase that last thread of doubt. Until then, we must practice faith. And while practicing faith, we learn that God’s story does include the immaculate birth of Jesus Christ, the human life of Jesus developing physically as any other human being, his three short years of ministry,

Yet the key to life as Christian is living our faith with confidence in God’s story and with Christ-like actions. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Most of us sitting in today’s pews grew up with that verse (Luke 6:31) being repeated in Sunday school lessons, used in worship service, and even from repeated parent lectures.

Even Wesley had doubts, especially about his own faith. His brother is credited to encouraging him to live his faith until it became a reality to him. The Aldersgate moment when Wesley felt “strangely warmed” reportedly erased his private doubts, and history records the dramatic difference his ministry made, even becoming a global movement.

What does this mean for each one of us here today? Simply, we continue. We practice our faith. We use our faith. We keep God’s mission by “paying it forward,” by asking ourselves “what would Jesus do” and we pray.

Scripture: Acts 5:27-32

27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. 28 “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross.[a] 31 Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. 32 We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

Reflection:   Part C

Today we are living safely in our communities. We do not worry about conversations about our faith. We do not worry that each time we “pay it forward” or decide to join in a ministry that reaches out to others who may or may not share our faith. We are living in a society that values our Christian beliefs, even encourages us to act in service to others.

Yet, there is the challenge to our faith, too. Evil keeps exploding around us. The news shares the face of evil globally. Maybe we do not easily identify evil in our immediate community, but it is there. Evil hovers around each one of us and we must defend ourselves from it. Keeping God’s mission alive means doing all that we can for all we can in as many ways as we can. It means “paying it forward.” It means self-checking our own actions with the question “what would Jesus do.”

The defense against evil not only in our own lives but also in our community whether local, national or global must have us actively involved in action to preserve God’s creation. Can you do it? Can you continue to maintain your own faith while doing whatever you can for others? Can you keep paying it forward for God?

Scripture: John 19:19-23

19  Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

Reflection: Part D

When Jesus appeared to the Apostles upon his resurrection and when he appeared a second time eight days later, this time with Thomas present, Jesus repeated God’s message. He breathed on them empowering them with the Holy Spirit to continue the ministry Jesus trained them to do.

We, too, have accepted God’s mission upon our baptism. We have joined in with the Apostles and all the descendants of Abraham chosen by God to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In Jesus’ words we are to forgive anyone’s sins

How, even as we physically continue to age, how do we do what we can do to help others? Serving in God’s name is not always easy, but there is a way as long as there is the will. In fact, borrowing from a friend in ministry, Margie (lay missioner for two local small churches): “Pray it forward.”

Christ’s resurrection empowered each and every one of his disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit. Adding in the resurrection transforms a social credo to “pay it forward” to “ PRAY it forward.”

Prayer is a powerful tool in fighting evil. Prayer calls God into action even though we may not understand how or when he responds, we must be confident that he hears our prayers and will act. Today, every single one of us here and around this world must pray it forward.

Today, and every day this week, commit to praying it forward.  Complete a “Pray it forward” card for at least one identified cause. It can be a person who needs extra God attention or it can be a situation that needs resolving in a Christ-like manner. Whatever is in your heart whether it is a passion or is a personal concern is worth this focused and very concrete practice of faith.

God has done everything he can to make sure the world is not consumed by evil, have we done everything we can? Praying it forward needs to be the automatic response, not only a first step but a continual step in maintaining God’s mission.

Scripture: Revelation 1:4-8

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,”[c] says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

 

Reflection: Conclusion

Do not be a “doubting Thomas,” be you. Be the one who prays it forward now and on throughout your lifetime. Praying is the one faith practice that becomes like our own breath. If there is a doubt, practice praying until there is no doubt.

Look at others who practice prayer full time and you will see God in action. Look at others who are living a life without prayer and you will see evil. Pray it forward so that you are an active part of God’s mission.

We may not always understand how effective our prayers are because we do not understand the scope of God’s grace nor his timing, but we do know that God is the Alpha and the Omega. We do know that God loved us so much that he stepped onto this earth to make sure that we can trust in his words, “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Concluding prayer:

Dear Almighty One,

Hear our prayers today, tomorrow and always.

Let our lives serve as the beacon for your love.

 

Hear our prayers morning noon, and evening.

Let the words we share provide answers for others.

 

Hear our prayers racing through our thoughts.

Let them reveal sources of sorrow, pain and evil.

 

Hear our prayers found in tears of empathy.

Let them cleanse the dirt in wounds of society.

 

Hear our prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

Let them shine your light upon new life in all forms.

 

Hear our prayers of excitement and joy.

Let them tell you what a difference your love makes.

 

Hear our prayers for strength and grace.

Let them ask you for refueling so we may do more.

 

Hear all our prayers, Lord,

so your mission continues

and our faith erases doubts

of your Story and your love.–Amen

 

 

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