April 11th

 Sunday Worship Service 


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Service for the Lord’s Day

~Second Sunday of Easter~ 
April 11, 2021  10:00 a.m. 
Worship Leaders:
Pastor Joan Priest , Worship leader
Mr. David Warfield, Director of Music Ministry
Elder Dale Green ,  Liturgist

 Recording Operations
Elder Jeff Snider                                                      GATHERING WE PREPARE OURSELVES FOR WORSHIP BY PASSING THE PEACE OF CHRIST, ACKNOWLEDGING WHO WE ARE, 
PRELUDE                                     Elevation                                              Dom Paul Benoit                                                                          

CALL TO WORSHIPOne:  Oh sing to God a new song!
ALL:  For God has done marvelous things!
One:  Because of God’s steadfast love to Israel,
ALL: All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
One:  For now is Christ risen from the dead!
ALL:  Make a joyful noise unto God, all the earth!
One:  Break forth into joyous song and praises!
ALL:  For nothing in all creation can separate us 
from the love of God in Jesus our risen Christ.  
Come, let us worship God.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
 *HYMN #366                                   Love Divine, all Loves Excelling
                            PRAYER OF CONFESSION                                      Gracious God, you sent your son to die and rise to new life in order that death might be brought to an end and that we might live a new life in Him. Yet we confess that we too often have chosen to remain captive to doubt and fear and ways that lead to death. By our thoughts, words, and actions, we have scorned your love, diminished the lives of others, and defaced your image in us. Forgive us for Jesus’ sake, and enable us by His resurrection power to live no longer for ourselves but for Him who died and rose again for us. Amen. ASSURANCE OF GRACEPASSING OF THE PEACE (USING ASL)HEARING 
     Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
      In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
                                                                                                               SECOND READING                                                                                                  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 word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
                                                                                                                                                 PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION                                                                                                                       
SERMON                                                        No Doubt About It

      Have you ever had a friend say, “You’ve got to see this movie!  It’s the best movie of the year!”?  And it’s not that you doubt them.  You just want to see it for yourself.  When My husband and I first moved to Lyme, our friend Spencer who had lived in Lyme for several years, loved to recommend certain restaurants. “You’ve got to try . . .this one, it’s fantastic” or “don’t try that one, I’ve never had a good meal there.”  And it’s not that we doubted him, but we wanted to see for ourselves.  Well, after the third try of one of his favorites, which were all awesome and the third try of his dislikes, which were all terrible, we had come to believe what he said was true!
     It was the evening of Easter Sunday and there they sat.  All of the disciples, except Thomas, behind locked doors.  And they were terrified – do you blame them?  Everything had happened so fast – the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the foot washing, the breaking of the bread, the betrayal, the arrest, the trial, the cross, the grave.  They had just lost their friend, their mentor, their Rabbi.  They had given up everything to follow him – their families, their jobs, their communities.  The Sabbath was now over, and the authorities could and probably would round up all of Jesus’ associates.  Maybe they would be blamed for stealing the body of Jesus.  More likely they would be stoned, just for being associated with Jesus.  Imagine the conversation pondering what Peter and John had seen, what Mary had said, what Jesus had told them would happen.  “What did he say about this being raised from the dead – does anyone remember?” 
     Sitting terrified, suddenly Jesus appears before them – did they scream?  I would have!  So, I have to pause here with our story because I have been thinking a lot lately about fear.  Today, I ask you, what are you most afraid of right now?  And I’m not referring to a fear of heights, or snakes, or a fear of the kinds of bugs we see on the show “Survivor”.  Right now, we are all still a little afraid.  So, let’s name that for a moment.  What are we still afraid of?  Some of us feel safely vaccinated but know we could still get the virus; we just may not be so ill.  We want to come out but some of us still fear that something could cause us to have to go back into isolation once again. 
     And when fear sets in, real fear, it affects us in many ways.  We lose our confidence and assurance.  And we begin to doubt.  We doubt our abilities.  We doubt the words other people say.  We doubt our faith.  And this can cause us to close ourselves off from the world, to stay entrenched in our fears and doubts, as if hidden behind locked doors.      
     When Jesus appears that Easter Sunday evening, he doesn’t knock; he doesn’t unlock the door, he simply appears, and we aren’t quite sure what his appearance was but we do know, right there, he becomes a living hope right in front of their face.  You know, none of us can escape the love of Christ because God will always find a way to be with us, even behind our locked doors, afraid and alone.  And in that moment Jesus bestows upon the disciples three gifts.  Three gifts we too are given because of Christ’s resurrection.
    First is the gift of peace.  Jesus appears and states, “peace be with you”.  In other words, calm down, it’s really me; I’m here as I told you.  Come see my hands, come feel my side, and believe I am here.  Do not be afraid any longer but be at peace.  Each day we too need to breathe deeply and remember those words, “peace be with you, my peace I give to you.”
     Now Thomas has always gotten a bad rap for being “the doubter”.  Most see him as a rather wimpy disciple because he didn’t take the disciples witness of Christ at face value, he had to see Jesus for himself.  But as many have written, you have to respect Thomas!  He had a right to be doubtful!  When a person is crucified, dead and buried, they usually stay that way!  Or just maybe he was a realist.  How could he possibly believe Jesus was risen?  And he states the absolute absurd – I would need to see him myself and touch him, to even start to believe.
     We too doubt, we too need confirmation from time to time, just as all of the disciples did, but guess what – we are supposed to doubt.  Yes, we are supposed to doubt.  It’s a part of our faith, asking the questions, examining the issues; is all part of our journey.  But there is a big difference between doubt and disbelief.  Doubt is essentially saying, I just can’t believe this.  No way.  Disbelief is saying, I won’t believe this.  Doubt is always looking for the light, the explanation, the reason, show me.  Disbelief is very content to stay in the darkness, wallowing in sorrow and pain and grief, not even looking for a way out.  Thomas doubted, we all doubt.
     And Jesus gets it, he understands Thomas and all of us doubters.  The first thing Jesus states to Thomas is, come here, I understand you – – even though I told you over and over again, how I would die and how I would come back again, I get it, this is just too much to comprehend.   And Thomas’ response is the highest word of personal confession spoken in the entire Gospel: “My Lord and My God”.  This is the climax of their understanding as disciples – Jesus is Lord, Jesus is God. And Jesus doesn’t say, blessed are those who haven’t seen or touched or witnessed anything but believe regardless – he says blessed are those who have come to believe.  Blessed are those who have looked and studied all of the evidence and listened Sunday after Sunday and have come to believe. 
     Fredrick Buechner states, “if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep.  Doubts,” he states, “are the ants in the pants of faith.  They keep it awake and moving.” (1)
     The second gift Jesus bestows upon his disciples is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He breathes on them the breath of God.  And they receive peace and wholeness and new life as his living spirit enters each one of them. And because of God’s love for us, the Holy Spirit continues to be given to all of us.  And that spirit has the power to guide us through our times of fear and doubt. 
     When Jesus was raised from the dead, his wounds were still there, scared for eternity, they didn’t go away in whatever form he was as he stood there before them – the wounds in his hands, his side, they were a part of the living Christ – they are there for us as well, for our wounds never fully go away, we are all wounded, and we will never be the same again.  This time, will be forever a part of our history, our story, and what we did to cope through it and who we chose to help us get through it, and how we helped others through this, and how we relayed on the spirit of God in all this, will make us stronger and better disciples of Christ. 
     There are times when life weighs us down, for there are many Good Fridays and horrible Saturdays before there is a Resurrection Sunday.  And the proof we seek in order to eliminate the doubt, may never be seen like Jesus’ wounds.  And the proof we seek is not only about eternal life, life after death, Jesus risen.  The real meaning of the resurrection is about our relationship with God, a relationship that not even death can bring to an end.  As Rev. Lewis writes, “resurrection is relationship. A relationship that will never be broken, that will never be abandoned, that will never know separation and will forever be.  We live for and exist in relationships that will change, that will end.  But not so with God.  The point of God’s revealed self in the Word made flesh, the Word crucified, the Word resurrected, and the Word ascended, is the commitment, like no other, to show what true relationship means.” (2) 
     We, like Thomas, need a personal encounter with our Lord, but what most of us don’t realize that this can happen in a way.  When we fear, when we doubt, we need to seek the company of others in all the crazy ways we can do this these days and get out from behind our locked doors and search for that peace, those lasting relationships.  I believe we will slowly emerge this summer and celebrate those things we put on hold, gather with loved ones, be the church which reaches out to others, and that can bring us all a place of joy and peace and new life in the spirit.  
    For the third gift Jesus bestows upon the disciples is the power and commission to carry out God’s forgiving work in the world.  With the peace of Christ in their hearts and the Holy Spirit at work in their souls, they were ready to go out into the world with confidence and assurance and begin a new church. 
     When this time in our history comes to an end, we too will need to learn how to be a new church.  Forever changed.  And the church is not seeing is believing but believing is seeing, seeing where Christ has moved us, and guided us to be his hands in the world of tomorrow.   
     So now that the disciples were commissioned to begin their ministry, what is the first task Jesus asks them to do?  Is it to heal the sick, preach good news to the poor, feed the hungry?  No, it is to forgive, and not retain the sins of others, to let them go.  At first I thought, what a strange thing for Jesus to say!  But first the disciples must forgive those who had killed their Savior.  First, they must forgive those believers who turned their backs against him.  The disciples had to learn to love them first before the message of Christ could be spoken.  And where could they receive the power to love them, to forgive them?  From Christ, who while dying on the cross states, “Father forgive them.”
     Christ died for our sins, and we need to receive and bestow that forgiveness.  But let me be clear, forgiveness is not something we do; it is something we discover.  It is a process of overcoming our ownfears, faults, doubts, and those of others, and reaching a place of belief and peace by letting that go.  With the peace of Christ in our hearts and the holy spirit flowing through our lives, we have to ability to forgive and serve others.  We have the power to be the hands of God in the world.  And when we doubt, when we are afraid, to search for the hands of God all around us.  So, where are the hands of God?  God is in the person knocking at your door with a flower, God is in the letter from a friend telling you they are thinking of you, God is in the person on the phone telling you a funny story, God is in the silent hand of your spouse, holding yours.   
     Being people of the resurrection means that we must not stay behind locked doors, but be a witness.  A witness, not to the facts, not like Thomas who had hard evidence, but to be more like character witnesses, to witness with our own lives.  Teachers who proclaim God’s word, caretakers who love all people, believers who forgive others. 
       In Seminary I heard a terrific sermon called “Against All Preachers of Bad News.”  Funny how even though it was written nearly three decades ago, his words, still ring so very true today.  He states, “These are hard times, and there are many preachers of bad news.  Sometimes the bad news is that everything is really sweetness and light and people are basically good, and our social system is just a little out of joint, and there are simple ways of restoring our economy and our educational systems, and simple ways of restoring family life and a sense of hope, and simple ways of bringing peace to the world.  Its bad news preaching because it isn’t true.  It makes a mockery of the pain which we experience, and the poverty which surrounds us, and the malaise and despair which saps the strength of the American people.  People are so eager to hear good news that they will even endure [nonsense] and good wishes offered in the name of truth.  But it’s always bad news when a people cannot face the truth and deny the Crucifixion occurring daily within and around us.” 
     “But it’s also bad news preaching when we are told that we are only sinners condemned and dying, when we are told to be suspicious of every experience of love, every generous act, when we are cynical and despairing about ever reaching a time of peace, told to accept captivity and hunger and sickness as the normal lot of human beings upon this earth and that every effort to make radical change is doomed to failure.”  That’s also bad news preaching because it’s also not true.  (3)  We cannot reach the resurrection of promise without the cross of suffering.  But Christ became visible again so that our fears, our suffering, could be released and we could live as people of the resurrection – people of peace –people of hope – people of forgiveness.  And we too are commissioned to live as Christ’s disciples in the world. 
     My friends, to doubt, to ask questions, is to grow in faith and to live in the ever-changing world of God.  So I’d like to close this morning with an idea.  I’d like for you to think about and then write down one thing you have a question about regarding your faith.  Maybe it will be something you’ve wondered about for years.  Maybe it will be rather trivial – like why did God create stink bugs – something I wonder about! – or something monumental – like why is my loved one is such constant pain, where is God in that?  No matter the question, send it to me – text it to me – send an anonymous note to the office – I promise to keep each one confidential.  And let’s share in conversation in the coming weeks about your doubts and your questions. Because that is how-to live-in faith and in relationship with one another.  That is how we move into the future, into the new church the spirit is forming.  For as Peter writes, “although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”  Salvation has come.  Christ is risen!  Amen.
 Buechner, Dr. Frederick. Wishful Thinking, p. 20Lewis, The Rev. Karoline.  “Resurrection is Relationship.” 3/27/2016.  Long, The Rev. Dr. Thomas.  Princeton Seminary Sermon, “Against All Preachers of Bad News”. 
TODAY.                                                                                                 * HYMN#451                                  Open My Eyes that I may See                                                                   PRESENTING OUR TITHES & OFFERINGS         (If you’re joining us via Zoom,
we invite you to make your offering online.
Thank you to everyone for your generous support!)
Gracious God, receive these gifts – and give us open hands.  Fill our lives – and give us open hearts.  Touch us with prophecy – and give us open minds.  Bless this church – and give us open doors.  Use what we offer and bless our endeavors as we seek to walk in your path, in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

POSTLUDE                                                 Postludium                                                         Gordon Young                                                                                                               * Please rise in body or in spirit.