St. Michael’s, 15th April
Well Tim has certainly given me a wonderful couple of passages to talk from, how much time do you have today?
Let us start with the reading from John’s gospel.
To me there are four points to consider. Firstly without God’s peace we will live in fear, secondly if we have God’s Holy Spirit we are expected to use that gift in telling others about the Kingdom of Heaven, thirdly doubt is not a problem and fourthly if we pray God will respond.
So let us start with that first thought I had, without God we live in fear. Now please hear me that if we believe in God that does not mean we will never be afraid, more that if we do believe and trust in God and what has been achieved by Jesus’ death and resurrection we will have eternal life living with Him in total peace and harmony. We know where we are going at the drawing of our last breath; the fear of death is gone.
Second point, if we have God’s Holy Spirit we are expected to use that gift in telling others about the Kingdom of Heaven. Do you remember the parable that Jesus told about the talents? Where the last servant was greatly disciplined for just burying what he was given and not using it at all. Well that is the same for us; each one of us has God given gifts, skills and talents that God wants us to use in pronouncing the Kingdom of God and for the benefits of others, for the whole of society.
As each one of us is different, so are the gifts, skills and talents we have and so how we use them to fulfil God’s will also be different, that’s the trouble with God if only He would give us a set formula to follow it would be so much easier not so much fun though. Working with God should be exciting as well as challenging, if we knew exactly what was going to happen or how we should do things how would that build up our faith and trust in God?
That moves us neatly onto the third point, doubt is not a problem. Thomas’ doubt has not been included in scripture to show how weak he was but to give us confidence in that there will be times when we doubt or ask questions, anyone here had experience of the why questions from a toddler? God has no problem with the asking of questions when we don’t fully understand what is going on and why certain things are happening that seem contrary to what God would do or allow.
It is at those times when we need our faith in God to be at its strongest, because as Jesus told Thomas we do not have the luxury that Thomas did of seeing the physical risen Christ. We have put our trust in Jesus purely by faith and great will be our reward, v29, Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
But also from the lips of Thomas came one of the greatest declarations of who the risen Jesus was, v28, Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” This is one of the clearest statements in the New Testament of the divinity of Jesus.
We are staying with Thomas for our fourth point, if we pray God will respond. Thomas declared to the other disciples, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
I expect we are all aware of our government wishing to introduce legislation which will allow the authorities to sift through our e-mails, texts and phone calls, to check that we are not up to mischief. Well God is well in advance of them, He knows our thoughts, the attitude of our hearts and He hears every word that is spoken.
And so it was that as Thomas spoke his words of doubt about what his fellow disciples were saying, so God heard and responded, v26-27, A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Not that that response was instant but respond God did, but in His time. That is one of the main challenges to our prayer life we have to understand God is delighted to give us what our hearts desire but as James points out, “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3)
That is a tough piece of talking from James, but it does challenge us on our motivation for prayer and our understanding of why God responds to our prayers in the way He does.
Plus, as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:3-4, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Through Thomas and the rest of the disciples God is asking us to believe and trust in Him. We do not have the luxury, as I said earlier of seeing the physical risen Jesus, but we do have the scriptures that clearly bear witness to the reality of Jesus resurrection.
The letters of Paul are some of the most persuasive arguments put forward to the truth of Christ’s resurrection and what that means for those of us who put our faith and trust in those facts.
From the reading we heard from Romans there is a sense that Paul is standing on top of a mountain declaring excitedly to the whole world what God has done for the whole of humanity:
v1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
Basically Paul is telling us that we have to gift of eternal life not because we are sinless but because we have believed and trusted in what God has done for humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus, His Son!
The trouble with humanity is, we often have difficulty in accepting the truth of that gift. There is a sense or belief that we need to earn our salvation; we have to do something to please God for us to reach and acceptable standard of behaviour a sort of pass mark as if in an exam.
Now I do not know if you have been on an Alpha course, but at one point Nicky Gumble is talking about sin and perfection. He talks about one of the pillars in the church as if it were the standard of acceptability of God allowing us into His Kingdom.
With the top being perfection and the bottom a total disaster. We are then asked to position different people on that pillar, dependant on how good or bad they have been, in our opinion.
Nicky talks about Hitler being somewhere near the bottom, himself just about half way and Mother Teresa very close to the top but even she has not reached the required standard of perfection that would allow her into heaven on her own merits.
As Paul puts it in Romans 3:23, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Paul is emphasising we cannot do this in our own strength we have to accept the free gift that is on offer.
Some of us from St. Pancras church have been serving refreshments to the spectators of a local under 16’s football club. We offered these refreshments for free, the youngsters have no problem with that idea, we said it was free and that was the basis on which they took them and very grateful they are. But the parents really struggled with that concept that they should receive something for nothing, they insist on paying.
But to enter the kingdom of Heaven we have to accept that as Paul puts it, v6, You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
God knew there was no other way for us to be reconciled to Him, for us to join Him in perfect relationship, unless He took action. And action He did take Jesus giving up His life, not just for His followers and disciples but for the whole of humanity. v8, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Although God has made a way possible for us to be reconciled to Him it does require us to accept what God has done and believe in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, v10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Maybe you are sitting there confused thinking I do not know whether to believe all this or not. That is no different from those first disciples, who having spent three years with Jesus did not fully grasp exactly what was to happen and how. What occurred at that first Good Friday would change, not just their lives but the lives of countless generations that followed them, who believed in their message and put their trust in the risen Lord.
Not just trusting but going and telling others about what God had achieved.
John finished the passage we heard this morning with these words, v31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
That is God’s heart’s desire that you may have life in His name, to be fully reconciled to Him by your belief and trust in Jesus, and through that hope to join Him in eternity. If you have never considered that as an option for you possibly, today is that day, God is asking you to believe and trust in Him.
For those of us who have already put our trust in the saving power of Jesus resurrection we should be seeking ways in which we can use all the God has given us to declare the good news of the Gospels.
Let me finish with this thought that Ignatius of Loyola so eloquently put it in his prayer: – Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do your will. Amen.