Thursday, 16 April 2020

Marsden Road Uniting Service for Easter 2 Sunday 19 April 2020

Sunday 19th April 2020
Marsden Road Uniting Church


Doubt Strengthens Faith
Sunday 19th April 20207
Easter 2 Sunday the year of Matthew 9.30 am

Gathering God’s People

Acknowledgement of First Peoples

We acknowledge the first people who have cared for this Land, where we worship, the Wallumedgal. 
May our worship join with the voices of the First Peoples of this Land.

Call to Worship (Abingdon Worship Annual 2020)
All the doubt in the world cannot wash away our inheritance from God—an inheritance of love, refuge, and strength.

Come into God’s presence with joy.
In God, we have an inheritance that is imperishable. Come into God’s presence with hope.
In Christ, we have an inheritance that cannot be defiled. Come into God’s presence with longing.
In the Spirit, we have an inheritance that never fades.
Come into God’s presence with love. In God, we have an inheritance that brings new life.

Hymn 370: Christ the Lord is Risen Today
                  (Tune – Easter Hymn)

1 Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
   Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
   Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
   Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

2 Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
   Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
   Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
   Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia! 

3 Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
   Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
   Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
   Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

4 Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
   Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
  Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
  Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 

 Charles Wesley (1707-1778)

Opening prayer

     God of signs and wonders breathe new life into us this day, that our spirits may awaken to the joy and the hope of our glorious inheritance through the living Christ. Clear our vision, Holy One, that we may see the promise of Easter in the stirrings of this precious earth and in the life, energy flowing through our bodies. Help us find the faith to believe where we have not seen that others may see, in our living and our loving, the glory of the risen Christ. Amen.

A Prayer of Confession

Merciful God, you come offering us peace, but we hold onto our fears; you come offering us faith, but we cling to our doubts; you come offering us a future filled with promise, but we retreat to pleasant memories of the past. We want to believe that you offer us an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. We want to see ourselves as you see us. We want to live as you would have us live. We want to believe that life is stronger than the death we see all around us. Help our unbelief, O God, that we may truly know and live your gift of resurrection. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness
The inheritance that God promises us is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Even when we are consumed by doubt, God is always faithful. Even when we lose our way, God is able to find us and bring us home. Even when we are at war with ourselves, God is able to bring us peace.
Thanks, be to God!

The Peace

When our minds churn like turbulent waters, Christ comes to offer us peace. When our lives careen out of control like cars on a frozen highway, Christ comes to offer us peace. Christ is here now, offering us peace. With the Spirit of Christ within us, let us turn to one another and share signs of peace with one another.
Peace be with you!
And also, with you!

A Word with The Young People –

We do not know exactly where the disciples were when Jesus was crucified - they obviously were not close by him.  Peter even denied knowing him.  Someone who was not counted as among his closest disciples came and took Jesus’ body away from the cross to put into the tomb.  So, it may have been understandable if Jesus, when he rose from the dead, had some angry words to say to his friends. 

Now I wonder what our young people or maybe even you adults think that Jesus could have said ... He may have said something like, “Where were you when I needed you?  “How could you do that to me? etc. etc.  They are words that we may have said...relating to how we may have felt - but in our gospel reading today - we hear that they are not the words that Jesus said. The first word Jesus said to his friends was “Peace”. 

After all that he had gone through, and after being virtually deserted by his disciples - his first word to them was a  word of peace - the message of peace sung by the angels at Jesus’ birth and here we have the message of peace once more.  More than ever, Jesus wants people to experience that peace and also to pass that peace on to one another. He wants us to experience that peace and also to pass that peace on to one another. 

Offering Prayer

O God, our refuge and our strength, we rejoice that you are our chosen portion, you are our cup that overflows to eternal life. As we celebrate your Easter miracle of bringing life out of death, we express our gratitude and joy for the new life budding within us and all around us. Bless the gifts we offer you this day and all days, that they may bring hope and new life to a world that clings even now to the illusion of death’s victory over the Lord of Life. Amen.

Hymn 379: He is risen, he is risen
                  (Tune – Unser Herrscher)        

1 Christ is risen, Christ is risen!
Tell it with a joyful voice.
Christ has burst the three days' prison;
Let the whole wide earth rejoice.
Death is conquered, we are free;
Christ has won the victory.

2 Come, you sad and fearful hearted,
With glad smile and radiant brow.
Death's dark shadows have departed,
All our woes are over now;
Through the passion that he bore,
Sin and pain have pow'r no more.

3 Come with high and holy hymning;
Chant our Lord's triumphant might.
Not one gloomy cloud is dimming
That bright glorious morning light
Breaking o'er the purple east,
Symbol of our Easter feast.

4 Christ is risen, Christ is risen!
And has opened heaven's gate.
We are free from evil's prison,
Risen to a holier state;
And a brighter Easter beam
On our longing eyes shall stream.

Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), alt.
Unser Herrscher, Joachim Neander (1650-1580)

The Service of the Word

The First Reading:                                            1 Peter 1.1-12
The Gospel Reading:                                        John 20.19-31

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance. 3 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, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 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 honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 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, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, 11 inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated, when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!

John 20.19-31

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.’ 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.’ 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.

Preaching of the Word

Doubt Strengthens Faith. John 20:19-31

One of the greatest blessings we encounter as Christians is the freedom to admit when we have doubts.  As faithful Christians, we need to have the audacity to ask tough questions concerning our faith and traditions.
For some, doubt is synonymous with having a lack of faith, but doubt and faith are two sides of the same coin. They are the Ying and Yang, if you would, of the Christian life.

According to Paul Tillich, doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. Rather than suppress our doubts, we should explore them and allow them to set us on a journey of discovery and a deepening of our beliefs and convictions. In our Gospel reading today, Thomas asked for proof, and we also want proof as well that our faith is not in vain.

Thomas often gets a bad rap for doubting the resurrection of Jesus; however, he was no more doubtful than the other disciples and apostles.

The other disciples didn’t believe that Jesus had risen until he appeared to them, so why should we expect Thomas to be any different?

In fact, we applaud Thomas for his insistence on wanting tangible proof. After all, Thomas was well aware that Jesus wasn’t the first messianic figure on the scene to be crucified by the Roman occupiers. Thomas showed great religious restraint and demonstrated the proper amount of rational doubt.  But when Jesus appeared to him, Thomas proclaimed without reservation, “My Lord, and my God.”

Doubt can be a wonderful tool that propels us into deeper learning, earnest soul searching, and spiritual revelation. Faith based on absolute certainty leads to fanaticism, but faith tempered with doubt is mature and stable.

Many believers struggle with their own doubts brought about by life’s unpredictability and tempestuous nature. We have very real struggles in our lives that generate an uncertainty about where God is to be found in all the turmoil.

Sometimes we look to spiritual giants, the superstars of Christianity, and feel inferior in our own personal walk in comparison. However, the greatest in the Kingdom sometimes deal with the greatest doubt.

Mother Teresa’s diary reveals a saintly person who struggled with a type of doubt that would crush the faint of heart. She wrote to her spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, in 1979, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”

For the last nearly half-century of her life Mother Teresa felt no presence of God whatsoever — neither in her heart or in the Eucharist. That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta and— except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated.

Although perpetually cheery in public, Mother Teresa lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. She bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she was undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. Nevertheless, she continued to love the least in God’s creation and dedicate her life to Christ to the very end.

Mother Teresa isn’t alone in her struggle with doubt. The Polish-born Jewish-American author Isaac Bashevis Singer states that doubt is part of all religion, that all the religious thinkers were doubters. The art critic Robert Hughes said, “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”

Catholic priest Henri Nouwen wrote, “So I am praying while not knowing how to pray. I am resting while feeling restless, at peace while tempted, safe while still anxious, surrounded by a cloud of light while still in darkness, in love while still doubting.”

Despite Henri Nouwen’s own struggle with doubt, he was able to mentor and encourage countless thousands through his writings, lectures, and sermons. One particular quote from a book of his has been a lifeboat for many who find themselves overcome with the waves of life’s stormy doubts: “Have the courage to trust that you will not fall into an abyss of nothingness, but into the embrace of a God whose love can heal all your wounds.”

Faith is a daily, ongoing exercise. It is a risk. Doubts arise. We struggle with God. And hopefully, faith grounded in the goodness of God triumphs — even when we do not have all the answers and life doesn’t make sense.

Will we believe in a God of love who wants to be near us and has our best interest at heart? Or will we believe in a God who plays games with us, and is ultimately cruel and uncaring? Will we believe in a God who stands beside us in our troubles, or one who is distant and difficult?

The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is not void of doubt but requires a daily commitment to developing our spiritual walk despite life’s uncertainties and sometimes cruelties.

Faith doesn’t take away our doubts but is strengthened by them.  And faith doesn’t deliver us from our problems and heartaches but gives us the strength to persevere through them and lead others as well as they navigate around the abyss of nothingness.

May his resurrection power be at work in our lives as we learn to allow our doubts to strengthen our faith.

Hymn 609: May the mind of Christ my Saviour
                  (Tune – St Leonards)

1.  May the mind of Christ my Savior
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and pow’r controlling
All I do and say.

2.  May the Word of God dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through’ His power.

3.  May the peace of God my Father
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.

4.  May the love of Jesus fill me
as the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self-denying
This is victory.

5.  May I run the race before me
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.

6.  May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

Kate B. Wilkinson (1859 - 1928)
Arthur. Cyril Barham-Gould (1891 - 1953)

Intercessory Prayers  
Gracious God, your love reaches us through doors bolted by fear and doubt; your life reaches us through wounds and scars. Help us to hear your words of peace and healing; fill our hearts with  joy so that we too may confess you as our God.
Spirit of peace move among us. Breathe trust that relies on your presence when we see and when we don’t see. Breathe honesty that acknowledges our doubts and questions. Breathe hope and forgiveness for the sake of community with you and others.
God of new life, As we continue to reflect on the happenings of Easter, renew our joy and trust in you; encourage our faith so that although we do not see you, yet we are able to believe and rejoice in you.
May we know what is real. May we know the barriers that divide, ethnic cleansing, sectarianism, racism. May we touch and know what is real and pray for unity.
May we know what is real. May we know the ground on which people walk, and which is home to those who have none: a cold place, a lonely place. May we touch what is real and pray for an end to poverty.
May we know what is real: the world one step beyond this place. May we know where compassion is needed, where love searches, where Jesus walks. May we touch what is real and pray for those beyond this place.
May we know what is real: those people we share life with; our family and friends, our neighbours and community, our world. May we touch what is real and pray for those who journey with us.
May we find Jesus standing beside us. May he be close enough to touch. May he breathe on all your living and speak peace into your lives and may we go now in that peace. Always.


Hymn 228: Crown him with many crowns
                   (Tune – Diademata)

1.  Crown Him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns
All music but its own!
Awake, my soul and sing
Of Him who died for Thee;
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Through all eternity.

2.  Crown Him the Lord of life,
Who triumphed o'er the grave.
Who rose victorious to the strife,
For those He came to save.
His glories now we sing,
Who died and rose on high.
Who died eternal life to bring,
And lives that death may die.

3.  Crown Him the Lord of years,
The Potentate of time;
Creator of the rolling spheres,
Ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail!
For Thou hast died for me.
Thy praise and glory shall not fail
Throughout eternity.

4.  Crown Him the Son of God
Before the worlds began,
And ye, who tread where He hath trod,
Crown Him the Son of man;
Who every grief hath known
That wrings the human breast,
    And takes and bears them for His own,
That all in Him may rest.

       Through Christ, God has given us a new birth into a living hope. God has given us an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading— an inheritance protected by the power of God. Rejoice, therefore, even if for a while we suffer various trials. For life is stronger than death, love is stronger than hate, joy is stronger than sorrow, and the promises of God are sure. Amen

Hymn 779: May the feet of God walk with you.
         (Tune – Aubrey)

May the feet of God walk with you, and his hand hold
you tight.
May the eye of God rest on you, and his ear hear your
May the smile of God be for you, and his breath give you
May the Child of God grow in you, and his love bring you

       Robyn Mann (1949 -)
         Aubrey Podlick (1946 -)

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