First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


Do Not Doubt But Believe

~ Guest Sermon ~ April 8, 2018 ~ The Reverend Barbara Hoig

Scriptures: Psalm 133

                  Acts 4:32-35

                  John 20:19-35

KEY TEXT: John 20:27a: “Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and           put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.”

Sermon Title:  “Do Not Doubt But Believe”

Prayer:  O Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you.  Amen.

We all have doubts.  Sometimes I think that doubt is the by-word for our times.  We doubt the weather predictors, we doubt the promise makers, we doubt the news, we doubt the world leaders, we doubt the IRS, we doubt the insurance companies, we doubt our government…

It’s all about being able to trust people.  Who do you trust in your life?  I have had that concept deeply shaken recently when a 44 year old woman whom I have known for nearly 30 years, and have kept in contact with, came crashing back into my life in a very real way.  Back before Christmas I heard from Kathy, not her real name, and she wanted to talk.  But before I tell you too much, you need some background.  Kathy was an abused child, abused by all the males in her life as a small child, and also in High School.  Kathy was adopted as an infant and a few years later her parents adopted a little boy.  Her Mother did not know that after her husband had abused her, left her unconscious on the floor, he was also abusing the children.  They, of course, were sworn to secrecy being told of horrible punishment if they said anything.  It wasn’t until the age of 25 when Kathy, with my hand in hers, was able to tell her Mom what had happened at the hands of her dad and brother.  Then we found out that her Mom had also been an abused child.

Kathy was brought up to believe that men were bad news.  They hurt you.  When Kathy was of an age that her friends were dating, her Mom didn’t let her date because men will just hurt you and leave you in the end.  You’re better off without them.  Kathy also has several severe and chronic diagnoses, the worst of which is epilepsy.  Her doctors believe that it was brought on by all the hits she took to her head as a child.

There is a beautiful new development to this story.  Kathy has a boyfriend.  He is a wonderful, Christian man that she has known for 10 years.   He was divorced when she met him, got married and divorced again, and has kept in contact with Kathy through his profession, all this time.  He has now declared his love for her, and Kathy was terrified, though she knows Tom is a good man, and does love her and won’t hurt her, it took a tremendous amount of courage for Kathy to go out to dinner with him for that first date.  In fact, she told him she would go to dinner if he didn’t call it a date.  It turns out that Kathy’s Mom, believing she is protecting her, does not approve of this relationship.  Kathy is now engaged to Tom, and planning a wedding.  She is so amazed that love can be unconditional, that a man can love a woman without hurting her, that all the things she has been told about male/female relationships over her 44 years have been proven slanted by an abused parent. 

Suddenly, in not quite 3 months, Kathy has taken a monumental leap of faith.  She has learned to trust a man on a personal level, even though she has many doubts, she is learning to talk to Tom about them and she has found that he does not lie to her when the questions are hard to answer.  

We all need to deal with our doubts.  Sometimes it is easy, sometimes hard.  But in order to live our lives, we must move past them, or know that we have doubts for a good reason.  I believe that is where Thomas was.  He was doubtful that this apparition standing in front of him, who had come through a closed door, was actually the man he had known before he saw him crucified.  Let’s examine some of the leaps of faith Thomas had to make to believe.

We live in an interesting time; long years past Jesus’ time.  So when we read these scriptures, and ponder their meaning, we look back, to what we think Jesus might have meant, then try to give that some relevance in 2018.

When Jesus was resurrected, he entered the same world he had left 3 days prior. 

Rome was still in charge, and the Christians were hiding out and looking over their shoulders.  His disciples, the eleven, (the twelve minus one), were hiding in an upper room in a house.  I saw a friend on Easter Sunday who just returned from a trip to Jerusalem.  She said they visited an ‘upper room’ in a house.  You had to climb a very rough ladder to get there, and it was a fairly large shelf of rock in the cave that the dwelling was made of.  There were no windows, only a small opening along the front side for air.  This is where the eleven were hiding out.  They were going out only in ones and twos and coming back to the room with the news of the day.  When Mary Magdalene found Jesus’ tomb empty, she ran to tell Peter and John.  When the news reached the group gathered in the upper room, they were amazed.  Then when the risen Christ visited them, they recognized their friend and teacher.  But Thomas was skeptical.  He had seen Jesus crucified and then placed in the tomb, after the body had been prepared for the grave.  How could Jesus now be alive?  Was this a ghost?  Was there some trick?  Why were Mary and Peter and John calling Jesus The Christ?

Christ sensed Thomas’ confusion about him and asked him to come close and examine the wound in His side.  “Put your hand in My side.”  He also asked Thomas to put his finger in the wounds in His hands.  The wounds in His hands that the nails had made.  In Jesus’ time, the Romans crucified a lot of people.  They did not use nails in the hands and feet.  The used leather bands to bind the people to the cross.  Jesus was nailed to the cross as per the prophesy.  Those wounds in his hands and feet were truly identifying wounds.  Christ was picking up his lessons where Jesus had left off before the crucifixion.  He was teaching the disciples to trust him.  Jesus IS the son of man.  He IS the son of God.  He IS the Christ.  Jesus was at one time both fully human and fully divine.  Now he is the risen Christ.  Still son of man and son of God, but more.

Christ was soon to ascent to heaven and be with the Father.  He would no longer be walking with the disciples on earth.  Instead they would be acting in his name.  They would be encountering people every day who would not believe them when they said that Jesus, now known as Christ, lives, He has risen.  He has ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father.  So this lesson to the disciples was extremely important. 

The Christians in those days were riddled with fears of demons and ghosts, as well as persecution by Romans.  There were all kinds of tricks and happenings that could not be explained.  They feared them all.  They ran and hid from them. 

The disciples needed to be able to convince the rest of the Christians that Jesus was indeed risen, and that He was ascended to the Father in heaven.  I believe that is why He visited with the disciples and continued to teach them during His short time left with them before His ascension.  The disciples were the first ones commissioned to go out and act in Christ’s name.  They were charged with baptizing and teaching all the people they met.

In the UCC, we believe in the priesthood of all believers.  That means that we believe all of us are able to perform priestly duties.  We hire some people who have been educated beyond the general congregant in the pews, so that they may teach us.  But we believe that we can petition God through Christ for anything we need.  Each one of us can pray for others, can teach others, can offer forgiveness to others we encounter in our daily lives. 

What we know about Jesus, the Christ, and His teachings, we have learned from the Bible.  We know that what is written in the Old Testament are words and concepts that were first passed down by word of mouth remembrances and then they were written down.  And in the New Testament, while there are probably some accounts that have a few of Jesus’ actual quotes, they are mostly what was remembered and written down after Christ ascended to the Father. 

Many of the Gospel writers never knew Jesus personally.  They knew him from the stories and teachings of the disciples and the leaders of the Christian movement. 

None of us ever knew Jesus personally, we never even knew the writers of the Biblical texts.  We cannot go to that upper room and ask Jesus to share communion with us.  We cannot stand with the eleven and watch the Christ walk into the room through a closed door.  We cannot put our finger in His nail holes or our hand in His side.  Our whole Christian Faith is entirely based on just that.  FAITH. 

Christ said to Thomas, “You believe because you have seen.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  In what ways have your lived on blind faith in your life?  For myself, while I was in seminary, I had left my full-time nursing job, and I was working part time as a nurse, and my new part time job didn’t quite cover all the bases.  Every month there were checks in the mail, from my home church, from friends and family, they really paid the bills so I could accomplish my dream.  I was truly living on faith.

Today, I live on the faith that my car will last another few months, and I will stay healthy and find interesting things to do that keep me busy, (I could do with a few less of these today).  I live on the faith that every time I go out and drive, I will get back home safely.  I live on faith the when I am in a crowd, there will not be a shooter in the crowd with me.  I live in fear of travel to some parts of the world.  I live in fear that some parts of the world will invade my happy life here in the US.  I attended a conference in St Louis, MO last fall.  It was all UCC clergy and their families, and I learned that many of them were locking doors, stripping altars and placing all valuables in vaults, hiring security for their parking lots whenever there was an event at the church, and asking choir members not to bring their purses to church and to keep their car key in a pocket because people were walking into the building during services and events and taking car keys out of pockets and purses from choir rooms.  Choir members were coming out of church to find that their money and their cars were missing.  In Traverse City, churches with child care centers are hiring security to police any door that is unlocked during the daytime hours, and only unlocking 1-2 doors unless there is an event.  If there is an event, they hire security for each open door to watch people coming in and going out.

In 2018, we call it being careful; protecting out assets; our families; our patrons; our congregation.  It takes the same kind of faith to live in 2018 as it did to live in the year Jesus was crucified.   “DO NOT DOUBT but believe.”  Christ promised us eternal life with Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit.  “Do no doubt but believe.”

Life with eternity in it – is God’s gift to us.  We have heard it, but we are slow to believe.  We have received it, but we are slow to trust.  It is ours to enjoy, but we have not lived it.  Let us discuss the matter with our Creator.

Closing prayer:

Ever-present God, who by the power of the holy Spirit transforms us individually – and as a church to be your dwelling place, confront us here in the midst of our doubts, grant us your peace while we face our fears, and increase our trust that we may embrace life in all its fullness. Speak to us now the word that we need, empowering us to be a unifying presence in our broken world.  Amen

Pastoral Prayer
We have taken the name Christian, but few of us are known primarily by that name.  We have experienced Easter radiance, but we seldom reflect the light of our risen Savior.  We have heard the message of salvation, but it grows cold on our lips and is of little influence in our lives.  Sometimes we delude ourselves that, because we are basically good people, there is no sin in us.  We deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  Sin is separation from you, and we have allowed great chasms and built high walls to keep you out of our lives.  Forgive us, we pray.

The Bible tells us that If we walk in the light as Christ is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.  If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive us.  Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sin.  When we are one with God through Christ, we extend forgiveness to our sisters and brothers, that all may come to faith and have life in Jesus’ name.

Help us to forgive our brothers and sisters; Our neighbors and friends.  Bring us peace in our lives.  Help us to approach that person we shy away from at work, at school, in our neighborhood.  Help us to make a difference in the lives of others by offering friendship and fellowship with another Christian. 

Help us to put our faith in you asking for healing for our neighbors and friends, and for ourselves.  Help us to have faith that you will show us the way each day as we leave our beds and venture out into this world.  Then help us to have courage to step out on that faith we have, and follow your example, teaching and making disciples of all we meet.

Hear us, O Lord, as we pray the prayer you have taught us saying, Our Father…  debts

Amen.

Enjoy the Audio version of Guest Speaker Rev. Barbara Hoig’s Sermon by selecting “Download file” below.

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