Worship for Sunday, April 24, 2022

Acts 5:27-32

27When they had brought [the apostles,] they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 118:14-29

14The Lord is my strength and my song,
and has become my salvation.
15Shouts of rejoicing and salvation echo in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord acts valiantly!
16The right hand of the Lord is exalted!
The right hand of the Lord acts valiantly!”
17I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the Lord. 
18The Lord indeed punished me sorely,
but did not hand me over to death.
19Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter them and give thanks to the Lord.
20“This is the gate of the Lord;
here the righteous may enter.”
21I give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and you have become my salvation.
22The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
23By the Lord has this been done;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25Hosanna!   O Lord, save us!
We pray to you, Lord, prosper our days! 
26Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord;
we bless you from the house of the Lord.
27The Lord is God and has given us light.
Form a procession with branches up to the corners of the altar.
28You are my God, and I will thank you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good;
God’s mercy endures forever.

Revelation 1:4-8

4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

7Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.

8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 20:19-31

19When 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.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.”

26A 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.” 27Then 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.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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 Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Names matter. Sometimes names matter a lot. Deciding what to name your child matters because – your child will go through her entire life bearing whatever name is bestowed upon her. Which is why so many expectant parents spend so much time thinking about – discussing – pondering – and debating baby names.

You want her name to match who she will become. You think – I want my son to have a name that will serve him well. Or we want our daughter to have a name that will stand the test of time. Or we want to give our child a family name – an ancestor’s name. Or a name that reflects your Christian faith so you choose a name from the Bible. There are so many reasons for choosing the perfect name.

Most parents put a lot of time – effort and thought into naming their children. But then – well – then – other people happen. Nicknames happen . . .

You name him Keith – but he answers to Bussy. It started as Buster – then somehow eased into Bussy – although he never drove a bus even once in his life!

Her birth certificate says her name is Kerri – but she goes by Manning because she had at least 2 other friends named Carrie for over a decade.   And Carrie – Kerri and Carrie just got so wildly confusing!

You proudly named your son Moses – but everyone calls him “Stinky!” Yes – your beautiful Moses answers to Stinky because of one awful night at sleepover camp when he had an unfortunate encounter with a skunk.   Even his work shirts say Stinky and so do his business cards!

Nicknames can be awesome or awful.

Speaking of names – think of the Disciple Thomas. Thomas is a nice name. Maybe – folks called him Tom sometimes. But – whether he was Thomas or Tom – he had a nice name until – he got saddled with a doozy of a nickname!

Doubting Thomas. We call him – Doubting Thomas . . .

We just read the Gospel that gave Thomas this nickname that has stuck for centuries!

In fact – the only thing most folks know about Thomas is his nickname. But – we are being incredibly unfair when we call him – Doubting Thomas.

So – what does our Gospel reading tell us about Thomas?

Today we meet up with the disciples on the very first Easter evening. It has been a wretchedly horrible week for the disciples. Jesus has been killed. And the disciples – fear they will be next. They are afraid they will be killed too. So they are in hiding – when suddenly Jesus appears in their midst.

One moment they are alone – terrified and grieving and – the next – there stands Jesus. No knock on the door. Or tap at the window. No warning.   Just out of nowhere – there Jesus is.

The disciples were shocked.   And probably concerned. After all – they had all abandoned Jesus in his time of need.

But Jesus’ first words to them are – “Peace be with you.” Then Jesus shows them his hands and his side to prove – it is really him.   Jesus is alive!

The disciples go from fear to faith. All of them – except Thomas. Because Thomas wasn’t there.

Imagine how excited the disciples must have been when Thomas returned. Jesus was alive! Jesus had been raised from the dead!

But Thomas didn’t share their excitement.   He didn’t get swept up in their joy.   He couldn’t believe them. In fact – Thomas declares – “Until I see those marks with my own eyes and touch those scars with my own hands – I won’t believe it.”

And so a nickname and a reputation for doubting are born. With those few words –Thomas becomes Doubting Thomas.

But there is more to him than this moment.   The Bible tells us the very next week Jesus again appears to his disciples and this time Thomas is there.   Again – Jesus declares – “Peace be with you.” Then Jesus says 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.”

And Thomas believes! Thomas was a doubter for seven days – a week – and then he saw Jesus and believed for the rest of his life.

And yet we insist on calling him – Doubting Thomas. This is so unfair. Thomas doubted for a WEEK!   (But – who among us hasn’t doubted or questioned?)

So – what did Thomas do after he became Believing Thomas again?

Church tradition tells us Thomas was a devoted teacher – preacher – and missionary. Thomas traveled and preached in the region of modern-day Iran and Iraq.   Then he journeyed to India.

In fact – when Portuguese explorers landed in India in the 1600s – they found a group of Christians already living there who traced their roots back to Thomas. Clearly – there was more to Thomas than one week of doubting.

So why do we call him Doubting Thomas – when Believing Thomas is much more fitting?

Well – honestly – I think it is human nature.   We focus on the negative. We prefer to focus on the mistake or the sin – rather than on the good.

Who here doesn’t know someone – like Thomas – who has been branded by one mistake or a single moment in their lives?

The student who got caught cheating – becomes the cheater.

The person who stole – becomes – the thief.

The person who told a lie – becomes the liar.

The person who hurt your feelings – becomes the enemy.

We give each other names that are small.   Names that don’t fit.

Thankfully our God is not like us. God is more forgiving and more loving than we are. Rather than calling us a bunch of hopeless sinners – God calls us his beloved children.   God focuses on the best parts of us rather than the worst.

And we should do the same thing.

Don’t stick one another with names that are small.   Don’t put people in boxes. Don’t think only of a person’s shortcomings.   Don’t focus on the mistake – don’t focus on the sin – don’t focus on the flaws.

See folks for who they really are. Focus on the truth – we are all the beloved children of God. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

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