Sunday 24 April 2022
The oppressed look to the LORD and are glad; they will never be disappointed. Psalm 34: 5
Hymn SGP7 Alleluia Alleluia
We are supposed to have faith, to trust in you
neither to doubt what we have been told about you
nor to doubt that you are a loving and caring God
who has the power to right wrongs
and establish peace and justice
but it isn’t so easy to do that in practice
we have questions, we have concerns
we have niggling doubts
we look at the world around us –
maybe at our own circumstances –
and find that it isn’t always easy to match
the theory with life as it actually is
thank you that Jesus lived a human life
and understands the challenges
that come with being human
he had questions and concerns
his friends had questions and concerns
and he taught them to go on living and serving
without knowing all the answers
help us to do that
where there are things that we need to know
help us to learn them
where there are things that we don’t need to know
help us to cope with uncertainty or lack of knowledge
and help us to know which is which
through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time
To test our brains, and work off the excess chocolate we’ve eaten over the past week, we’ll have a little quiz this morning. (I think we may actually have had the same quiz last year – so you’ll know all the answers). It’s a True or False quiz. You put up your hand when I ask for a vote
1 Tulips come originally from North America
2 Those who receive the royal Maundy money receive the same number of silver Maundy coins as the years of the sovereign’s age
3 Cadbury released their first hollow egg filled with sugared almonds in 1875
4 The name ‘Spain’ comes originally from the Phoenician I-Shpania ‘The Land of the rabbit’
5 38 Faberge eggs were made for the Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II to give as Easter gifts to their wives and mothers
1 False (they come from Anatolia across to central Asia, with some species being found in Mediterranean areas); 2 True; 3 True; 4 True (though some other suggestions for the origin have been made); 5 False (it was 52)
True or False quizzes may be fun things to do at parties, but the last couple of years have highlighted for us how challenging it can be in the real world to separate True from False:
- during the pandemic all sorts of false claims were made on social media about vaccinations, treatments, the very existence of the virus – and some people died as a result of believing what such posts said
- during the war in Ukraine, we’ve seen false claims, denials, blatant lies, the deliberate misleading of people at home
- we saw the rise of the term ‘fake news’ in a previous American administration, and supporters of that administration being encouraged to deny the loss of the election, despite all evidence to the contrary
Individuals and groups have made great use of social media to publicise conspiracy theories, to promote unsubstantiated facts and hypotheses. The increasing trend towards authoritarian regimes and populist movements around the world leads to attempts to control free exchange of ideas, and promotion of the line that those in authority want people to believe.
It’s not new, it has happened for centuries, but new technology works in favour of those who want to mislead and groom.
We believe that there is such a thing as Truth (which is a ‘good thing’), and that there are lies (which are ‘bad things’). We believe that Truth, and a love of Truth and Honesty, are characteristics of our God, and that he wants us to pursue them actively. It’s hard, always being on the lookout for what is True and what is False. By his Spirit, he helps us to work at it.
Hymn 421 Our Lord Christ hath risen
John 20: 19-31
‘Unless I see the nail marks…I will not believe.’ He can be an awkward so-and-so, that Thomas. Digs his heels in and won’t budge. He has to question everything, he’s sceptical about anything you propose, and it’s hard work trying to convince him of anything. Some of the others think he’s the exact analogy of what a true follower of mine shouldn’t be. But actually I have a lot of respect for Thomas, and wish there were a few more of him about – though I couldn’t cope with a world full of them.
There are people like Herod, Pilate, the High Priests, who hold positions of power in civil and religious life, who want people to believe implicitly everything they tell them. They twist the truth, they tell blatant lies, they cover things up. They like to present an image of being all-knowing, all-wise. It is people’s duty to believe what they say, without questioning it, because it is so eminently believable, and it comes from these wise and experienced people.
And there are people who do believe implicitly everything they are told. They don’t know what the real truth is, only the confection spun by these liars and propagandists. God gave them brains, but they don’t use them. They believe everything they are told. Thinking is too much hard work, or maybe it would distract them from enjoying themselves, or maybe they might discover things that are uncomfortable, that they don’t like. They don’t ask serious, hard questions – and if they did, they would never do so publicly.
I’m not someone who believes implicitly what someone else says. Long ago I saw through the lies and spin created by the civil and religious authorities, and all those self-appointed ‘experts’ among the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law. I don’t accept their take on life, on God, or God’s expectations for humankind. They say things like: poverty and illness are punishments sent by God on the wicked; that there is no place in God’s people for foreigners, sinners, people with disabilities; that men matter more than women, and rich men more than poor men. I have come to show people the real nature and extent of God’s love.
When I’m talking to people I don’t just take at face-value what they say, or the image they try to create. Remember that Samaritan woman at the well, how that conversation started, and where it went. Or the meal at the house of Simon the Pharisee, where everything was done to impress, but he didn’t observe the common niceties shown to a guest, and quickly showed his prejudice when that woman appeared seeking forgiveness. I try to get people to open up and share what is really going on in their lives – their problems and concerns – and I can soon see through the veneer they create around themselves.
Thomas is like me in that respect. He isn’t taken in by spin or lies. Everything must be questioned and tested. Would that more of this ‘happy band of followers’ were ready to question and challenge! They’ll need to be ready to do that when they go out to the Big Wide World and tell people about the resurrection and what it means for everyone. They’ll meet opposition from religious people who’ll say that it is blasphemy to suggest that God could become human, that he could suffer and die. They’ll get into arguments with philosophers and sceptics who will dismiss the message as deluded, fabrication, absolutely impossible. They have to be ready to respond to critics from all sides, and be ready to take the argument to them.
They’ll also have to cope with the difficulties that members of their own community have to face daily. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad people get away with their lies and crimes? When will the Kingdom come? When will injustices be put right? When will there be peace and prosperity for everyone? When will tyrants be brought to justice? Those are real questions which every generation asks. How will they answer them? God has given them brains, and they must wrestle with these issues. There will not always be answers – or at least answers that God will share with them. It is right to keep bringing them to him in prayer, to search the Scriptures for help and guidance, to talk about them with other members of their fellowship.
Thomas can be a pain. An entire band of Thomases would be insufferable. But I wish there were more like him among my followers and in the wider world, people who will ask questions and not just believe everything that they are told.
Hymn 430 Christ has risen while earth slumbers
Prayers for others
We live in a world where many people
live uncomfortably with uncertainty or doubt
where will the next meal come from?
How secure is their job?
Will peace come back?
Will they be able to return home?
Will the captive be set free?
Will they or their friend or loved one be well again?
Can they believe what they are told in the media,
by the authorities?
How much is propaganda, or ‘fake news’?
You are a God who cares
You are a God who strives for truth, for justice, for peace
and so we bring our prayers for those in need
those who are ill, those who worry about them,
those who care for them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are feeling lonely, down
or grieving a friend or loved one
those who don’t have enough to eat
don’t have somewhere to call home
those who are worried about family, friends, work, home,
those who long to live in peace and safety
we pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
we pray for your church
the worldwide church, the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 432 How often we like Thomas
Blessing (3-fold Amen)
Christ was raised from the dead
by the glorious power of the Father.
Set out, then, on a new life with Christ
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
rest and remain with you
today, and every day, and for ever