Worship from Shadow Hills Presbyterian Church, April 26th 2020. Scripture Text: Psalm 19:1-6, John 20:24-30.
Power Points from https://www.envisionworship.com/
Song Licensing and Copyright information: Sanctuary by John W. Thompson and Randy Scruggs© 1982 Full Armor Publishing Company CCLI Song # 24140 CCLI License # 823932
Amazing Love By Billy J. Foote © 1996 worshiptogether.com songs CCLI Song# 2456623 CCLI License # 823932
Great Is Thy Faithfulness By Thomas Obediah Chisholm and William Marion Runya © Words: Public Domai CCLI Song # 18723 CCLI License: 823932
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
John 20 (this is in the same chapter of the Resurrection…)
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[d] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The Word of the Lord
Thanks be to G-d.
Legend has it, that Sir Isaac Newton once stayed up all night just studying at and looking at his hands. And that in the morning, he had a new found commitment to faith in God. Now this is just a legend and truthfully, I couldn’t find the story online, so I question if that’s true. But I do know the following is true, Sir Isaac Newton once stated, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” This quote is undisputed. And he is not alone, in finding G-d’s existence through hands.
Today’s Scripture is a story about how Thomas struggled with questions and doubts, like we all do, and so he asked to see Jesus’ hands, to see the wounds. And his interactions with Jesus’ hands lead him to faith and helped root his faith. To be fair, to start with, hands are pretty amazing! I’ve recently learned some cool facts about hands;
We all have heard of fingerprints and how they are unique to every single human being. But I also recently learned that, you can’t get a tan on your fingerprints or palm or anywhere on the underside of your palm, which is pretty interesting.
Human hands are important because how we use our thumbs and fingers is one of major things that sets us apart from the rest of the creatures that G-d has created.
Fingernails can even give Doctors information about our health. For example, if they are indented it might mean someone is anemic, or the color can show if someone isn’t getting enough oxygen or having liver problems.
And our fingers don’t even have muscles, the tendons in our fingers are moved by the muscles in our forearms, which is weird.
And even though these hand facts are cool, what if anything do they have to do with us having faith in G-d. For Sir Isaac Newton and for Saint Thomas, hands lead them to faith. And this story of Thomas is always the lectionary passage after Easter. This relatable struggle of faith and doubt. And we waited a week, because our Church has a tradition about Bright Sunday. But other than the story of Thomas there aren’t many sermons about hands. Ruth A Tucker writes;
“Preaching a sermon on the subject of hands might seem like an unlikely topic for most preachers, but it was very natural for missionary doctor Paul Brand. He spoke about hands when he was asked to give an impromptu sermon while he was making one of his frequent visits to a home for lepers in India. Indeed, the message that he gave that day he later polished and gave many more times and, according to his biographer, it became, “one of his best known and best loved sermons.”
His inspiration for the sermon was his congregation that day—leprosy patients whom he had sought to heal, some with greater and some with lesser success. To all of these people he was a beloved physician, and it was always at their request that before he left he speak some words of encouragement and share the gospel. On this particular day, however he was exhausted. He ‘felt empty of ideas. But he knew he must think of something. As he rose to his feet he became suddenly conscious of hands, dozens of them, many raised palm to palm in the familiar gesture of namaste, some arched in the shape of claws, some with all five fingers, some with a few stumps, some half hidden to cover their disfigurement. Hands.”
Brand began simply by reminding them that he was a hand surgeon who was fascinated by people’s hands. “So when I meet people I can’t help looking at their hands. The palmist claims he can tell your future by looking at your hands. I can tell your past. For instance, I can tell what your trade has been by the position of the calluses and the condition of the nails. I can tell a lot about your character. I love hands.”
But how could I talk about hands without talking about his Savior? “How I would love to have had the chance to meet Christ and study his hands,” he told his eager listeners. “But I know what he was like, I can almost picture them, feel them, see the changes that took place in them. Suppose- suppose we follow him through his life and look at his hands together.” Beginning with his boyhood and continuing on through his years as a carpenter, as a teacher, as a healer, and finally as the crucified Lord, he movingly shared the life and ministry of Jesus—through his hands.”
-From Stories of Faith: Inspirational Episodes from the Lives of Christians, by Ruth A. Tucker
I remember once during Seminary, I was taking inventory of my life and the good and bad of my past, and where G-d was in all of that. And I was questioning where G-d is when bad things happen, and can I give my life to serve a G-d who allows bad things to happen, and who doesn’t always intervein. And one night I was having a really hard time, try to accept why bad things happen sometimes. And I remember I went for a walk, late at night and I ended up in one of the Seminary’s Chapels and I loved this chapel, it had these wooden pews, and in the front there was this beautiful stain glass that just looked like a waterfall, but made up of all of the colors of the rainbow. During the day, the light would come through the thick stain glass, but at night, it had a darker more sinister look because there was no light coming in through the stain glass. And I remember sitting one of the wooden pews near the back of the chapel, just lamenting and crying to G-d. Saying; “do you know what it’s like to be hurt by someone? To be betrayed after having done nothing to the person. And I was so mad, and had so many questions.”
And I remember crying and hot tears running down my checks, and closing my eyes, seeing Jesus’ hands. Just his hands being extended to me, with the red nail hole pieced through the center. And I realized that he did know. He does know our pain, he does know injustice and he does know hurt, and he does know betrayal. And not that struggles and pain that I have been through in anyway compares to what Jesus endured for our sake and in no way am I sinless like Christ. But Christ showing me his hands, in love and mercy in that moment, provided me with a new found sense of faith. It gave me the ability to have faith and trust in G-d, enough to commit to serving him through the Church. Knowing that I might not ever get all the answers I want, about why bad things happen, but the love of Christ, and the gift of the wounds in his hands, bridges that gap.
I understand Thomas doubt, I understand his need to see the hands. I get it. And thankfully, Thomas and I aren’t the only ones. Robert Schreiter, in All Shall Be Well, Jesus and His Wounds writes;
“In the appearance stories, Jesus’ body is indeed glorified, but the scars of his torture remain. His body has both discontinuity and continuity with his past.
It is interesting to see how Jesus deals with his wounds. In Luke’s account of the appearance in the upper room, Jesus volunteers to show the disciples his wounds. It is as though he is a little amazed about them himself. These are wounded that do not go way but link Jesus forever to his passion and death….Jesus shows the disciples his wounds and talks about them freely, because they are no longer a source of pain and painful memory, but now, in the case of Thomas, become wounds that heal. They heal Thomas’ troubled soul, riddled with the loss of faith and hope. Jesus’ soul, riddled with the loss of faith and hope. Jesus’ wounds have a remarkable quality, therefore. They link him back to his own death, but point ahead to life and hope as well….
When Thomas is invited to touch Jesus’ wounds, those wounds draw out of him the disruptions below the surface of his own life. His trust has been shaken, his faith in Jesus as the messenger of G-d’s reign has been called into question. Touching the wounds of Jesus connects his inner wounds to those very visible ones of Jesus. The wounds of Thomas’ heart can be placed in the larger and deeper wounds of Jesus, hands and side. In this way, Thomas is healed and can move from doubt to his confession of faith.”
I would like us to end by reading:
Thomas Reflecting from Stages on The Way by the Iona Community.
I expected him to scold me,
not- as you might think-
We had all doubted, at different times,
and he was never angry.
Indeed, he doubted himself, sometimes,
or if he didn’t, he certainly understood how it felt,
because he would sing the Psalms of doubt
with great fervor.
Doubt wasn’t an enemy to him.
He could stand us doubting.
It was indifference he couldn’t stand:
indifference and apathy.
I expected him to scold me
perhaps for making conditions.
I did do that and I won’t deny it.
“If only I see this and do that…then I’ll believe.”
What a fool,
thinking I could make conditions with God,
but he didn’t take me to task.
He saw that I was happy because I had seen
and he said that they were also happy
who believed without making conditions,
without saying “if only” or “unless”
I expected him to scold me
because I wasn’t there when he came.
The others were present, I was absent.
It wasn’t their fault or his fault.
It was mine.
I had- for whatever reason-
Decided that it was all finished.
He came back to say it was all beginning.
I expected him to scold me.
But he didn’t.
He gave me his hand
and, more than that,
he gave me his peace.