Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

April 2019

Overcoming Doubt


Last week we celebrated the resurrection! It was a day of great joy! We heard the stories of that morning and Jesus’ meeting with the couple on the road to Emmaus and how the presence of Jesus warmed their hearts.
Now we begin what is known in the church as the season of Easter. After Jesus’ resurrection, he remained on earth for 40 more days in which he spent time teaching and helping his disciples grow into the roles they would have to claim after Jesus’ ascension. It is a time as well for us to hear these teachings of Jesus and to remind ourselves that as Jesus’ disciples, we too have to grow into the roles God has laid our for us.
I was reading the book, Dear God: Children’s Letters to God, which if you have never read it is a great little book about children’s observations about God. Some are really cute and some are quite insightful. The one that struck me was one from a little boy named Ian. It said, “Dear God, I have doubts about you sometimes. Sometimes I really believe. Like when I was four and I hurt my arm and you healed it up fast. But my question is – if you could do this why don’t you stop all the bad in the world? Like war. Like disease. Like drugs. And there are problems in other people’s neighborhoods, too. I’ll try to believe more.” Signed Ian, age 10. There is some Ian in all of us. There are times when we doubt. There are times when our faith makes no sense. There are questions to which we will never have answers. We sometimes we think like Ian – and sometimes we are like Thomas.
Thomas has always been known as Doubting Thomas, but I wonder if we should really call him Honest Thomas. Thomas had honest doubts and he didn’t hesitate to express them - honestly. After Good Friday, Thomas and the other disciples had been certain that their hopes had come to an end with the death of Jesus. Our scripture reading tells us that on Easter evening, the disciples had locked themselves in a house in fear. They had seen Jesus crucified and were afraid the same thing was going to happen to them. We might be surprised to see the disciples so fearful. Peter and John have seen the empty tomb – Mary Magdalene had seen the risen Christ – and Mary told the disciples that Jesus was alive. The couple from Emmaus had been there to tell them they broke bread with Jesus. By this time, on Easter evening, the disciples should have been celebrating in the streets, but were instead locked in a secret room because they were still afraid and doubted these resurrection sightings were true. We can understand their fear and doubt after the crucifixion – but it seems surprising that they are still afraid after the resurrection. But, then, they have only the testimony of two disciples that the tomb was empty – and the testimony of one woman that she had seen Jesus and an almost hysterical couple that had ran all the way from Emmaus. The empty tomb could mean anything – someone could have stolen his body – so that really wasn’t proof that Jesus was alive. And what if a woman said that she had seen Jesus alive. In that culture a woman’s word didn’t mean much. A woman seeing a crime wasn’t allowed to serve as a witness in court. These men discounted Mary’s testimony – Jesus was dead and they all knew it. And they really didn’t know these people from Emmaus so they doubted they were telling the truth.
But then Jesus came through the locked door – came into their locked room – and said, “Peace be with you!” and the fear drained from them and they were stunned – which was quickly replaced with joy! Mary had been right after all. He was alive! But Thomas wasn’t with them that night. Thomas wasn’t there to witness the resurrected Jesus. So later that week when the disciples saw Thomas they told him what had happened – “We have seen the Lord!” But Thomas had doubts. “I will not believe!” He told 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!” Perhaps we can understand Thomas’ reluctance to believe. While traveling with Jesus, Thomas was one of the most zealous of the disciples, but he saw his worst fears realized. The crucifixion had broken his heart and dashed all that he had believed in and hoped for. Thomas had believed in Jesus but Jesus had betrayed that belief by dying on the cross. So we can understand why Thomas was a little slow to believe again.

And if we are honest there are times when we say the same thing. There are times when we don’t truly believe. Am I sure I’m going to heaven? Am I sure God will really take care of me if I lose my job? Can I really trust God when my spouse gets sick? Sometimes I’m not sure of the promises at all.
It is a week later. Thomas is with the disciples now – still locked in their house. And Jesus appears again and goes directly to Thomas. “Put your finger here and touch my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Jesus does not condemn Thomas for his failure to believe but gives him what he needs to enable him to believe. Thomas has demanded to see and touch the risen Lord, and Jesus allows him to do that. Thomas then immediately answered Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
Think about what peace means to you. If right this minute you were granted peace, what would that be? Would you be transported to a lounge chair on the beach or to a chair sitting on a rippling river? Would it be in front of a crackling fire with a book? Or would you be right here but with all the worry and anxiety and concern gone? Whatever the picture you painted, whatever brought you that feeling of peace, that is what scripture wants us to understand about Jesus in this story of his appearance after the resurrection. His first words to the everyone who saw him were “Peace be with you!”
We have a group of disciples, in a locked room, confused and fearful and unsure of what the future was going to hold for them. Not a feeling that we would associate with peace. Certainly doesn’t make us think of peace. But yet that is what Jesus wants us to see – peace in the midst of turmoil, peace in the midst of fear, peace in the midst of doubt.
But our problem stems from the fact that false ideas about peace and joy are taught to us in our society. These false ideas can distort our entire picture of what life is to be about and of what Christ was talking when he said “Peace be with you!” These false ideas block the true peace that Jesus is offering us.
There was a woman by the name of Sally Bergman who tells the story of how she once went into a worship service where the entire congregation was told: “If you don’t have a smile on your face, you’ve got the wrong religion and shouldn’t be here. Christianity is a religion of joy!” She fled the service in tears – because she did not feel at that time like she could smile – she was having difficulties and was looking for comfort. Instead she was told that she was not good enough for God because she was not smiling. While it is true that Christianity is a religion of joy – Jesus never waits until we are already happy in order to come to us. The risen Christ came to his disciples in the midst of their turmoil and fear. He came in the midst of their doubt and their sense of having failed both him and themselves and Jesus still said to them – Peace be with you.!”
The peace that Jesus offers can be described as the confidence his followers are able to take from his resurrected appearance. His return on that first day of the week signaled the fact that his life and promises will endure. His “peace be with you” was more than a simple greeting. It was a declaration of his promise. Because Jesus is alive, we can have confidence in his presence. The confidence that the disciples received when Jesus came and said to them “Peace be with you” is demonstrated in the change we see in the disciples. When they left that room and went into the world to proclaim the love and forgiveness of God through his Son Jesus Christ. And notice that the external circumstances of the disciples did not change when they realized that peace of Christ. They were going out into a world that hated them; a world that didn’t understand them; a world that would eventually kill all of them.
The peace that Jesus offered them came from their belief, their confidence and their knowledge that nothing could separate them from God’s love even though they still had to face the same situations they faced before they saw the risen Christ. They still had to face the Romans, they still had to risk the wrath of the Jewish authorities, they still had to deal with the crowds who had called for the crucifixion of Jesus. They still had to face trials and tribulations – and so do we.
This is a great story for us. It is a great story for us because it lets us know that when we have those times in our life where we doubt, we are not a failure and God won’t abandon us. Sometimes we doubt when things are going good and we are tempted to doubt we really need Jesus. And sometimes we doubt when things are going badly and we are tempted not to believe in the promise Jesus made to provide for us. We think he has let us down. But just as Jesus comes to Thomas and gives him what he needs to believe, Jesus will never stop coming to us and giving us what we need to believe as well.

Just as Ian admitted he sometimes doubted God, we too sometimes doubt. But Jesus has been resurrected. He is alive and he comes to us to help us through that doubt and even better as we come out of those doubtful moments – he gives us peace. We can have confidence in his promise “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, not as the world gives do I give to you, Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither be afraid. Believe in God, believe also in me”. Amen.

The Cost of Sin

The Cost of Sin

Depending on your tradition, the words to the 5th petition of the Lord’s prayer will vary. Some say ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. Some say ‘forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us’. And we say ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’. As we approach Holy Week and the story of what Jesus is about to do for us, the word ‘debt’ is most appropriate to help us understand this whole week. Think about what a debt is - a debt is something you owe someone. If your refrigerator breaks and someone comes and fixes it for you, and you say to the repair person - bill me - then you are in debt to the refrigerator repair person. At the end of this week, Jesus will ‘repair’ you - Jesus will fix the problem of all the sin in your life. So just like the refrigerator repair person, we owe a debt to Jesus for what he has done for us. Then Jesus cancels that debt by paying the cost for us. No bill is coming - your debt is paid. Then Jesus tells us to ‘go and do likewise’ - as iI have forgiven your debts, you now have to forget the debts owed to you by those who have harmed you; those who are wronged you. You need to cancel that debt as well. And you know why it is in the prayer? Cause it is hard to do! We ask God to help us do this. We essentially say - As Jesus forgive my debts, my sin, help me to remember that and then help me do the same for those who have wronged me, those who have committed sin against me. And we say it every time we say the prayer to remind ourselves……
And by remembering the events of this week, it helps us see what the cost of paying my debt is - it is a high one. The cost of my debt, my sin, is the death of God’s son.
On Sunday morning of this last week of Jesus’ life, Jesus gets up and he and the disciples all began to walk into Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus sent a couple of his disciples to find him a donkey to ride, because the prophecy declared that the messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. This was the day of gathering for Passover and Jews from all over were traveling into Jerusalem to get ready for the Passover. Hebrew law required that everyone who was able was to come to Jerusalem for the Passover – this was the reason all these crowds were on the road that morning. Everyone traveling is in a festive mood – they looked forward to all coming together during this celebration. You would come to see people you only saw once a year, you would gather for feasts and parties as the week would build up to the Seder meal and the Passover rituals near the end of the week.
Think of a festival or gathering you go to every year that you look forward to and see people you only see there and everyone comes together and just has a fun relaxing time. That was Passover in Jerusalem. Jesus comes riding a donkey and the people are thinking the Messiah is going to come in and overthrow the Roman government in Jerusalem; they are singing Hosannas because they thought that Jesus was coming to give them back their land – to kick out the Romans and once again there would be a Hebrew king governing the people of Israel. So the celebration heightened as they did what you did for a King, - wave palm branches, lay your cloaks on the road, sang Hosanna. What a great time – the great celebration of Passover and just like the first Passover when they were released from slavery, they would now be released from the oppression of at the Romans Into the city they go, rejoicing and having a great day! Jesus, the disciples and the crowds continue into Jerusalem under the watchful eye of the religious leaders who are leery of what is going on. All this allegiance to this wandering teacher was disturbing. The leaders were worried their power would be questioned. This teacher had the crowds all worked up looking for change. Change is never good when you are in power and the religious leaders were understandably worried. Even today we are cautious of new ways and new ideas and change;. Jesus was turning everything the Jews thought were absolutes and telling them there were new

ways to look at what they thought was truth. New ways to understand their role as God’s people. The leaders thought everything was fine the way it was. They thought they were being obedient to God the way they were. By that afternoon, however, after everyone has entered the city, we see Jesus not joining in on the party, but sitting on top of the hill overlooking Jerusalem and weeping. He knows that this great celebration and this happy mood and these hopes of a new government will be crushed by the end of the week – things will not turn out as these people who are now so full of joy think it will. As the week goes along, the mood will quickly become dark. Jesus knows that everyone is going to turn against him and even his closest disciples would abandon him. On Monday, Jesus goes to the temple and he see what is going on there and he is really angry. The temple has become a market place selling sacrificial animals, overcharging people who are trying to pay the temple tax - and he grabs a bullwhip and he runs everyone out of the temple in disgust over how they have corrupted the worship of God. The religious leaders who not only sanctioned this market place, but who also profit from it are really worried now. They knew they had to get rid of this man - immediately. Jesus appears every day in the temple teaching and telling parables. There are crowds standing around listening to these stories. The Pharisees are hearing these stories as well and became very angry because they knew that Jesus is not only talking to these crowds who are around him, but Jesus is talking to them as well. Jesus is reminding the religious leaders it is not about them and their power but about their being faithful to God. And they are upset. The religious leaders looked around and saw the crowds and were afraid of what the people might do if they arrested Jesus, so they try to figure out how they are going to get rid of him.
Jesus’ teaching at the temple however changes as the week goes along. His teaching is much more serious than the people have heard before, much more about sacrificing your life, your time, your money for God. His teaching was about how one needed to put God first over everything else. About how choices were going to be difficult and about how no longer being a descendent of Abraham was enough to be part of God’s people. The Religious leaders came and questioned Jesus and they didn’t like his answers about how they had missed the point of what a life as God’s people was all about. The people who had crowded around Jesus and hung on every word he said began to drift away as well. He wasn’t saying what they wanted to hear anymore. He actually told them to pay their taxes to Caesar. He told them, give all they had left to God……. As the week progressed, Jesus continued his difficult teaching, telling the people who were left that if they followed him people were going to hate them. He talked about death. As the crowds left, so did one of his disciples. Like the crowds, Judas is disillusioned because Jesus is not doing what Judas thought he should do. Like the crowds, Judas wanted Jesus to do something radical. Like the crowds, Judas wanted Jesus to do something political and that wasn’t the direction things were going. So Judas thinks he can force Jesus’ hand by turning him in. Surely when they come to arrest Jesus, he will be forced to act in a different way; Jesus would be forced to start the coup against the government.
And by Thursday, all the crowds had left. There was no one left willing to listen to Jesus. it was only his disciples who were with him. And not only did one of them betray him, but one would deny him, and all but one of the remaining 10 would desert him. Only John would remain with him to the cross.
What a difference a week makes. Holy Week begins today. We began the service with the waving of palm branches and we end with the somber music and a somber mood to remember this is the way this week will go. It begins with celebration and ends with death. It began with large crowds and ends with Jesus all by himself as he goes to the cross. A death of an innocent man, who dies to pay a debt for us; who spends the week trying to help us understand what being the people of God is all about; a man who still goes to the cross even though everyone has deserted him…. A man who goes to the cross and looks out over those who have beat him and made fun of him and have put a nail through his hands and feet and in his agony cries out for God to forgive them – and to forgive us.
And he reminds us that every time we pray his prayer, we remember what he has done so our debt is paid.

The Greatness of God

The Greatness of God

In the 13th chapter of Matthew Jesus tries to describe for us what the kingdom of God is like. This description of the Kingdom of God is much like the elephant story where 6 blind men tried to describe an elephant. None of the blind men had seen an elephant before and they very much wanted to understand what an elephant was like. So they were taken to an elephant so they could touch an elephant and get an idea of what an elephant looked like. But each man stood at a different place around the elephant and only touched the part of the elephant they were standing by. So one man exclaims as he touched the trunk “An elephant looks like a snake!”. Another man stood by the tusk and said, “The elephant is sharp and deadly like a spear”. Another man touched the leg of the elephant and said this elephant is just a big cow. Touching the tail the blind man said, “Why this isn’t an animal at all, it is just a rope”. One of the blind men grabbed the ear and said, “An elephant must be a big fan!” and the other blind man touched the side of the elephant and said, “An elephant must look like a wall.” Then the men began to argue, A fan!, A Snake, A Cow! It’s just a rope”. They continued their argument and none of them could think about putting all those images together to really understand what an elephant is like. And so it is with the Kingdom of God.
In the 13th chapter of Matthew, Jesus is telling parables that help us learn about the Kingdom of God - and what is important is that you have to read the entire chapter to get a picture of what the kingdom of God is - if you just read a small section then you have an incomplete picture - just like thinking an elephant is just a snake, or a fan or a rope!
Jesus starts off with the parable of the sower. It is a pretty familiar one - the sower sows seed and the seed lands on different soils. Some of the seed grows and some doesn’t; some of the seed grows but something happens and it never grows into a plant and some of the seed flourishes and grows a wonderful crop. Jesus tells us this seed that lands in good soil and grows is like the Kingdom of God. What he is saying is this, those people who are part of the kingdom of God are the seeds that fell on good soil and took root and grew. And that is you! You are the Kingdom of God.
You are here. Sometime in your life the word of God was sown in your heart and it took root and it grew and it is still growing and here you are. You are the Kingdom of God.
God’s kingdom is right here and right now and you are part of it. It is not a place, but the kingdom of God is made up of everyone who is a true believer wherever they may be.
Jesus then tells the next parable where he says that a man sowed his field and and everything was growing well and then all of a sudden all these weeds started growing. It reminds us that we as the Kingdom of God live in the midst of many people who aren’t believers and are not part of the kingdom of God. There are unbelievers all around us. But we need not to allow that to affect us and to stay steadfast in our knowledge we belong to God and not worry about the non believers - and know that God will sort it all out in the end.
So we know the kingdom of God is us - and that all around us are people not part of that kingdom.
Now Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed - something that is really small but if we remain firm in our faith, the kingdom will grow and will continue to grow. Because Jesus says in the next parable, if we go out among all those unbelievers in the world and they see our faith, and they see how important God is for us, then they too can come to hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus uses the idea of of taking yeast and mixing it in the dough - you don’t need much yeast to make the dough grow. And by simply mixing with others and living our faith, God’s kingdom will grow. Hear the important part of that though - we need to make sure people we are in contact with during the week know the importance of our faith and of our church.

But that is not all, the kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field and the treasure, which is a relationship with God; membership in the kingdom of heaven, is so valuable the man sold everything
he had to keep it and the next parable is the same - the kingdom of God is worth so much it is like a great pearl the man sold everything in order to possess. That calls each of us to think about how much being a member of the Kingdom of Heaven means to us. What would you be willing to give up or to sell or do without to be part of this kingdom?
And finally Jesus tells the last parable which reminds us again - we live in a sinful world full of sinful people who don’t care about God or the things of God or about living in God’s kingdom. And we aren’t to worry about that - that is God’s job. But again, don’t let it sway you from your faith.
So you put all these images together and we get a picture of the kingdom of God - the Kingdom of Heaven - it is made up of us - the children of God - and it is the most valuable part of our lives - so valuable that we should be willing to give up everything if we have to in order to be part of that kingdom. And we know that by being in that kingdom, God will call us his forever.
You have to put all those pieces together to really understand what this kingdom is all about - just like the different pictures of the elephant.
The last petition of the Lord’s prayer reminds us about this kingdom. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. We end the prayer much as we begin it. Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name is reminding us that we come before God understanding his power and his greatness and we end the prayer understanding his power and his greatness.
Just a little ‘trivia’ about this last petition of the Lord’s prayer. It is not in the prayer Jesus taught to his disciples. It is not part of the prayer in Matthew or in Luke. Now if you have an older Bible Version such as King James you will find it. The writers of earlier translations added this last petition because it was commonly used and the newer versions like our New International have omitted it because it was not part of the ancient texts. We don’t know when it was added - probably early in the history of the church. However the words are biblical - the exact phrase is found several places including 1 Chronicles 29:11 and Revelation 1:6. Whoever added this phrase just felt like the prayer needed a proper ending. Instead of ending on the note of asking God for something, we end on a note of reminding ourselves once again who God is - the one who is ruler of the kingdom and the one who holds all the power.
But the point of the last line of the Lord’s Prayer is just like the benediction at the end of our worship. It is a doxology - a way to praise God as we leave his presence in this time of prayer. It was a way of picturing what we are doing here - we come before God and basically say, “God you are great and I honor you.” and then we ask God for stuff - and then we end by saying “God you are the ruler of the kingdom of which I am a part - you are the ruler of the Kingdom of believers.” Before we leave his presence in this moment of prayer we say, “And God, before I leave I know, with all my heart, that you have all the power over my life and I honor you for that.”
This last petition also reminds us about what Lent is all about. It points to the promises we live under in the ultimate reign of God for all eternity. The passage in Revelation 11 -
15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
As we end the Lord’s prayer, we are ending with the knowledge that we aren’t just in the presence of God now - but this God who deserves all of our allegiance and all our praise, is the God who will be the ruler of our kingdom - this kingdom of heaven we are part of now and forever! There will be a new heaven and a new earth where the whole universe - everything that exists - will praise God and be part of his kingdom! And there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more violence, no more death. Amen!