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    Call to worship: Psalm 133

    A song of ascents. Of David.
    How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
    It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.
    It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
    Opening prayer:
    Lord God, We are grateful for holy moments such as these moments In which you draw us closer into your loving embrace. As we become still before you today I pray that you would give us an ear to hear your voice. Reveal yourself to us today, in a new and fresh way… May our hearts be ready to receive all your love All your goodness and all your grace. May continuous songs of thanksgiving and praise flow from our lips Bringing honour and glory to your holy name Through Jesus Christ, our Lord we pray. Amen.
    Scripture: John 20: 19 – 31

    Jesus Appears to His Disciples

     19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
    21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

     Jesus Appears to Thomas
    24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymusa]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
    But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
    26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
    28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
    29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    The Purpose of John’s Gospel

    30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believeb] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
    I am not sure; I might have used this story before. There was a certain Mr. Smith, who became extremely sick whilst on a journey crossing very rough seas. At a moment when things were especially tough, a very kind natured steward approached Mr. Smith and gave him an encouraging pat on the shoulder and then said, “I know sir, all appears to be very difficult at the moment, just remember that no man has ever died of sea sickness.” Mr. Smith who appeared to be very green in the face lifted his eyes to the steward and replied back, “Man, don’t say that. It is the only wonderful hope of dying that still keeps me alive!”
    I know there certainly were times in my own life where the seas appeared to be rough and my insides turned with anger, fear and anxiety. And I would suspect that many of you were in similar boats – we just have to think on the events of the past year and a bit…it is scary stuff! Sometimes the feelings of fear, anxiety and even anger almost makes one wish you could crawl up into a little corner where no one sees you. Your emotions are almost constantly in motion like a ship, rocking forwards and backwards up and down. The idea of peace, calm, stillness is very far away.
    So the question is: what do we do when we are in these kinds of situations? Where do we go to?

    As we read scripture we would find that we are not the only ones who have struggled to experience peace or stillness. The disciples’ whole world was turned upside down, as just a couple of days earlier they saw how their teacher and leader whom they loved, was brutally murdered. They themselves were afraid of possible persecution on two levels: on one side there were the Jewish religious leaders and on the other side there were the Roman authorities.
    The best they could do at the moment was to hide in the upper room. All the doors were locked and the curtains closed because there was always a possibility that if caught, what happened to Jesus could happen to them too.
    While the disciples found themselves in the middle of this terrible storm, Jesus suddenly appears form out of nowhere and He greets them with the words, “Peace be With You” (19). The Greek word for peace here “i- ray’-nay”, means peace, quietness, rest. I don’t think what followed next was not a scene of peace, quietness or rest at all; and those were certainly not feelings the disciples experienced at the moment.
    I think the scene that followed, was one of utter panic, chaos and stress. Jesus was the last person the disciples expected to see and what is more, how did He get through a locked door? In fact, the Gospel of Luke will tell us that the disciples were frightened because they thought they saw a ghost (Luke 24:37)
    How often does this not happen to us? Something happens, we find ourselves in the middle of a terrible storm and all our peace is gone…all the calm is gone, all the rest is gone and all that is left is fear.
    According to Dallas Willard, to have peace is to be at a place of comfort because one knows how things will turn out. Things happen. We do not always know why they happen the way they do, but it is ok; because things will work itself out…even though I am not in control of whatever happens, I am ok with that, I am at peace.
    The truth is that there are some things we are at peace with and there are some things we are comfortable with. But life happens and there are constantly things that threatens our peace and our comfort. At the moment we worry about Covid 19 and what happens after Covid 19. We are concerned about our loved ones and their safety. We are worried about job security, our pensions and financial stability. Good health, death and dying has become a reality in the times we are living in.
    To be at peace is not something that is easily achieved. It is not only hard work, but is also dependent on the grace and the goodness of God. This comes by accepting the gift of life God has to offer through His Son Jesus Christ. It was only after Jesus revealed himself to the disciples and they were able to see His hands and feet, that the disciples were able to experience peace and joy.
    Someone once wrote: ‘Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It simply means to be in the middle of all those things and still be calm’. In the Jewish mind, all of life was connected and unified. To experience Peace meant that there was a wholeness of body, mind and soul; a person was complete in each and every aspect of his or life. Their flocks and herds were fertile, and they lived in peace and harmony with their neighbours.
    The word peace – shalom often was used as a greeting. May you experience friendship, may you experience a well-being and completeness of body, mind and soul. May you experience prosperity beyond your imagination. May you rest from laborious activities.
    When Jesus appeared to the disciples and said to them, Peace. He was saying may my friendship be with you, I am giving my riches to you, I am giving my well-being and completeness to you, I want you to find your complete rest in me (John 17).

    The peace Jesus offers is the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit who would meet the needs of the disciples needs, who would guide them in their duties, who would bring comfort to them in their times of difficulty, who would protect them during times of trial and tribulation. It is the Holy Spirit who would enfold us like a warm duvet on a very cold winter’s night and brings to us those familiar feelings of warmth, comfort and security. This is the same Holy Spirit who meets our needs and speak in to our needs today.
    Often as believers, we would spend more time dwelling on those things that divides us rather than that which unites us. We might not all support the same rugby/ soccer team; we might not all have the same political views. In fact, the one thing we can agree on is that we would disagree on a number of things! But, we do have the common bond of the Spirit and of our faith. John Stott made the remark, It is in the church – those who have been called out of the world, the gathering of the faithful, where faith is nurtured and where it grows.
    It is my belief that a church who fellowships together, who prays together, will grow together and they will overcome together. This is where Christ becomes visible to those who do not yet know Him.
    Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews, or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
    Paul recognised the unity in the diversity in the body of Christ which is a mystical body, a spiritual body. It is the Spirit who brings everybody together – the Spirit cuts across all the social barriers of society. More importantly is that by the power of this same Spirit, that we are being baptised into the body of Christ. It is because the Spirit is active and works within our lives that there is meaning and purpose. It because the Spirit brings the unity – that we are able to live in peace with God and with each other.
    And so when we are confronted with those things that wants to rob us from our peace; the fear, the anxiety, the doubt; let us just remind ourselves that the world in which we live can never grant us peace, it can never offer peace. The only place we can obtain peace from is from Jesus Christ.
    Jesus said that His peace would be with us. He gives it freely and undeservedly – no T & C’s. There is no reason for us to fear anything or to be troubled by any situation. The Holy Spirit who stands alongside of us is there to encourage and to bring comfort and protection.
    As I close - I found this quote that said: Choose your thoughts carefully. Keep what brings you peace, release what brings you suffering. And know that happiness is just a thought away (Nishan Panwar).
    We can choose to dwell on all the negative things that happens around us, all those things that steals our peace from us; or we can choose to practice an awareness and presence of Christ in all those things that happens around us. If we choose to become aware of the presence of Christ in all the things that happens around us, we become aware of the movement of the Spirit within our lives as He directs us, protects us sends us. When that happens we will experience the peace that is just beyond all human understanding.
    Here is my challenge and invitation for us today:
    • The challenge for us this morning is to let go. Let go of all the feelings of fear. Let go of all the feelings of anxiety. Let go of all the feelings of anger and bitterness. Let go of all those things which seek to create division.
    • The invitation this morning is to become aware of the movement of God’s Spirit in our lives as He gives the direction for every moment of the day. Those promptings to pick up the phone and make the call to someone we have not spoken to in years. Saying a prayer for a friend even though we do not understand quite why we have thought about them at that particular moment in time.
    The invitation this morning is that the grace and the peace in all its richness and abundance may be yours in the knowledge and love that you have for Jesus Christ.
    Let us pray:
    Father, You have shown me wonderful things out of your Word.
    You have set me in a new position - my relationship with you, to you is closer than and more blessed than I knew.
    Your Holy Spirit made me your child, and taken my otherwise fruitless life and made it the ground tilled by your hand.
    Grant to me such peace of the soul that I may be calm amid all vexation. That I may find my highest joy in abiding in Christ. That I may be called by you, your friend and may live in a conscious oneness both with you and all who love you in sincerity.
    Have mercy upon your divided church and heal the breach for Jesus’ sake, that the world may believe that you have send Him.
    (Peter Ainslie 1867 – 1934)

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