Thomas

Sermon Sunday 28th April 2019

Readings: Acts 5: 27 – 32, John 20: 19 – 31

So, Jesus is Risen, and many church leaders are taking time off because holy week is so taxing with services on Monday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday for some and Sunday maybe twice.

The holiday is over, and children are back at school and getting ready for the exam term….

But what just happened – we had some good family get together and maybe ate a lot of chocolate but do we believe that Jesus has really risen – he did die so how do we know that his death has made a difference, what is the impact for us and where do we have these discussions?

We are a long way from the actual events of 2000 odd years ago and we live in a society in the West where people are generally sceptical.

And this week our readings are about – the strong faith of the disciples (Acts 5) and the person of Thomas (John 20) who somehow missed out on seeing the risen Christ when he first appeared to his disciples…in his transformed body.

I have been putting together a booklet as part of our Church activities as part of our current heritage lottery grant. The booklet will eventually be downloadable from the Christ Church website, and we will have some copies available free.  Tinho has prepared much of the content and as I was preparing, for this morning’s service, I remembered a point to ponder included in the text that Tinho had written in relation to the Emmaus Window (first stained glass window on the North aisle – which depicts three figures – Jesus with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The figures and road are shown on a grisaille background.  The arms of Jesus and the disciples overlap the borders.  The depiction of Christ is unique among our church windows in that it is the only time that he is shown without a halo.   His monogram is shown near and there is a crown above his head. On the window there is a phoenix a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection (rising from the ashes) as is the lamb and flag above.  The lamb is also a symbol of sacrifice, as is the pelican with her young. Tinho posed a Point to ponder: Do we always recognise Jesus words and actions around us?

Do we expect to see Jesus in the world around us? 

Personally, I am convinced that Gods love, manifest in the life and work of Jesus is present and visible, impacting on all life, in all creation. I believe, that love is most powerfully seen as we relate to one another – there are so many situations I know of where people give sacrificially of their time and skills and resources – freely and for the most part unconditionally. Generously fulfilling a need to be needed as they care for others. 

All those who volunteer, who give of their time, skills and strengths to open up relationships with others – for example the work that Pete leads to those who find themselves in the hostels, those who volunteer at soup group, at food banks, community and charity shops and those who support organisations for refugee and asylum seekers – organisations that enable people to be generous, to share some of their/our time and resources with others, in doing so we share in the work of God’s love in and for the world.

Yet many of us are doubters – just like Thomas – and Jesus did not leave Thomas uncared for – Jesus came back for him – and he didn’t shilly shally about Jesus came right up to the doubter, recognised his struggle and offered – here you go Thomas – touch me – hold me – feel my wounds…recognise my pain. You abandoned me, but I love you, you are my disciple…

You know, Jesus does exactly the same for each of us – he returns again and again to enable us to see the pain he still suffers … and know that pain is shared.

There is a poem, ‘Thomas’ written in about 2002 by a member of the Iona community Kate McIlhagga, which I think powerfully illustrates the struggle of Thomas… and bridges time and space to our struggle with pain and suffering – and the wounds of Christ

Place your hand,

Thomas

On the crawling head

Of a child

Imprisoned

in a cot

In Romania

Place your finger

Thomas

On the list of those

Who have disappeared

In Chile

Stroke the cheek

Thomas

Of the little girl

Sold in prostitution

In Thailand

Touch Thomas

The gaping wounds

Of my world

Feel Thomas

The primal wound

Of my people

Reach out your hands,

Thomas

And place them at the side of the poor

Grasp my hands Thomas

And believe.

Each of us could rewrite the text of this poem to those things that worry and concern us on a daily basis. For example food insecurity which means children and families experience hunger across the world in poor and in rich western countries, rise of food banks and holiday hunger schemes; terrorist attacks, most recently last Sunday in Sri Lanka, in Christ Church -New Zealand and the impact of war on children and families in Yemen and Syria.

I recently met Ann Morrisey whose book ‘Beyond the Good Samaritan’, I read years ago – when she was ministry advisor in the diocese of London. I have dipped into its pages time and again – Ann writes of community ministry. She speaks of the impact of both low level of religious literacy and a strong tendency toward scepticism which is so prevalent in our society and she suggests that this is a real barrier to people being able to experience the love of God. She suggests, rather than focussing on belief we should focus on discipleship…(page 42)

Speaking of discipleship this week Jean Vanier – founder of the L’arche movement, [ At L’Arche, people with and without learning disabilities live, and share in life, together}. L’Arche communities seek to be signs of hope within our societies. In a world that values winning, L’Arche communities are places where people with learning disabilities can discover who they are and not just what they can do. I have been a great fan of Jean’s work over many years.

Jean, who is now in his 90’s has been taken into a hospice for his final days of life. He recently distilled his learning on life and mission into 10 points which I will share with you. They resonated with me and I hope they will recognise them for yourself. The words in italics are mine and I may have said more when delivering this sermon but consider the statements for yourself.

  1. Accept the reality of your body – none of us are perfect and we all struggle
  2. Talk about your emotions and difficulties – actively seek ways to speak together
  3. Don’t be afraid of not being successful – this is so important – in failing to achieve one thing we are often led down a path we could not have imagined  before.
  4. In a relationship, take time to ask, “How are you?” – don’t make assumptions
  5. Stop looking at your phone, be present
  6. Ask people – what is your story – this is much less threatening than asking what do you do…
  7. Be aware of your own story
  8. Stop prejudice – go out and meet people
  9. Listen to your deepest desire and listen to it, and listen
  10. Remember one day you will die – we are part of creation and not everything depends on us – we have a limited time on the planet.

In conclusion I want to share some words from Kathy Galloway who was leader of the Iona community, she writes:

“The place of the gospel is never abstract or academic, nor is it theoretical or dogmatic. It is always a place of engagement with the world. It is the place where the Word becomes flesh where you can see the marks in the side….”

I am reminded of our first reading this morning – the church leaders forbade the disciples from teaching in Jesus name… for at least two reasons – firstly that their teaching was not in harmony with all the teachings of the hierarchy of the Jewish leadership, and secondly that it could be seen to imply a shared guilt regarding the death of Jesus and they would have to recognise the resurrection. (But that is another sermon)

Annette James, Reader & Church Secretary

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