Saturday, 31 May 2014

Sermon for Sunday 27 April – Easter 2 – John 20:19-31 – Thomas (Didymus) picks up the pieces.

After a large number of years, she finally plucked up courage to say ‘enough is enough’! It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the ins and outs, but as she sat contemplating the days until ‘D’ day, she started to feel uneasy which led to feelings of doubt and hopelessness that this was ever going to happen. Events leading up to this day had been difficult but ‘D’ day arrived and all was going well. But the doubt and hopelessness crept in and the panic attacks start to happen – and in good time – because the person she was running from - had found her. The lady next door heard the commotion and rung the police and in no time there was calm and he was taken away and the whole process of her moving somewhere safe; needs to start again. ‘It will be alright, I promise you’, said the helpful officer. This time he stays in (prison) and you will be placed in another town away from here. She replied with one of those statements that cuts right through you, "It hurts too much to hope." In her case a safe place to live. Can you imagine? Thomas could. Thomas was not there when his friends, the other disciples saw Jesus. He wasn’t an illusion, or a ghost, it was Jesus with the wounds in his hands and side. The phrase in our reading, "...the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord," does not speaks of the depth of what it must have meant to see it all fulfilled. "I will see you again," Jesus had promised. And after the terrifying scenes on Good Friday here He was! But Thomas was not there to experience the joy. All of us must deal with grief in our own particular way and that includes Thomas. He needed time to deal with his grief before he could join the others. The depth of his hurt was too deep. And this is exactly where our lives intersect the road that Thomas had to travel on. How do we pick up the pieces and go on when we lose someone who has become a mainstay of our living? "Dad will always be there to lean on won’t he?" -- "I can always ask mum, can't I?" Then it hits. "No... there are times when life hits you with such powerful disruption you wonder how you can ever pick up the pieces and go on! Times when it hurts too much to hope that things could be better. Thomas, the proverbial "seeing is believing" type fellow, had discovered something wonderful in Jesus Christ that had turned his life around. There is something wonderful about the story. If Thomas could find a way out of his grief and hopelessness and go on, then we can too. Whatever led him out of the dark place of doubt and discouragement can become a guiding light for you and me. We don't have a lot to go on about Thomas. John is the only gospel to give us anything about the famous "Doubter" and that information is limited. On one occasion Thomas asked a question and on another made a seemingly "off the wall" suggestion. Yet these two tiny clues provide an insight into the inner life of Thomas. In the first incident, Lazarus has died and Jesus says to his disciples, "Lazarus has fallen asleep," and then states, "I am going to wake Lazarus up," The disciples don't get it. Lazarus will be okay if he's sleeping they say. "No... Lazarus is dead," Jesus explains. Then comes this incredibly revealing comment from Thomas, "Let us also go," he says to his colleagues, "that we may die with him." In other words, if Jesus is going to go and join Lazarus in death, then Thomas is ready to go with him. While our knowledge of Thomas is limited, we do know this one thing. Thomas had so invested his life in Jesus that he was willing to follow him into death if that's what it took to be near him! Jesus had become the hub around which Thomas' life revolved. Whether he was a "She" who had never found a safe home or a wanderer who had never found an aim... he loved Jesus. The second incident takes place during the ‘Upper Room’ when Jesus is attempting to pull things together for his followers in this last evening they will share together. If the disciples are beginning to finally understand that Jesus is going to die, they are not able to figure how they will go on. Jesus tries to reassure them, remember the words? "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. ……..And you know the way to the place where I am going." John 14. Thomas asks the question most of them might have had in their minds but didn't express, "Well, actually Lord, we don't know where you're going. How can we know the way?" Here is a strong clue into Thomas' life that can help us understand the meaning of this morning's gospel reading. Thomas is one of those "what you see is what you get", kind of guys. He isn't about to sit and pretend he understands when he doesn't. He is the kid you always wanted in your classroom who would risk asking all the things you wanted to ask, but you hesitated because you didn't want to appear to be ignorant. Jesus says, "You know [of course] the way to the place where I am going." Peter, James, John and the rest sit quietly or perhaps nod in assent, "Sure, we know.... umm... if you say so." Thomas mutters. This is Thomas who loves Jesus and who basically says what is on his mind. (His question prompts one of the most quoted portions of scripture in the gospels... "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.") The disciples gathered, in part, to deal with their grief and experience of loss. Thomas, for whatever reason, could not work through his grief with the group. He had to have the freedom to be apart before he could be with them. That's important for you and me as individuals. We need to give ourselves permission to "do it our way" and not be pushed into "but, everybody does it this way." One of the difficulties with popular concepts like 'Stages of Grief’ is that some people begin to expect others to move in order from stage one to stage five. "Yep... Thomas' is definitely in denial right now ... we should expect his anger quite soon!" As we need to give ourselves permission to deal with grief and pain in our own way, so also the church family needs to allow for differences in dealing with life's tough times. Leave the door open for fellowship... We're not sure how it happened, but one or another of the disciples said, "Hey, we've got to tell Thomas." In any case, they reached out to Thomas and Thomas was open to their contact. Even in the midst of pain and doubt, an open door to the friendship of others is the first step on the journey to recovery. How many times has someone said to you with something like, "You shouldn't feel that or think that way or be that way?" When Thomas was told the really good news about Jesus, he said in effect, "It hurts too much to hope" The disciples probably expected his response to be that of "seeing is believing." That didn’t happen. But hope was at hand as our reading ends with Jesus turning this into a wonderful principle of faith, "Believing is seeing!" In a great example of true fellowship, Thomas is able to express and his friends are able to accept, honest emotion and authentic expression of doubt. It is absolutely crucial for our growth in faith to have freedom to express honest feeling and honest doubt. A basic principle here is: "We cannot work through and bring faith to fruition, any issue we cannot share with our family of faith." Acceptance like this has not been the strong suit of many churches, but I believe it must become so! If you spend enough time with people over a long period of time in all kinds of difficulty, you will discover an important and powerful principle: "We hide from each other the things we have most in common! Think about it. Having difficulty in your marriage, but feel a sense of failure, so hide the pain instead of reaching out for help. A young person is filled with a sense of being unacceptable, but instead of reaching out to a parent will reach out for an aesthetic (drug). Struggling at work, but feel that asking for help will show inadequacy. Perhaps most difficult for us clergy to hear is something like the remark from a person who has been absent from church for some time and they happen to bump into you and say, "I don't feel like I can come back to church until I get my act together!" If there is just one thing we can gain from the experience of Thomas, let it be this... Jesus accepts us where we are and gives us strength through His Holy Spirit to get where we need to be! When Jesus finally appears for Thomas, (most likely when Thomas was ready to receive it) he doesn't scold, "Thomas you plank! How could you not believe in the resurrection?" Jesus knows Thomas for who he truly is and gives Thomas what he truly needs. The end result! Thomas finally sees Jesus for who he is - Lord and Saviour. But it could never have happened if Jesus had not met Thomas where he was. This gave Thomas strength to risk hope once again. And Jesus will do the same for us. May God give us the grace to be the kind of persons and the kind of fellowship where lives are transformed, and where broken spirits find the strength to hope again! Amen. Questions: Have you ever had a time like Thomas? A time when disappointment was so intense you found it hard to hope? What/who/when did it change? If you needed to ‘do a Thomas’ for whatever reason; how/what would you like to St. Michael’s do to help you. (ie –a prayer room open all day!?).

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