In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
In worship planning, we decided to keep St Thomas’ day today. So let’s think some more about Thomas. Back in the late 1990s, I took a trip to South India. I went to visit a friend who was working with missionaries about 60 miles from Chennai (Madras as was) – Tamil Nadu territory.
Whilst I was there, we did take a trip into Chennai. I remember being pretty frightened by this. We were in a taxi and the rules of the road were reasonably non-existent, with traffic from either direction trying to drive on the best bit of the road! We visited Chennai Cathedral dedicated to St Thomas. There, we viewed the relics of St Thomas who allegedly travelled to India to spread the good news, died and was buried there. We will never know for sure if that is true (or what I was looking at was his very old bones!). It is not in my go to source of the life of the saints (a book called exciting holiness), so I am going to talk mostly today about what we do know with more certainty about Thomas!
Let’s start with Thomas is a significant character in the gospel stories. He is one of Jesus’ original disciples. In John’s gospel where the story we hear today comes from, Thomas first appears in the story of the raising of Lazarus. Thomas is on the sidelines, when Jesus explains to them that Lazarus has died. Thomas not really understanding what he is saying in all likelihood says ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ It took another 4 days, before Jesus got to where the body of Lazarus was, and raised him.
The second time he appears in John 14, Jesus is teaching his disciples, and part way through a passage we often have at funerals. Jesus is talking about how there are many rooms, dwelling places or mansions in his Father’s house. How he is going to prepare a place for us. Again Thomas interrupts the flow with a question – 5 Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
From both of these we get a sense that Thomas is not afraid to ask questions and to vocalise his fears and that label we most associate with him his doubts….
In this second appearance in the story, Thomas is answered with one of Jesus’ I am sayings ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.The text says it was said directly to Thomas. We have to wonder as to how that may have felt for Thomas. Sounds pretty intense to me! However it felt it was not enough for Thomas to move away from vocalising his fears….
Just to deconstruct that saying a little before we move on. Jesus saying I am “The Way” means – I am giving you a pattern to follow to model your life on. For a while the followers of Jesus were described as ‘The Way’. You will remember our lent course this year, was also called that. Though it was about pilgrims on the camino, it was about their lives and their discipleship too.
Moving on to the truth, Jesus is saying, I am all meaning and purpose for you Thomas.
Jesus is saying What I am is what you really need (and not the trimmings and trappings of life that so often masquerade as valuable when they are not!). This is so much more complicated in our day – and we need to make conscious choices about this frequently.
Then Jesus says I am the life. If the life that the love of God through Jesus brings. Life in this world, and life forever in the heart of God when we die. This is so important – that with God’s love working in us and through us in this life. We have the promise of eternal life in the next life too.
So from that point in John’s gospel, we move to the most famous or really more accurately infamous appearance of Thomas. It is shortly after all the other disciples met the risen Jesus in the evening of the first Easter Day. Thomas was just not there! And despite the protestations of all the other disciples, and Mary Magdalene, Thomas is having none of it!!
Thomas says – ‘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.’ Thomas carries on being on the outspoken side of human nature. I have never been sure that doubt actually captures the real source of Thomas’ feeling. This story is here to help us like Thomas with the enormity of Jesus rising from the dead and what it means for us. This something new and different that God has done and we need to live in the light of how epic and ground breaking this is.
Thomas holds his own with his ‘doubts’ for a whole week! Before he too sees Jesus and understands his mistake and just how ground-breaking and inclusive and vast Jesus’ love for us is. From the Bible we know Thomas was in the upper room praying for the Spirit to come in Acts 1, but no more of his story as he doesn’t get in any more mentions. Yet we know from this story a week after the resurrection that as the penny drops that he has understood Jesus’ love for him, expressed in those simple and symbolic words – My Lord and My God!
We know his encounter with Jesus was life-changing, and maybe he did take the good news to South India – We will never know for sure
But for us today in 2022, the message to our hearts is to understand the enormity and power of the love God has for us through Jesus for ourselves and to share that love with others as only we can. Even if we do find ourselves vocalizing our discontent in all things human like Thomas ourselves, Let’s make sure we never lose sight of that message of love God has for us through Jesus and be dazzled by it day in and day out as Thomas was in the upper room. Making Jesus our Lord and our God forever Amen
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Zechariah 4, Matthew 16:13-19
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our first reading today is the 5th vision of the prophet Zechariah from his book in the Old Testament. Zechariah lived in the times after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Also, after the exile of the Israelites to the Babylonian empire. He was then part of their return to Jerusalem and the Israelite people’s efforts to rebuild the temple the first time.
The temple was hugely important in this tradition, as it was the barometer of how good their relationship with God was. Our understanding of our relationship with God in all this is vastly different from what Zechariah understood! (I am glad it doesn’t depend on the state of our building as we would feel in trouble with God with our roof!)
Back to the Israelites, Zerubbabel (who gets a mention in the reading) and Joshua (not the one who fought the battle of Jericho) were lea ding the rebuilding project and if we want to read how it went – sit down with the book of Ezra in the Old Testament this afternoon!
In the rebuilding of the temple story, there was opposition and big doubts that they were going to be successful. I did some research on the visionary aspects and here is what I think (Health-warning – this is my interpretation of what is going on here, and I can be wrong). The lampstand, and its lamps – which become its eyes – are about the presence of God amongst us. The two olive trees represent those leading the people – Joshua and Zerubbabel. Embedded in this vision is that success will not depend on physical ability and military might, but the power of the Spirit of God.
I think it is interesting that there are 2 people, one to the left and one to the right. In the midst of this, leading the people of God of this time in the mission God has for them. I suspect we can think of other times in the New Testament when there have been 2 people arranged like this (or on the left and right of Jesus). Moses and Elijah with Jesus at the transfiguration comes to mind. James and John (or their mother) asking to be arranged like this in heaven with Jesus. And for us today obviously, St Peter and St Paul – the foundations of the early Christian church as we know it.
Peter and Paul bring really different things and experiences to the table, but both Peter and Paul in different ways used what they had, and let God work in them through the Holy Spirit to further his kingdom. For Paul from persecutor of the early church to Apostle – is a huge shift and a real work of the Holy Spirit. But he was educated and learned, and clearly a good communicator from the start (and God used that too).
For Peter, he was a simple fisherman, and a fisherman who repeatedly got in a mess! And yet, despite his failings, God used him richly and gave him the gifts he needed for the role he took on. His failings informed his leadership. He was a better leader because of those experiences, albeit he was still a very unlikely one!
I want us to look at our hands for a moment in the light of Peter and Paul’s experiences.
Look at them. They, as the prayer of St Teresa of Avila would have it, are the hands that God has to work with today, in his mission today. There is little doubt as a church we have some rebuilding to do at the moment, I don’t just mean the roof! As Joshua and Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple in the power of God’s Spirit, Peter and Paul formed the early church in the power of God’s spirit.
We, our hands here, are what God has to rebuild and renew his church here in Wincanton in the power of that Spirit too, and to be God’s people reaching out with God’s love here in Wincanton. Some of the work we are progressing at the moment is literally about building – raising money to get the final stage of essential roof repairs done.
Some of the work is about being a safer church and responding to the increasingly complex and important requirements of safeguarding. We do not want to be a church like those where abuses of power allow the vulnerable to be hurt. We do not want to be the stuff of ghastly headlines (where the recent inquiries have shown up very necessary work the church needs to do). This stuff really matters.
Some other aspects of work ahead – In the days to come must be towards being the praying heartbeat for our town, warmly welcoming in all and growing younger, and supporting the bereaved, and the lonely. Whilst recovering from the enormous impacts of the COVID pandemic on our society, our world and how we can be as a church.
The example of Peter and Paul show we do not have to be the same to help with God’s mission – which is good because we are all different. We do not have to be perfect either and have all the answers to help with God’s mission – this is also good because none of us are perfect and none of us know it all and have all the answers! But we do need to roll up our sleeves and engage with what God wants from us for Wincanton in 2022 and the years to come.
And even more importantly we need to engage together in pairs in this vision. Also in threes, fours etc but no-one working alone. Right now we really need another person to add to our safeguarding team. So please pray for that.
Let’s think about the impact of some other pairs or small groups of people too in other areas.
I am hugely grateful to Roger and Richard, with some help from Sam at our architects and Reverend Hilary working on the roof project – we now have promised funding up to £85,000 and even with inflation impacts we are over halfway there now.
To Gill and Rosemary sorting out our health and safety policy another essential aspect of safeguarding.
And of course, most recently Gill and Judy, with Mary and Sylvie are wardens and deputy wardens. There are of course other pairs and groups we could mention!
But I think we really need to pray for our church of St Peter and St Paul, and get stuck in (and particularly about getting our safeguarding sorted). Remember how Jesus also sent his disciples out in pairs in faith and unencumbered by stuff, so they relied on God.
Peter and Paul our patron saints were both in different ways forces to be reckoned with and great conduits of the Holy Spirit. We must pray for us together as a real team effort where everyone plays their unique part, to be filled with the Spirit and forces to be reckoned with in our town and great conduits of the Holy Spirit to all we meet. I am going to finish with the prayer I shared in this week’s newsletter from the Archdeacon’s visitation service I went to on Wednesday.
Gracious and Holy Father, give us wisdom to perceive you, diligence to seek you, patience to wait for you, eyes to behold you, a heart to meditate on you, and a life to proclaim you, through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Word Biblical Commentary Micah – Malachi – Ralph L Smith, Prayer from Archdeacon’s Visitation Service at St John the Baptist Glastonbury 2022, The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995