Saturday, 6 April 2013

Changed in community

Acts 5:27-32
When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

John 20:19-31
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus and Thomas
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to 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.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The Purpose of This Book
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

At the Bible Study on Tuesday, that I was lucky enough to be here for, we were sharing the fact that, no matter how many times, we cover different Bible readings, each time, there is something fresh for us to discover, something we have overlooked in the past - or chosen not to see! Each time we open Gods words, God reveals something new.
I love that Ignatian practice of Lectio Divina - where one simply reads or listens to a passage of scripture read through a few times and then meditates on words or phrases that stand out in that moment.
Gods word is a word of surprises.
Let me tell you,that is a very timely reminder for preachers at this time of year. Tired out from our pilgrimage through Lent and our marathon of Holy Week and Easter, its tempting, even in the startling light of Easter Resurrection, to get to this Sunday weary and jaded, with. " Been there,done that, got the T shirt" feel!
Thanks be to God for the ability to be surprised.
So - In these resurrection readings, today, I've been drawn, this time around, to the fact that Thomas is a twin, one of those details I've overlooked before. And, certainly, not much is made of that fact in the gospels - we are simply told, when he is called, that he is Thomas, the twin.
I've always had the feeling that Thomas gets a bad press.
"Doubting Thomas" isn't usually meant as a compliment.
But, I think, what brought it particularly to my attention this time around is that Thomas being a twin, as I am, for me, goes some way to explaining his obtuseness, his reluctance to believe without a personal up close encounter of the risen Jesus.
Now that speaks to me.
While my twin brother was usually content to accept what others told him - while, in our younger days anyway, he always took my word as gospel, I was the more difficult twin.
I was the one who always had to try things for herself, the one who liked to be first, the one who wouldn't simply take the word of another.
There was something about being a twin that made me want to establish my own unique identity. And, in those days, when we were simply known as "the twins", when we were always lumped together, when we were even dressed the same - even though my twin is a brother! I so wanted to be different.
But I was thinking of the whole "twin thing" - the independent, see for myself bit - even before I got to this passage:
As I read the gospel on Easter Sunday morning - of how the women, in Luke's gospel get to the tomb first, but Peter - its Peter the disciple in that story rather than Thomas - Peter doesn't believe until he goes and checks out the empty tomb for himself.
As I read that, I didn't think, as I have often done - typical - they wouldn't take the word of a woman! I didn't think that this year. I thought, instead, mmm - me too - I'd want to go and see for myself!
I was that child that always maintained " I can do it myself"
I was that child who demanded a time and identity for herself - who did not want to be simply "one of the twins".
I was the dominant twin. :)
So, being reminded that Thomas was a twin has set me off on a slightly different track with the gospel story this morning.
Thomas, out doing his own thing when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room. Wonder why he wasn't there?
Did he have to strike out on his own for a while?
Was he out getting some supplies?
Out finding out what was happening, when it would be safe to get on with the work?
Whatever the reason, wherever he was when Jesus appeared, when he got back to be told that he'd missed Jesus, Thomas was not content to simply take the word of the others.
Thomas demands a personal appearance before he will believe.
And so, to a great extent, I identify and empathise with Thomas and his demand: "Unless I see."
Why should he simply take the word of others?
But, as I read the gospel this way today, although I can understand it, it also brings me not a little alarm.
For, how often, do we demand our own experience?
Our own up close and personal encounter?
No second hand accounts for us.
No vicarious living.
No shared community.
We want our own, exclusive appearance of the Risen Christ.
We isolate ourselves from the community through which we are called to serve.
And it seems to me those words that Jesus speaks to Thomas, after he allows Thomas to experience first hand his resurrection, after he has allowed Thomas to touch his wounded flesh.
Those words Jesus speaks:
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Perhaps those words are not so much an admonition for Thomas - but an encouragement for us.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
We, who have not seen yet who believe, are blessed.
Our journeys to belief are made up of so many different encounters and experiences.
Some of you may well have been privy to a Damascus Road encounter, you may well have met the Risen Christ or been stopped in your tracks by the voice of God.
But for many others, the journey to faith is often, and may well still be, a series of stops and starts, of gradual discovery and gentle confirmations.
The good news is - that however we get there, and however we continue to journey, the Risen Christ calls us blessed!
And, to me, that feels good.
To me, who likes to make things as difficult for myself as I possibly can - still Christ calls me blessed.
However circuitous we make the journey, whatever blind alleys we follow or dirt trials we continue to take, the Risen Christ journeys with us, whether we know it or not, and calls us blessed!
So what difference does that make to us today?
The ones whom the Risen Christ calls blessed, what difference does believing make?
For Peter and the other apostles, of whom we read in Acts, their journey to belief made a completely life changing difference.
They were no longer able to conform to those around them. They simply could not keep silent about their faith.
When asked to keep quiet.
And when questioned why they refused to conform:
.” Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.
...we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
They just couldn't stop witnessing to the Resurrection.
They could not keep quiet.
Peter and the apostles, to whom the risen Christ had appeared, saw themselves as part of the continuing story of resurrection.
They were commissioned by the Risen Christ.
They took that commissioning seriously.
They did not keep it to themselves.
But got out there and continued the story.
And they set the scene for us.
Jesus who blesses us who have not seen also commissions us to be witnesses and invites us to be part of the continuing story.
That means that our witness cannot stop here - but must spill over into our life apart from this place.
Resurrection does not only affect our life together in this place.
Learning from those who have gone before, from those early witnesses to the saints of today, learning from their trials and triumphs, their victories and mistakes, we are called to not only tell but to live out the story in our own words and in our own lives - and, more than that, to write the next chapter.
As you proclaimed last Sunday - He is risen, did you accept, in that proclamation of faith, the commission of the Risen Christ to continue the story - not just telling it, but living it.
Has the Resurrection changed you?
Has it changed me?
That's the challenge for all of us.
To live our lives, in community, changed forever by believing that Christ is risen indeed.
For the glory of God.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

1 comment:

Sharon said...

I love it! You place this Sunday in a context with last Sunday. Being a twin, you bring us into that mindset, and yet you also say, "there is good news for those who are able to believe without having seen."

Your Scottish accent will only make what is wonderful even more so. They are blessed to have you!