What season are you?

A truly blessed day in Athlone & Tullamore, met lovely folk, visited relatives and spent quality time with my husband. In the service we explored the life of Thomas, a man who showed courage & passion, humility & faith and once had a season of doubt.

I promised to record the service but due to some extremely klutzy behaviour on my part I ended up without a phone and therefore no recording device. However today opened up a window of opportunity and I was able to record it, although there was no congregation I imagined Charlene sitting on her deckchair by the empty pool listening in that intense way she does.

The transcript is below but neither service heard the exact words as written, it was a good guide though:

The Seasons of Thomas

Thomas was one of the twelve named disciples and we first hear dialogue with him in John 11. The friend of Jesus Lazarus lies ill and his sisters have sent word to Jesus. But when Jesus says to his disciples  “Let us go back to Judea,” in verse 7. The disciples are not happy and tried to persuade him not to go. But it was Thomas who stood apart and said “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Verse 16.

Let us go also so that we may die with him.

These are courageous words. These are words of martyrdom, of standing up for Jesus. I wonder if we didn’t live in comfortable Ireland, if we lived in say North Korea or Eritrea or Indonesia or Syria would we be coming together so readily on a Sunday morning to worship the Lord. What would we be willing to do for the Lord? How far would we go?

I managed to get hold of the first volume of Crookshanks History of Methodism in Ireland recently and it makes fascinating reading. These people who put their lives on the line to share the gospel message to the towns and villages around Ireland.

Here is a short passage, from this neck of the woods:

“Then a party of seven started for Athlone. Some persons overtook them on the road running in great haste, and one horseman riding at full speed; but they suspected nothing, and rode on singing till within half a mile of the town. As they ascended a little hill three or four men appeared and bade them go back; but they did not mind them, thinking they were in jest. Then they were attacked by a mob, who saluted them with a shower of stones; but by spurring on their horses, they escaped without serious injury, except J. Healy, who was knocked down and severely hurt…”

It goes on

“The man who wounded Mr Healy was about to finish his desperate deed with a knife, swearing that he would cut him up, when a poor woman came to the assistance of the wounded preacher, and swore as stoutly that he should not be touched. The ruffian half killed her with a blow, from the effects of which she afterwards died, yet she restrained him until help came.”

The woman has no name in the book but she stood up and the gospel was proclaimed many times in this area bringing many souls to Christ. If Christianity was outlawed in Ireland would we still gather?

Could we be courage in our faith like Thomas?

Let us go also so that we may die with him.

The next time we meet Thomas is in John 14. And we meet another facet of his personality, he is not afraid to ask questions of Jesus. Jesus has just explained to them that he is going to be leaving them and finishes by saying “You know the way to the place I am going”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

If Thomas had not asked the question, we would not know the answer, one of the bible verses we all know

Jesus answers “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Have you ever been in a bible study and wanted to ask a question but thought it would sound daft or that people would laugh? Two years ago I was asked to take over a bible study in a neighbouring county for a while and they were mid study of the letter to the Ephesians. I think it was about chapter 4. So I turned up and before we had started the study, a shy lady nudged me and asked if she could ask a question. I was new to leading studies so I was thinking of all the desperately hard questions it might be. And she said “What’s a gentile?” Ephesians is littered with the word and I also knew the person who had been leading the study and they would have given a very thorough explanation of what a gentile was. But sometimes we miss one sentence and then it doesn’t compute for us and we ask the question. Or do we? Are we like Thomas asking for further clarification or do we just leave it because we don’t want to lose face? Thomas showed humility in asking the question.

Could we be more humble like Thomas?

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

So Thomas before the Crucifixion was humble and courageous. What was he like after? Thomas will tell you in his own words:

Hi, I wish I could stand here and tell you my nickname is Captain Courageous or Wonder Tom but you have all read about me and you know I am known as Doubting Thomas.

Which is really unfair because I wasn’t the only one doubting – all the disciples did, Mary did. But I was the last of those to doubt so the name stuck. And it’s okay I am over it. But it is unfair. I’m just saying.

Let me tell you what happened. I had heard about Mary and the gardener who she said was Jesus, Cleophas and his mate had told us about meeting this guy on the road to Emmaus who they said was Jesus. And I had gone off on my own trying to think these things through.

And then I get back to the meeting place and there is uproar. Everyone is laughing and singing, you’d think someone was getting married instead of the awful truth, our teacher Jesus had died and someone had stolen the body.

Our lives had been changed by this man, he had taught us about the kingdom of God, he healed people, he drove demons out and when he showed his power over the elements. I mean he was awesome. He was special, the greatest prophet ever. He talked in riddles to us, and sometimes we didn’t understand and sometimes we asked him to explain again.

He never tired of telling us over and over again. He loved us and we loved him. But the guys, that day, they were telling me he had appeared in the middle of them, inside the locked door. They said it was really him, in the flesh.

Now a ghost I could understand, but they were saying it was really him, and that he showed the his hands and side where the nails had been driven home and where the spear had pierced him. Well I just couldn’t help it I told them I don’t believe it.

I actually said ‘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.’

And then began the worst week of my life. All around me it was party, party but I was in a desperate place. I loved Jesus and I missed him, not like missing him a little bit, but my heart groaned with the ache of not having him near. Of all the people in the world I would turn to at a time like this, it would have been him and he wasn’t here, he was dead and I was distraught.

A week later we were meeting again in the locked room. You have got to understand we were scared that the Jewish authorities would come and have us arrested. So we were in the locked room, and a guy appeared in the middle of room and said “peace be with you” and I knew who he was.

He said “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

I didn’t need to I knew and I suddenly knew a whole lot more. It was like my mind and my heart suddenly started working together and I was so happy, so joyful and well gobsmacked really

Because I got it. This was God, Jesus who I had followed for three years was who he had been telling us. He is God. I don’t know how I got the words out but somehow I said, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Forever I will be known as Doubting Thomas and that’s okay, because I met Jesus and followed him, I watched him die, I saw the empty tomb and I met the risen Christ, Jesus. We were changed by him, are you?

Thomas doubted and then he believed when he saw Jesus with his own eyes. Just like when we explored belief and doubt in the all age message earlier. It is a lot easier to believe something if we can see it. And more so if we touch it, feel it, hear it, smell it. When all our senses are working together.

Thomas we think went onto share the good news of Jesus as far as India, he was a man of passion, humility, courage and the occasional doubt.

So finally in our scripture passage we come to that inspiring verse:

Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

And in 1st Peter:

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1Pe 1:8-9

That’s us. That is all of us here this morning. We believe. We have passion and courage. We have faith. Praise God

And we also have occasions when we doubt.

Thomas knew who to turn to in doubt. Do we?

Are we willing to face the doubts that we have about God?

Are we willing to talk to Him about it?

Are we willing to listen to the answer, even if the answer is “not telling”

He will meet with us and, he will hear us and he will in a very real and personal way answer those questions and doubts.

Why will He? Why will he meet us in our doubts and questions?

God loves us

And God is able to handle our doubts,

He is bigger than our doubts.

He able to handle our anger as you cry out “Why Me? I’m a good person. Why me? Lord, Why did it have to happen to me?”

So we should embrace our doubts, love them, explore them, encourage others with doubts, be honest, open ourselves up to one another.

The great thing about doing church is we get to meet people. The wonderful life changing thing about being church is we can be like Thomas…

Passionate

Courageous

Humble

And when we have doubt… we can be there for one another.

We need to let go, surrender, trust.

So let’s take God out our boxes, let’s stop trying to contain him with our doubts. And live in fullness and joy.

But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:21

We need to have faith like Thomas we need to bring our doubts to God, we need to release them so that we with Thomas can say, “My Lord and my God”

Amen

workshop rambling

I can’t fault you, you know your Bible well. Sure you quote it to me when you tell me I’m wrong, when you tell me I’m defective. I know my Bible too, I just don’t make it into an arrow and quote it back at you, mate, I live it.

So as you rebuke me, I love you, as you correct me, I love you, as you kicked me out your sacred building, I still loved and love you.

All scripture is God breathed, I agree my friend, but not because you say so and not just the bits you find palatable, and believe it or not I am accepted, not by you obviously but by the true and living God.

I do love you, there is no bitterness or smarting in my words, I love you, my friend, I do.

This is part of a monologue that was presented at a Local Preacher seminar earlier this year. It’s voice is left to the imagination, maybe it is yours. As I wrote it out today I was thinking of Helen Blogs and how church can hurt people.

Jesus came and died so we all could have a personal relationship with the loving Father, so we could bring all our guilt & shame & sin, everything that we have done & everything that has been done to us and can bring it to the Cross and we can lay it down and we can repent of our straying ways and we can accept the beautiful forgiveness that is offered for free. Jesus didn’t come so some people can feel so excluded – look at who he hung around with, look at who he conversed with, look at who he loved.

We are invited to come, we are invited – not just a blanket junk mail invitation…

BUT

a very personal invitation, handcarved/handwritten with our very own names etched in the invite.

So how can we be so exclusive that some people are not only uncomfortable with our comfortableness but we hang necklaces of ‘not welcome’ around their necks. We give them letters of unwelcome. We hide our secret bits in suits of respectability.

If we are following Jesus then maybe we should take a leaf out of his address book and not just visit but sit in uncomfortable places so his gospel can be shared with our words and with our actions…

BUT

most of all with our love.

After all – John 3:16 -18

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.