April 12, 2021
Categorised in: Sermons
‘Men of Integrity’
Sunday 11th April 2021
Acts 4. 32-35, John 20. 19-31
There are two men for us to consider today, who had certain things in common. The first, needless to say, is Prince Philip, to whom massive tributes are rightly being paid. In his own right a polymath, an innovator, an environmentalist, a man of great and wide ability, with a wicked sense of humour. And, above all, a huge support to the Queen, the monarchy, the country and the Commonwealth. The emotions we share are of gratitude for all he has contributed, deep sadness at his departure and concern for the Queen and her family in their bereavement. A great man, and a great life lived. Just one more thing, though – to recall his down-to-earth character of pragmatism, realism and, above all integrity coupled with a real Christian faith, described on the radio this morning as ‘a questioning faith’.
And this leads us to Thomas in today’s gospel, another down-to-earth character, also questioning, pragmatic, realist and a man of integrity. Often called ‘Doubting Thomas’, but to many a hero, expressing the scepticism that many of us might have shared when we heard about the Easter events.
It was the evening of Easter Day, and Jesus’s closest followers had locked themselves in for safety, when Jesus appeared. ‘Peace be with you’, he said, showing his wounded hands and side to prove it was he, and then breathing on them for a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
But Thomas wasn’t there. Probably he’d sloped off on his own, depressed, disillusioned over the crucifixion, isolated in misery. So when he hears what’s happened, he’s sceptical. He doubts, yes, but in my view out of integrity, not perverseness. He wants proof, evidence: ‘until I actually touch and see, I’m having none of this’.
But then, a week later – today, in fact, on Low Sunday – Thomas is back in the fold: persuaded, perhaps, that he has nothing to lose and might feel better for company. And, ‘strike me’, as Thomas might have said, the event of a week ago is repeated, as if for Thomas’s benefit. He is convinced and he recognises the presence of the Lord.
Have you heard the story about someone asking Thomas, ‘Do you think people will ever appreciate you were actually a person of great faith?’ To which Thomas replied, ‘I doubt it’.
What actually happened on Easter Day and the following days we shall never know for sure – the accounts in the gospels differ considerably, particularly in John’s gospel, which is the only one with this Thomas story
So, using the intellects we have been given, what are we to make of it all? The Hebrew tradition tended towards physical description to express abstract ideas. Whether Jesus literally penetrated locked doors and demonstrated his wounds, we shall never know. But if we have difficulty with the story as a literal account of a physical event, there may be a different kind of truth lurking. Religious stories often convey a lot more than the events described. The hidden truth that stories sometimes convey is much deeper than literal truth.
So what is the hidden truth? The disciples have an acute sense of Jesus’s presence with them. They gain an intense peace – peace with God and peace between themselves. This is repeated on both the Sundays in the story. And they are convinced that, contrary to appearances, the crucifixion wasn’t the end of the story, but the beginning of a new story: a story of Christians sharing their experiences of Jesus, and living and working together in community, and building a world-wide community. That’s what the gift of the Holy Spirit was about.
Now – do you remember the other reading this morning? It was from the Acts of the Apostles, which is actually volume two of Luke’s gospel. Luke writes that the group of believers were united in belief, sold their houses and lands, pooled their possessions and made sure no-one in the group was left needy.
Here is a strong hint about the presence of Jesus with them. The Lord’s presence wasn’t now a physical presence. The things that indicated the true, invisible presence of Jesus were peace, and love, and giving, the marks of commitment. Jesus in the story, remember, had shown the disciples his wounds, the marks of his huge, sacrificial giving. Some of the disciples finished up giving their lives too, but all the disciples, in lesser ways, imitated his love. They rejoiced in their new corporate life of hope. They sang, they prayed – confident in their new faith, hope and love
‘Peace be with you’, Jesus had said, ‘slam lakhu’ in Jesus’s Aramaic. Like ‘shalom alecum’ in Hebrew and ‘as salamu alaykum’ in Arabic: they all share the same Semitic root of ‘s-l-m’ for peace. Peace should be uniting the three Abrahamic religions in the peace of God in order to build peace across the world – not crusades, or holocausts or ISIS.
We can start with peace and solidarity within the Christian community. Even when we’re depressed like Thomas, fed up with coronavirus restrictions, out of sorts with friends and relations, or whatever afflicts us. Oaks from little acorns come to mind. So our mutual love within the Christian community can be a model for peace within nations, peace between nations, peace across the religions and cultures of the world.
Things, in fact, that Prince Philip worked for.
Let it be so.