St Paul’s United Church – Kelowna BC – April 8, 2018
Reflecting on the Word – Linnea Good with David Jonsson and Isaac Jonsson-Good
Re-tell the Thomas story
Jesus shows them his hands and side and they rejoice because they suddenly “see” the Lord.
When they tell Thomas, he says, ‘No, I will not believe”. He, in fact, asks for the exact same thing they got: a real, full-body experience of Jesus, not just the words or the pictures. Doubting Thomas is not a great name for him. I vote for: Came in Late Thomas, or Away at the Time Thomas.
It may sound like he has a rule about it – like ‘I don’t believe anything “spiritual” – only “scientifically verifiable’. But, we could hear it in other ways, too. I could say it this way: (in the scientific voice) “Unless I…” Or, maybe you hear it in a jealousvoice: “Unless I…” Today I hear it in an “I know myself”voice. “I may try to believe what you say, but I just know it’s not going to stick. That’s not the way I KNOW what I know.”
God speaks to each of us in the way that is right for us – in the style in which we learn and re-member best. Some must see things, some of us hear, some of us read, others must analyze, some must DO something with it, for others we must tell it to someone else. Because receiving information and really knowing it are 2 different things, aren’t they. How do you come to KNOW something?
It is so significant that Jesus shows up in his own body in this event. He does not come as a dream. He does not send an angel. He is not an idea. He is not a ghost. He comes with his wounds still. The re-telling makes it sound as if the reason for this is that he needs to prove to the disciples who he really is. But it is more: Jesus’ presence on earth has had the purpose of bridging a profound communication gap between the Creator and all of Creation.
We thought there was an actual gap between God and us – as if God is up there and we are down here. As if the world is made of polar opposites – like black and white, male and female, gay and straight, worthy and unworthy, spirit and flesh, Sacred and Profane. But God is the essence of every single atom of Creation. We contain God poured out – and yet we are separate and unique beings. God’s act of Creation was to give birth to matter so that Love could be experienced between us – between us all and between us and the Holy.
Jesus shows up in life and in life after life – and he shows up in his body. Richard Rohr says: “The mystical, counterintuitive message of death and resurrection is… that Jesus has not left the human sphere; he is revealing the goal, the fullness, and the purpose of humanity itself, which is “that we are able to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), even in this wounded and wounding world. Yes, resurrection is saying something about Jesus, but it is also saying a lot about us, which is even harder to believe. It is saying that we also are larger than life, … and therefore made for something good, united, and beautiful.”
Can you picture this? John O’Donahue says: “The soul is not simply within the body, hidden somewhere within its recesses. The truth is rather the converse. Your body is in the soul.And the soul suffuses you completely.”
Jesus is showing up beyond locked doors all over the world. It is incredibly exciting to go all the way around the world and know you are going to find people who have met Jesus in a very real way – and to know that you are sisters and brothers.
Actually, Saint Thomas is known to have been the evangelist who brought the Good News of Jesus to India, 2000 years ago. Today, Christianity represents only about 2% of the population of the country, mostly clustered in the southwest. I think that David and Isaac and I might have met almost all of them, on our recent mission trip in Jan – March of this year. We would like to tell you something about this mission.
INDIA [Mission III] – red words are the slide names that go with the sermon
We were there for 9 weeks to bring music and share our faith in Jesus. We were also there because it isn’t enough for us to read about India or the faith. We really wanted to stick our fingers right into it – to discover something that was really real. Life is complicated in India, and my prayer on this mission was that we might meet real people and hear about their real lives. To be enriched by our differences and our oneness.
We were there to run 3 conferences teaching biblical storytelling[Biblical Storytelling Conf]with an international team[Biblical Story Team], and then to spend 3 weeks at a Punjabi school[we brought ukes]for its nearby slum and to the Christian Medical College Hospital[Christian Med College]of Vellore in south India where we met with student groups[Biblical Storytellers in Beng], professional units[CMC Dental], rural health centres[CMC Chittoor], orphanages[Hope House], leprosy recovery centres[Leprosy survivor], elder communities[Elder Self-Help], new churches in poor villages[New worship space] [New Church Development], sang concerts in local schools[Toboganning], and led worship all over[Worship in]
Travel has always been a kind of spiritual discipline for me because it holds within it a kind of out-of-this-world quality. But India, especially. There is a kind of foolishness to it, a ridiculous boldness that sometimes you look back on and ask: How did I come to do that?
Some days, we would know our job to be only this: to love people. One day in Ludhiana, we asked for 2 plastic chairs outside a dosa restaurant on a pedestrian market street and we sat for 2 hours just smiling at people who came by. We decided we would actively send them love. [Love on the streets]It’s incredible how people who are wrapped up in their own thoughts slowly blossom when they notice they are being smiled at with the warmth of love.[Friends everywhere]How a blank stare of thoughtful confusion becomes a wreath of love back at you. And Indians hold eye contact and attention longer than I am used to. We received the same and more back. In fact, we were invited to dinner at a stranger’s home 3 times that day.
Jean Jepagnanam [Jean Jepagnanam]
Jean Jepegnanam was a teacher in Vellore who was one year away from a partial pension when she heard the voice of Jesus telling her to build a community for Gypsies outside the city. Her friends told her she was foolish, that she should certainly wait out the year so she could get the pension. She said, “And what if I die? What will I say to God about how I spent His year?” Gypsies are landless and abused and many work only as rag-pickers, meaning that they separate garbage in the second-lowliest of the low jobs and the men end up drinking and the women sell crafts whenever there is a festival. [New Homes] We visited the village of Sethuvalai and saw the small houses they were building for families – the newest one had the village’s first toilet – the community centre which is for prayer and gatherings, the makeshift wheelchair [Sethuvalai] and we met the punchy effervescent spirit of the children. We were royally draped with necklaces they had made. We sang and they danced; we were so blest. [I Thank You Jesus]
Jesus said to Jean: Reach out your hand and put it in here.
Sri Bezwada Wilson [Sri Bezwada]
Bezwadi Wilson was a “Luminary” speaker at the CMC who came to talk about his work calling for the courts to enforce laws that outlaw the manual collection of human waste by what are called “scavengers”. For example, India Rail has toilets that dump onto the tracks. If this happens at a station, people have to go out and collect it up in baskets to dispose of it somewhere else. [Dalit]He said: “When I saw people doing this, I lost my life. I could not stand by and allow it to go on.” He and the women he speaks for have spent decades, now, taking this call to the courts – and the story of how the courts put them off, demanding more evidence, wasting time until they say his deadline is up and he must collect more evidence, ruling in his favour but never enforcing, makes you want to lose your mind.
But these women say: “We will not make our daughters bear the cruelty of others because of the work we do.” They have laid up their baskets and reached out their hands.
Morning Star School [Morning Star]
We fell in love with a residential school that God led us to on our last trip. Brother Robert was led to this community though he had no plan of what he was to do when he got there.[Elders] He sat with the women of the slum, helping them pick the stones out from among the grains of rice which drops off the train as it is transported along the railway line. They had no shared language. Within 8 years, he had a kind of road school set up where 80 children were being educated in a corrugated metal rooved makeshift building.
[The new school] Today, they are a live-in Christian school that is graduating its first students headed for college. We lived with the children of this school, [Girls play] were inundated with love and given the opportunity to serve by offering ukuleles that we had brought – as donations from Canada – as well as in teaching English and other school subjects through the use of creativity, music and circle games. [Circle Game] It was an incredibly rich time that left us very sad to leave. Brother Robert said something to me at one point that has really stuck with me: [stitchers] “Many evangelists come through town and they preach and they go. They preach victory and they preach blessing. And that’s great; we all want blessing and happiness and victory. But, if you don’t hear about the cross – about how far God was willing to go to show the length and breadth of love and sacrifice to show that love – then when hard times come to us, we think there is something wrong with us. Something wrong with our faith.” I took a hard look at my own faith and witness – and had to admit to myself that I had been avoiding reaching into the wounds.
Biblical Storytelling Students [CMC Biblical storytelling group]
We saw young people from the tribal areas in the north of India, where it can be dangerous to be a Christian, coming to bible college to learn to be an evangelist, missionary or pastor. [Young evangelists]There is conflict and sometimes brutality in these places; six states have passed anti-conversion laws. I was inspired, then afraid, when I realized in our biblical storytelling conferences, that we were playing a part in equipping these young people to share the Gospel in places of possible danger. I would have stayed afraid, too, if I hadn’t seen these young people – whose first and even second language is not English – absolutely on fire with joy and confidence, as they took hold of this spiritual discipline. They have reached out to Jesus, who is calling them to a deeper kind of peace.
[Reach out your hand] We, who are so busy and who are used to expecting results, often make the mistake of thinking that we are the ones left to heal the world. We believe we are doing the work of a God who stands at a distance and directs. Yet God is the Only Healer, Alive, the Source of all Growth and Good. It is God’s wave that we catch and not the other way around.
He is going ahead of you
I believe that this is what Jesus is saying when he says: “Do not doubt, but believe”: “Reach in, touch it, feel it, know that your life is a real thing.
Don’t get stuck in your head (because hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of the world?),
don’t get stuck in despair (for Peace be with you),
don’t get stuck in the old (for how blessed are they that will come to believe but have not seen),
but don’t get stuck in the new. (for I go ahead of you, and you can’t control where that is)
As the Father has sent you, so I send you. Reach in, find out and KNOW in the way that you KNOW what God is doing in this world. Set out on the adventure of your life with me – and I will turn everything you think you know upside-down.”
[Foolishness]Because this is the paradox of faith, one that all Wisdom Traditions know and which Jesus embodied so well that we could see it lived and died for:
That we must lose to gain what is really real.
That in our weakness is the strength that is really real.
That we must die so that we can live what is really real.
The Cross is the ultimate sign of this.
[Series of professions every 3 seconds, starting with worship leaders…]I am humbled, I am convicted by the Spirit when I hear the stories of those who have literally lost the lives they were headed for and felt an unavoidable call from God to serve the world. They have taken risks with their time and their money and their future, and sometimes their own physical safety, to do what the the Voice of the Holy within them told them to do. I think they would say that they have not lost anything – that they sacrificed, which means to offer up and make Holy – but not that they lost anything. That they have received more than they gave.[… ends with pastors]
Believe in Jesus [Reach in]
Now Jesus did many other signs
in the presence of his disciples,
which are not written in this book.
But these are recorded 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.
This Jesus you are invited to believe in is not an idea, not a historical figure, not a spirit or ghost, but a living and present gift of God. A friend, a guide and a teacher. Take up that invitation to reach into the life you have been given, and touch it all – the wounds and losses, the failings, the confusion, the joy. Ask him to show you the kind of wholeness that is possible in your life. Do not doubt, but believe.
[Do not doubt]