Revd. Tim’s Sermon from last Sunday, 10th May, Easter 5
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
'In my Father's house there are many mansions.' So says the KJV version of our gospel for today; 'dwelling places' is the modern alternative, but whichever you prefer, generations of people have taken comfort from those words, so often used at funerals. They make death sound normal, just like moving home, from one residence to another. Maybe a slightly grander, more Downton Abbey one in the KJV version… or maybe we do all get our own grand suite with attendant angels in the mightily capacious mansion of God's love?
St. Thomas isn't sure and wants directions, or at least someone to show him the way along all the confusing hallways of his imagined house. I'm reminded of that joke about a person who has died and gone to heaven, which appears just like an enormous house. The escorting angel leads the deceased down many hallways and past many rooms.
'What's in that room?'
'That's the Roman Catholics in there', says the angel.
'And that room, who's in that room?'
Oh yes, they're the Orthodox in there, but now, as we go past this room, could you please walk very quietly. They're the fundamentalist Christians and they think they're the only ones here.'
The only flaw in the normalcy of the idea of moving home, as far as I can see, is that this is usually a stressful and difficult time
and one which I wouldn't seek to revisit unless I had to - but then I guess that's the way it goes. Of course, you can't take anything with you, so that makes it easier from the start. No removals, no packing chests or bubble wrap - just 'all change'.
But I think it's better than we can imagine. Less a removal from 'Terra Firma' to 'Marina Insubstantia' - more a gift far richer and reassuring. In one way, 'Do not let your hearts be troubled', is part of Jesus' farewell to his disciples in the Upper Room. In another, it's addressed to Christ's followers on the other side of his death, resurrection and ascension. What caused them then, and even us now, to be troubled? What experiences affect our faith and confidence?
St. John wrote his gospel for a small church facing suffering and persecution and worrying how they would survive without their leader and guide. What were they feeling? A sense of loss; not having someone entirely loving and trustworthy to go with them; feelings of let-down, abandonment, desertion, that God had somehow given up on us. How could God help with feelings like this for ever more?
When Jesus departed, he was no longer subject to time and space. He prepared, he prepares still, a place in God's family, a place where one can be related to and remain with the Father as closely as Jesus himself, the Son. This is not a relationship available only after death, it becomes available, thanks to the Spirit, whenever we decide to open up a trusting long-term solidarity with God. Whenever we can say with Christ, '…I am in the Father, and the Father is in me' (v.10).
Jesus doesn't need to give Thomas a road map, Jesus himself is the way Thomas is looking for. It's as though, through Thomas, he's saying to all of us, I don't just have simple truths to share with you, I am the truth. I don’t have to provide for you to have life. I am the life. Knowing me brings life because I and the Father are One. You don't need to find a location - you just need to build a relationship. You are continually invited in, the space for relationship is prepared, the solidarity in community awaits, as says St Peter:
"you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."
(1 Peter 2.9)
Sunday School Talk: 1 Peter 2.2-10
Did you know you were each royal Kings & Queens of God’s holy Church? All you grown-ups too! Well, according to this first letter of Peter’s you are! He says you are members of a royal priest-hood, a holy nation, God’s own people.
How many of you have read the Narnia books? Do you remember how the children in that story all became Kings & Queens? Peter’s letter says that you can be just like King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund and Queen Lucy in that story - you just have to have faith in Jesus as they had faith in Aslan the Lion.
You can also think of it in the same way that Peter’s letter suggests. Jesus was like the chief cornerstone, specially chosen by God and especially precious to him – his own Son. But the people of Jesus’ day rejected him (toss away the lego brick) – they turned against him and demanded that he be killed. You know, in a way, we reject him all over again when we don’t believe in him either, or don’t do what he asked us to do.
But the first Christians said ‘no – this man Jesus is too precious to be treated like that’ (pick up the lego brick). Jesus’ followers had had the benefit of seeing him quite a few times after his death on the cross, and they came to believe that he wasn’t dead at all, that God had raised him from the dead and brought him back to life – just like we can be brought back to life even when we’re sad and miserable, or if we’ve done something wrong.
If we’re just the kind of stone that people trip over, that’s not connected to anything other than its own selfish desires, then we’ll fall down too. We just end up sad, frustrated and bitter. All we have to do is turn to Jesus and have faith in the fact that God must love us very much to have sent his only Son.
Who knows what a foundation is? If we think of Jesus as ‘the living stone’ – the chief cornerstone, by whom we can all become part of God’s living house, the church, then we can begin to see how, in joining ourselves to his sure foundation, we can build a community of love that changes the world.
(Ask people that, if they believe in Jesus, to bring up their own bricks of faith and start to build a structure.)
You see it doesn’t take long for even quite a basic shape to form that, because we’re all joined in faith, is inherently quite strong. It wouldn’t take long for this to become a palace fit for a king!
This is how a church works – working for God, we all build it up together, and that’s why you are members of the royal priesthood that Peter was talking about. So please stand everyone, and as they leave, please bow to each other and to the Kings & Queens of Sunday School!