Thomas and the disciples were sad and afraid as they gathered together behind locked doors… Is there anything making you sad or afraid this week??
We spent a brilliant day with John Bell yesterday, being filled with the hope and joy of the gospels. He talked a lot about IMAGINATION. We encourage it in children, but it tends to get discouraged or even feared as we get older. But while we live most of our lives by logic and common sense, if we want to overcome the things that make us sad, afraid or angry, then we usually have to start with imagination.
And so John Bell talked about Nelson Mandela- ‘IMAGINE South Africa as a rainbow nation…’
He talked about Martin Luther King- ‘I have a dream- dream with me, IMAGINE with me, a rainbow United States…’
And he talked about Jesus Christ, who invites us to dream and imagine even bigger still- IMAGINE that a God of love and life is the ultimate truth. Imagine that the deepest, most fundamental reality in our world, is a power who expresses himself/herself in creativity and beauty, in love and in goodness.
So imagine for a moment- what is your favourite bit of God’s creative, loving and good creation? And imagine again- imagine a world where this God has her/his way. A world where love, creativity and goodness are the air that we breath, and the sunshine that lights everything up in its true colours.
That means imagining a world where injustice has no power, because God is a deeper reality. Imagining a world where loneliness has no power, because God is a deeper reality. Imagining a world where disease and DEATH have no power, because God is a deeper reality.
That world will probably be a surprise to our logical minds. We see injustice and illness all the time, and so when we dream of a world without these things, we say ‘I’ll have to see it to believe it!’ That’s what St Thomas said about the resurrection, and he was very surprised when he got to see and believe. And he became the first person in John’s gospel to grasp exactly who Jesus was. My Lord and my God!
John goes on to write, that this is what he’s hoping for all his readers- including us. And if John is right- if this risen Jesus IS LORD AND GOD, then recognising that should change the way we see everything. CS Lewis said, ‘This is the sun by which I see everything else clearly and properly.’ Jesus conquering death should change our vision from black & white to bright brilliant technicolour. The resurrection should have consequences for the way we live, the way we eat, the way we spend our money, the way we vote, the way we prioritise our time, the people we spend time with- the resurrection should brighten every single aspect of our lives.
That’s what it did for Thomas and the early followers of Jesus. From our reading in Acts- they lived as though God really WAS the central reality in their life. They lived just like Jesus did- they lived like disease had no power and went around healing people, they lived like loneliness had no power and drew lonely people into their family, they lived like hunger had no power and shared their food with anyone who was hungry, they lived like poverty had no power and shared their money, their houses, their fields with anyone who was in need. And they met together regularly to sing God’s praises and rejoice that they were sharing in the life of God!
That was long ago and far away. So imagine again for a moment- does it look any different today? What does it look like for us, to say that God is front and centre in our lives, and disease and loneliness and hunger and despair are fading powers…
Imagine for a moment… Who and what does that bring to mind? Who are the sick and lonely and hungry and despairing people that need our attention, our food, our money, our love? What does the resurrection look like for us All Hallows followers of Jesus? When we’re together on Sundays, but also in our daily lives dispersed around the city?
We say ‘Christ is risen, alleluia’ – but the test of what we believe is, do we shape our lives around it? Knowing that I’m throwing stones around a glass house… Do we let the resurrection change us and change our commitments and priorities? Or do we just give God whatever time is left over after the chores and many distractions life throws at us. Do we intentionally make Jesus’ resurrection a big deal in our lives, and consciously see the whole world by its light?
In Catholic speak, what Easter invites us to do is consecrate our lives to God. Pope Francis has designated 2015 as ‘The Year of the Consecrated Life.’ He has religious orders in mind, but how about consecrating ourselves to God? How about writing up an All Hallows family rule of life? Because then we get to take up Francis’ challenge- to ‘go wake up the world!’
A rule of life might include, amongst other things…
- Reading the Bible- a few of us are reading Luke’s gospel, to be inspired daily by Jesus, by this human life that was shaped by God and shaped around God’s presence. Do we want to be people- and a church- who love Jesus and are inspired and shaped by these scriptures about him? Do we want to have a regular Bible study?
- Praying- do we want to be a people and a church who pray like Jesus prayed? Do we want to commit more time to praying during and/or after services? Do we want to say morning or evening prayer during the week at church? Do we want to meet to pray in each other’s homes?
- Fellowship and hospitality amongst ourselves- do we want to be a people and church who spend time getting to know each other more deeply, and learning how to love each other most effectively?
- Commitment to social action. Do we want to be a people and church who feed the hungry and befriend the lonely? In day-to-day life, so you actively seek out people around you, who are lonely, hungry or sad? Here at church, we have this wonderful Junk Food café- could more of us come and visit from time to time and support it? Or commit to praying for it regularly?
We have a wonderful head-start here at All Hallows. We’re shaped a lot like the early church was shaped. In terms of people, because we have a heart for the marginalised. AND in terms of buildings, because we have both worship space and eating-together space. And that’s an opportune and exciting thing. Not least because we need to grow, and the early church grew like wildfire when they were doing this stuff- when they were living as though the resurrection really is life’s central reality- when they were worshipping and sharing food, growing together as a family, when they were gathering marginalised people into that family, and going out from that family to serve, to feed, to care, to share, to serve, to love.
Emil Brunner said, ‘The church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning.’ When we’re doing this stuff, that’s when we are most fully the people- and the church- that God calls us to be. And when we do it, it works! Amazingly well.
I’d love it if you would invite me around for a cup of tea and some imagining. So we can join Jesus imagining God’s reign of love, creativity and goodness, here among us as it is in heaven. And so we can start grabbing hold of that vision with both hands and whole heart, and making it happen.
We’ve just sung:
Lord of infinity,
Stooping so tenderly,
Lifts our humanity,
To the heights of His throne.
The question for us this morning is, are we ready for that? Are we ready for the heights of God’s throne? It’s much less demanding to plod along at ground level. But if we’re ready to commit to Jesus, like Thomas and the other disciples did, then like them we can share in the divine life. St Irenaeus said, ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive, and full life consists in beholding God.’ When St Thomas beheld God – my Lord, and my God! – Jesus demanded his life and his soul and his everything. Are we ready to let Jesus demand the same of us?