Have you ever been in a situation where you have felt left out? Maybe you weren’t invited to a party someone was holding. Maybe there was some piece of news or gossip that you were the last to know about or maybe you missed watching an amazing goal someone has scored in football because you went to the loo at the wrong time. I’ve known that feeling a few times in my life when you experience disappointment, sadness and annoyance that you’ve missed out on something, when others have not.
Well I’ve often wondered whether the disciple Thomas, known of course as ‘doubting’ Thomas, may have felt the same. We are told that he was not with the other disciples when the resurrected Jesus first came to be with them. We are not told why he wasn’t there (had he nipped out for some milk?!) but we are told that when the other disciples told him what had happened Thomas did not exactly believe them:
‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
Perhaps this was Thomas’ stubbornness, but I wonder, had he felt sadness and pain that he had been the one to miss out? Was his ‘doubt’ a way of masking those feelings of resentment and inadequacy that he hadn’t seen Jesus like the others?
I can sympathise with Thomas a great deal. He was not the first person to doubt Jesus and he was certainly not the last. The Bible is full of doubters, cynics and people struggling or even refusing to believe. I would happily defend Thomas in saying it’s really hard to believe all the time, even when others are so sure. There are times in all of our lives when we doubt: that feeling when we are not really feeling it, that place where we’ve lost our vision or focus, we thought we knew what we were doing but now it’s uncertain. In those times you do feel like saying with Thomas, ‘God if you are truly here come and show me, give me proof.” Like Thomas this can be a lonely experience when others are full of passion and belief and you feel left out.
Well that sounds quite gloomy and aren’t I supposed to be talking about St Michael’s at the AGM but the story of Thomas should highlight some important priorities for us in the year ahead.
We at St Michael’s are a diverse community of people from many different backgrounds, facing sometimes different situations in our life and each of us maybe are at different stages in our faith journey. Added to that we hold different views and outlooks about the world and we don’t always agree with each other. Yet astonishingly we are joined together as we worship Jesus and seek to follow in his ways. We are reflectors of God’s light and love upon Byker and the world but God has called us not to do this as just individuals but as a family.
At St Michael’s we want to be a family for all in Byker, including those who feel like Thomas.
There needs to be room for tension and good disagreement: Sometimes that will mean being corrected and having our assumptions challenged.
There needs to be space for questioning and doubt
and there needs to be time for those who are facing difficult circumstances to receive prayer, support and wisdom.
I might add there should also be openness to let Jesus come into our lives, to change us, shape us and challenge us to turn away from the bad habits and influences that steer us away from God.
I don’t pretend that we can easily do all of this all of the time. I give thanks that St Michael’s is such a supportive community and that you have been incredibly supportive to me. There are so many ways in which people encourage and support each other here, in more ways than I will ever know. To think of all the things that are happening in The Church and what we are involved in is amazing (it’s sometimes hard to mention all of it each week in the notices!) but it’s important that we don’t take this for granted.
Are their ways we can all support each other more?
Are their areas, which the Church should specifically focus on to support people in the community? (Parenting, advice?)
Do we know each other well enough? Do we need more opportunities to get to know each other and pray for each other?
Jesus says to each one of us as he said to Thomas, ‘do not doubt but believe’. Sometimes we might want to reply to Jesus, ‘Yes but that is so hard’ but one of Jesus’ most precious gifts to us is the Church (yes the imperfect Church, yes the often divided and messy church!) but the Church ‘is the primary vehicle by which God’s agenda is accomplished,’ and I believe that it is through God working through each of us, and through each of us working together that we get to see God’s kingdom take root and come alive.
How can we as a Church show people the Love of God? What do you think is your role in the Church’s mission?
Thank you for all that you do in the life of this Church. Let’s keep praying for one another that we all of us keep growing as followers of Jesus, wherever we are at in our journey, and let’s pray that we will through God’s work in Byker see more people come to know Jesus.