Thursday, July 30, 2020

Black Lives Matter

Readings: Galatians 3.26–end; 4.6, 7  and Luke 4.16–21

Today, (30 July) the Church of England remembers William Wilberforce.  He was born in 1759 in Hull. Having been converted to an Evangelical piety within the Church of England, Wilberforce decided to serve the faith in Parliament instead of being ordained.  He became a Member of Parliament at the age of twenty-one. He was a supporter of various missionary initiatives and he helped to found The Bible Society. 

He eventually settled in Clapham in London – which we used to call ‘Cla’am’ when I lived there!  Wilberforce became a leader of the reforming group of Evangelicals known as the ‘Clapham Sect’. Of all the causes for which he fought, he is remembered best for his crusade against slavery. After years of effort, the trade in slaves was made illegal in the British Empire in 1807 and Wilberforce lived to see the complete abolition of slavery by Britain, just before his death on this day in 1833.  

Some of you may not know that one of the Canonries I hold is for the Cathedral of Cape Coast, in Ghana.  The Cathedral is an old garrison church for the English soldiers who once protected slave merchants at the next-door castle.   On the day I was made a Canon there, I had the strange experience of preaching to a congregation of entirely African faces, in the building which would once have had only English faces looking back at me.  I was struck, really forcibly, by the irony of that moment.  One of the most disturbing things I learned in Cape Coast was that the first Anglican church in Ghana was actually built over the entrance to the pits in which slaves were kept before being shipped off. 

But largely thanks to Anglican William Wilberforce, Britain was the first major economy to abolish slavery, at a time when the rest of the world still considered it a normal practice.  Led by an Anglican Christian.  For me, there is hope in that statement.  

There is no doubt that the Anglican Church, like many British institutions of the time, benefitted from the slave trade.  Around these walls there are memorials to men who undoubtedly had stocks and shares in the slave trade – at the very least.  I very much expect that some of the stones from which this ancient church was built were purchased with slave trader’s profits.

But it was also an Anglican, William Wilberforce, who caused the church, and the Nation, to wake up from its collective evil and folly.  It was an Anglican, inspired by Christ, who proclaimed release to the captives, and who knew in his bones that in Christ there is no longer slave or free.  That we are all, black and white, one in Jesus Christ.

Now, I doubt very much that such an intelligent audience (as I know you all to be) would need me to outline the horrors of slavery. But I do want you to ponder, just for a moment, some of lasting effects of that abhorrent practice.

Some of those effects include the fact that slavery is still very much alive and well in our world today.  It is no longer state sponsored, in any significant sense.  But it carries on, all around the world, largely underground.  Wealthy people in wealthy nations are able to acquire other people to carry out the menial tasks they don’t want to do, giving them nothing in return save basic food and shelter.  Such people are supplied by people traffickers, and modern-day slave owners.  Children are taken from their families, and sold to wealthy families, or car washing gangs, or prostitution networks, all over the world.  And unless someone steps in, there is no escape for such people. And more people are said to be in slavery today than at the height of the Atlantic slave trade by the great economic powers.

Another lasting effect of slavery has been the way that we still, as a society, instinctively treat non-white citizens as somehow different, or less important.  Why is it, for example, that the awful case of Madeleine McCann still grabs newspaper headlines, while tens of thousands of abducted non-white children around the world rarely get a mention?   

It is said that people from non-white backgrounds are statistically more likely to be infected with COVID-19.  Could that be because statistically, non-white people are more likely to be working on the frontline of our communities, in our hospitals, driving our trains and buses, and living in over-crowded housing?

All lives matter.  But the events of recent weeks have reminded us that Black Lives Matter at least as much as white lives.  Until we have created a society in which all slavery is vanquished, and where non-white people have all the same economic, educational and healthcare opportunities as white people, we need to keep on reminding ourselves that Black Lives matter too.

Perhaps we Anglicans, drawing from the heritage of William Wilberforce, still have a role to play.  Perhaps we need to raise our voices, as he raised his, to challenge our society, and speak the truth, that Jesus commanded us to ‘let the oppressed go free’, and to proclaim that this is the year of the Lord’s favour.


Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Search for Wisdom

1 Kings 3. 5-12
Matthew 13. 31-33 & 44-52

Today’s readings invite us to consider the quest for Wisdom.  First, we encountered King Solomon, who rather than ask for wealth or power first asked God for wisdom.  God was pleased with this request, and in what is, frankly, rather a Trumpian response, told Solomon that he would be given a ‘wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you’.  Very Donald Trump!
Then, in our Gospel reading, after a series of short parables about the diligent search for the Kingdom, Jesus teaches his disciples with a rather enigmatic phrase.  He says, ‘every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old’.  Jesus is telling his disciples that the wise teacher of faith will use the best of the old knowledge, and combine it with the new, in the task of bringing the Kingdom to pass. Wisdom requires the acquisition and then the wise use of knowledge.
A key theme of Matthew’s Gospel is that Jesus is the living, breathing personification of Divine Wisdom.    The Hebrew Bible often sings hymns of praise to Divine Wisdom, and, often, wisdom is given a personality.  Take for example, these lines from the first chapter of the book of Proverbs:
Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice - {…}
‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
I find these lines encouraging.  They remind me that teachers and writers throughout the ages have always despaired of how the mind of the common man seems to work.  Just like I do. Human beings have always been subject to spin, fake news, and they have always acted on instinct, rather than fact.  Fools have always hated knowledge.  And they have always scoffed at those who do put in the hard work to find out what is true and good and right.  ‘What do these scientists know?’.  ‘Theologians?  Pah!’
Four and a half centuries before Jesus, there was a famous man in Greece, called Plato.  He was a philosopher – a word made up of two Greek words, ‘philia’, meaning love; and ‘sofia’ meaning wisdom.  A philosopher, then, is simply someone who loves wisdom.    Plato had a tremendous impact on his time, and in the centuries afterwards.  His thinking was widely known, and often quoted.  I would be extremely surprised if Jesus had never heard of him.
Plato offered the World a simple metaphor for the accumulation of wisdom…the metaphor of a cave.  Imagine, he said, that you were born in a cave, facing the wall.  And that this is the only life you had ever known.  On the wall of the cave in front of you were shadows of things which you believed were real.  Trees, houses, people. This was your whole life.  A tree was just a shadow of a tree.  A house was just a shadow of a house.
Imagine, then, said Plato, that one day something made you turn around.  To your surprise, you found that there are people standing behind you, who are holding up wooden silhouettes of the trees, the houses, and the people.  Suddenly, your eyes have been opened.  You realise that there is a cause of the shadows.  Your whole world-view has shifted.
Then, said Plato, imagine that you notice the daylight, shining behind the people with the silhouettes.   Your enquiring mind has been awakened…and so you make your way to the entrance of the cave.  And then, stepping into the sunlight, you find our exactly what a real tree looks like, and a real house, and real people.
You might be interested to know that Plato’s cave is the reason why many Nativity scenes are shown in a cave.  Jesus is shown as the Divine Light, the Divine Wisdom, emerging from the Cave of human ignorance and lazy thinking.
The Cave, suggested Plato, is a metaphor for the quest for Wisdom on which we are all invited.  It is a way of life, which anyone can follow, just like the Way of Jesus.  And it is a prize worth selling everything you own to possess – just like the pearl of great price, or the treasure hidden in the field of Jesus’ parables.
But isn’t Jesus talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, not wisdom per se?  Well, yes.  But, the Kingdom of Heaven is first and foremost a place in which Divine Wisdom reigns supreme.  
It is Divine Wisdom, for example, which teaches us that in giving things away, we accumulate great wealth.  Or as I said a few weeks ago in the Corona Chronicle, ‘true wealth is what you find you have left when all your possessions have been taken away’.  (You might want to think about that one, for a moment).
It is Divine Wisdom which teaches us that forgiveness is the only way to deal with hatred.
It is Divine Wisdom which teaches us that God’s voice is best heard in silence.
It is Divine Wisdom which teaches us that servants make the best leaders.
It is Divine Wisdom which gives us a King who has a Cross as his throne.
The Kingdom of Heaven is an upside down place.  There is almost nothing in the Kingdom which feels normal to a society which values hatred, greed, fake news, celebrity, and worldly power.  That’s why it is such a hard message to communicate to the world.
Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice - {…}
‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Power of Stories

Matthew 13. 10-17

I wonder how many of us remember the late, lamented crooner, Max Bygraves.  He had one of those catch-phrases, which impressionists would copy, so that everyone knew, straight away, who they were impersonating.  For Max Byrgraves, it was ‘I wanna tell you a story’.
Then, old Max would start to sing - all sorts of wonderful, imaginary stories.  There was the question ‘ What noise annoys an oyster?’.  There was that song about the imaginary tiny house, by a tiny sea, in Gillegilleosenfefacatsanellenbogan-by the sea.  And then there was my favourite - ‘You’re a pink toothbrush’ - the story of a romance between a pink dental hygiene instrument, and a blue one!
The genius of Max Byrgraves, like so many before him, was that he realised human beings are hard-wired for stories.  We love them.  From Homer’s Iliad, and the story of Noah’s Ark, to the latest movies on our screen, or the novels on our shelves, there’s nothing we enjoy more than losing ourselves in a good story.  
Stories have power you see.  We see ourselves, and our lives, reflected back at us in stories.  We identify ourselves, or at least our aspirations of who we would like to be, in the lines of stories.  Romantic stories wake up our emotions, and help us to find the romance in our own lives.  Heroic tales of ‘daring do’ enable us to imagine ourselves as the hero of the story.  They lift our eyes and our hearts to bigger, greater horizons.
Stories in the Bible are no exception.  The stories of the Hebrew Bible are often centred around a ‘great hero’ who, by obeying God’s command carries out a great a mighty deed.  Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Daniel - they are all heroes, made of heroic stuff, which inspire us to also seek God’s will and to become heroes ourselves.
Jesus understood the power of story.  Which is why he told so many parables. But when his disciples asked him why he used so many parables, he reply - as we just heard - was enigmatic, to say the least.
We don’t have the time for a line-by-line examination of the Gospel text.  But what I think Jesus was pointing to was this:  he noticed that the people had become deaf to the wisdom of God, especially as it was taught to them by the religious leaders of the day.  They taught the people rules and regulations, dogmas to be believed and followed.  But the result, as Jesus says, was that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.”
Jesus attempted to break through the log-jam, by re-imagining  the faith in terms of stories.  These were stories about fishermen and bakers, farmers and home-makers - ordinary people, in fact.  He invited his listeners to see themselves in these stories, just as story-tellers have always done.  He sought to awaken their imaginations, and by doing so to re-awaken their hearts to receive the message of God’s love.
We too are invited to do the same.  When we read the Scriptures, we are invited not to get too bogged down in the questions of the theologians - the detailed questions  about whether this event or that really happened exactly as it was recorded.  Or whether this or that story is provable by modern archaeology.  We are invited, instead, to ask what this story says to our heart.  How does it lift our imaginations beyond the humdrum, every day nature of our existence?  How does it inspire us to go further, go deeper, be braver, more loving, more steadfast?
So when you read the Creation story, don’t worry about how many days it was completed in.  Ask yourself, instead, how you can be involved in God’s ongoing act of creation.
When you read the story of Moses crossing the Red Sea, don’t get caught up in questions of how likely or unlikely the story is.  Rather, focus on what barriers are in your life, and how you might begin to cross them.
When you read of tiny David defeating gigantic Goliath, don’t get caught up in the questions about who the Philistines were and still are today.  Instead, take courage that even you, with your small skills, can make a difference in the world.
Let the power of these stories, and the parables of Jesus seep into your heart.  Let them challenge and encourage you, to ever greater works for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Amen.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Weeds and Flowers

(Matthew 13.24-30, then 36-43)

Unlike our Churchwarden, Colin Hedley, I’m not much of a farmer.  Unlike many of the rest of you, I’m not much of a gardener, either…which is ironic since the Diocese has decreed that I should live in a house which has 200 yards of borders to maintain!  I kid you not!

Fortunately, Clare knows a little bit more about gardening than me.  Unfortunately, that means I can very quickly get in trouble for pulling up what I thought was a weed, but which she tells me was an expensive plant…lovingly nurtured from seed, and planted with infinite care by her green fingers.

The trouble is that weeds are not really weeds at all.  They are actually just wild flowers which are growing in an inconvenient place.  At least, that’s how the Royal Horticultural Society labels them, I’m told.  So, it turns out, the untrained eye finds it very difficult indeed to decide what is weed, and what is not.  After all, they are both made of the same stuff.  They are both green.  Most weeds have some kind of flower.

This is something we’ve discovered to our great joy in St Faith’s Churchyard in recent years.  For many years, Ralph Hollins catalogued the many different plants which appear there.  Then, an in depth biodiversity survey was undertaken a few years ago, kindly paid for by some members of our congregation.  We discovered that our churchyard actually contained over 80 native British plants, some of which are quite rare.  So much so that our churchyard is now a designated ‘Site of Interest for Nature Conservation’.  As you may know, we now routinely leave areas of the churchyard un-mowed, so that these plants have a chance to thrive and spread their seeds.  Many of these plants would have been considered weeds, by our ancestors.  But no longer, by us.

So, it seems, it’s hard to tell weeds from plants in the real world.  What about in the spiritual world, as described by Jesus in today’s Gospel?  Well, I have to tell you, after a lifetime of pastoring, it’s not always easy to tell the difference among people, either.

Some people present themselves as magnificent flowers to the general population.  They dress well, they say all the right words in all the right places.  They donate generously to the church.  They might sit on the right committees, or sing in the choir.  But then, some event will take place, and all their fine words and actions get blown away in some awful action or horrible words.  We find that underneath their beautiful plumage, beneath the gorgeous flower they displayed to the world, their roots were rotten.

And the opposite is also true.  One of the great joys of St Faith’s, for me, is that we attract people from all walks of life.  And, let’s be honest, some of the people who walk through our doors are not normally our kind of people.  In any other part of life, we would probably not even speak to them.  They don’t play our kind of game.  Or they don’t dress in our kind of costume.  Or they don’t eat in our kinds of restaurant.  But, when you get to know these apparent weeds, these odd plants which don’t appear to be in the right place, we so often find that they are, in fact, beautiful flowers. 

So, if weeds can turn out to be flowers, and flowers can turn out to be weeds, how are we to tell the difference?  How shall we react to them?  Well, to this question, Scripture offers us an answer.  The Bible’s unambiguous message is that Love must be our watch-word. 

To the apparent flower whose roots turn out to be rotten, we offer Love.  Perhaps with the balm of love, their roots can be strengthened, in the good soil of the church; so that their flower can bloom again.

To the apparent weed, whose manners and untidy appearance initially perplexes us, we offer Love; in the hope that in the good soil of the church, they will find their own flower, and learn to bloom, gloriously.

That’s all that God requires of us.  Love, love, love.  We feed, we water, we prune where necessary.  We love.

But, wait a minute.  What’s that you say?  What about the weeds who will always be weeds?  What about the weeds who cannot stop strangling the life out of the flowers around them?  Well, yes, they are a problem.  There will always be those stubborn weeds which choke the life out of the flowers.  They are the Japanese Knot-weeds, which just refuse to go away, and which wreak destruction on all around them.

Well, Jesus, tells us in today’s Gospel, ‘leave them to the Angels’.  It is not for us to judge, for judgement is the preserve of God alone.  There are indeed some unfortunate souls who will always be weeds.  We cannot know what life has thrown at them.  We cannot know what poor soil they grew up in, or the harsh environment which made them what they are.  Like any gardener, we are wise if we protect the rest of the flowers from their influence.  But what their ultimate destination might be – that’s in the hands of the angels.  Whether they will one day end up at the flower show, or on the compost heap, is something we leave in the hands of God.

In the end, for us, the command is to Love.  We keep on watering.  We keep on feeding.  We keep on loving, trusting that God has the future safely and securely in his hands.  Amen.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Yoke of Jesus

Matthew 11.28-end
Today, the lectionary invites us to contemplate the first of the phrases known as the ‘comfortable words’,  which we will use later in our service.  Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden...which I have to confess I prefer to the more prosaic version we’ve just heard from the New Revised Standard Version.  
I like the old word ’travail’ because it has its root in a Latin word for ’torture’.  The word ’weary’ just doesn’t have the same energy about it.  Does it?
Now I have to say that there is a tendency for us to over-sentimentalise these words of Jesus.  We imagine that this is Jesus effectively mopping our brow, holding us to his bosom, and saying ‘there, there ...just come to Daddy, and everything will be alright’.  But as I’ve often taught, context is everything.  We need to understand the context in which Jesus speaks these words. 
Jesus has been arguing - again - with the religious leaders of his day.  They taught a form of religion which  was packed full of rules.  There were dire consequences at play for the failure to keep any one of such rules.  After these words, Jesus has yet another debate, about the laws of the Sabbath.
The rabbis of the time had a phrase, which they often used, to describe the process of following the law, or the Torah.  If you were a strict and observant Jew, then you had taken upon you ‘the yoke of the Torah’.  Like a horse fixed to a plough, you had put the heavy yoke of the law on your shoulders.  The law was a burden to be borne.
In direct contrast, Jesus invites everyone to take up his yoke.  His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.  It’s important to realise that Jesus himself was a recognised rabbi.  When he used talked about yokes, his listeners would have known precisely what he was saying.
Jesus was inviting his followers not to worry about the strict letter of the laws of Moses.  Whether you eat the right food, or wear the right clothes, whether you are ritually clean or unclean, how far you may walk or work on the Sabbath day - all these are distractions from the central, core, message of loving God and loving our neighbour.  
Now I would fully understand if, by now, you’re getting a bit fed up of me harping on about Jesus’ message of loving God and loving neighbour.  I freely acknowledge that it is often the point at which my sermons tend to arrive.  
I’m reminded of the story of the Vicar who preached the same sermon two weeks running.  Then on the third Sunday he preached it again.  Then on the fourth Sunday, he preached it again!  His churchwarden took him to one side and said, ‘Father, do you realise you’ve preached the same sermon four times now?’  
‘Yes’, replied the priest.  ‘And when I see evidence among the congregation that my message has been heard, I’ll move on to another one!’
This is not to say that I don’t see signs among my congregation of love being expressed.  Nothing could be further from my mind.  I’ve been SO impressed by the love that our pastoral volunteers have been showing to lonely parishioners.  I’m so grateful to those who have helped Sandra, Will and me to get the church open for visitors.  I’m amazed by the loving generosity of so many donors to the parish, and to the Discretionary Fund, so that we can help some of the most needy of our neighbours.  There has been a lot of love - for God and our neighbours - which this parish has shown in recent months. 
But I do want to carry on encouraging each of us to take the two greatest commandments ever more seriously.  I believe that we need to go deeper and deeper into what it truly means to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.  And what it really means to love our neighbours as ourselves.  
It is not for me to work out what that challenge means for each one of you.  I could offer a hundred examples of ways in which we could all love God and love our neighbour with greater depth.  But actually, the task of working that out is yours.  It’s part of the yoke of Jesus to work out the implications of Jesus’ radical message in your own life.  How you spend your time, how you spend your money, where you direct your energies - all these choices are yours to make in the light of the two greatest commandments.
Jesus’ yolk of love is indeed a light burden - compared to the yoke of the Torah it replaced.  But it is still a yoke.  It is still a call to a way of life which demands my soul, my life, and my all.  
For only then, when I have expended myself completely for the love of God and neighbour, only then will I truly find the rest for my soul that Jesus’ yoke offers to all.  Amen.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

What does Love have to say?

Matthew 11.16-19 & 25-30.  Romans 7.15-25.

It is a sad an inevitable fact of life, that some people just won’t get what you try to teach them.  Every parent knows this.  Every teacher, youth worker, doctor and priest know this.  There is some quirk of the human brain which means that even the very best ideas are not automatically picked up.  Tell them about basic hygiene.  They don’t get it.  Tell them the planet is over-heating.  They don’t get it.  Tell them gambling, drinking and drugs will ruin them.  They don’t get it.  They find themselves caught up in the classic dilemma that Paul outlines to the Romans…the conflict between behaving how I know I should behave, and the way I actually behave.  (Rom 7.15-25)

This morning’s gospel reading is just part of a much longer section in which a whole host of people entirely fail to ‘get’ Jesus, and what he’s talking about.  First there is John the Baptiser, who had baptised Jesus and had even heard the voice of God calling from heaven that this was His son. But even after that, John still didn’t get it. He had to send some of his disciples to Jesus, to ask “Are you the Messiah we were promised? Or should we wait for another?”

The towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum – where Jesus had time and time again performed mighty miracles which declared the dawning Kingdom of God – they didn’t get it.  They rejected him.

And then in the gospel reading we heard today, we see that scholars and the wise could explain much, but they missed the living Wisdom of God in their midst.  They didn’t get it. For a start, they didn’t get why Jesus didn’t do the things they thought he would do.   As Jesus said, they were ‘like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn” ’.  In other words – you just haven’t done the things you were expected to do!

You see, Jesus turned out to be something very different from the Messiah they were expecting. For Jesus, Rome, or Roman occupation, just wasn’t the issue – even thought it was very much THE issue for the leaders of the people.  When challenged to incite the people to rise up again Rome, and to stop paying their taxes, he simply said “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.  Jesus knew that empires will rise and fall – by his time in history, the world had already seen the Egyptian, Greek and Babylonian empires rise; and then crumble.  No, the overthrowing of empires was just not on Jesus agenda. He was much more concerned about the issues in people’s individual lives – issues which were stopping them from living their lives to the full.

Jesus’ solution to the world’s problems was actually very simple…so simple that it could be grasped by a child, or by someone with child-like faith.  Which is precisely why, in the Gospel reading, Jesus thanked his father that he had hidden ‘these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants’ (Mat 11:25) What was it he said on another occasion? “Unless you receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a child, you will never enter it” (Mat 18:3, Mk 10:15, Lk 18:17)

Jesus' solution was simple…almost childishly simple. It wasn’t about complex theological somersaults. It wasn’t about over-throwing political powers. It didn’t rely on complex philosophy for its underlying truth.

 It was very very simple.

 So what was it? What was the amazingly simple message that Jesus had…a message so simple that an infant could grasp it? It was this…Love God and One Another.

 That is it. Understand that basic, fundamental truth, and you’ve grasped the very heart of Jesus’ message to the whole of humanity. Love God and One Another. That’s it. Nothing more. Done and dusted.

 So what does this mean for us?  It means that everything we do, as individuals and as a church, needs to be set against the yardstick of Love.  

 Shall I continue to nurse the bitterness I feel, because someone overlooked me, or insulted me?  What does love have to say?

 To what should I give my money, my energy, my time?  What does Love have to say? 

 Shall I buy goods made in sweat-shops by wage slaves, to save a few quid?  What does Love have to say?

 Shall I buy that new car, or take that expensive holiday, when I know the money could transform the lives of hundreds of children?  What does love have to say?

What one thing can I do today that will increase Love in the world?

 And for us as a church – what does Love have to say about the right time to open a building, while a worldwide pandemic is still declared? 

 What does love have to say about the way we spend our collective money?   Shall we, for example, pay the people who serve us the cheapest wages we can get away with, or pay them the Real Living Wage?  (Which is what we do, by the way). 

 If we get these choices right, living by the yardstick of Love, then Jesus promises his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. “Come to me, he says, all you who are carrying heavy burdens of worry about this and that…and I will give you rest.” Focus on me, and on my central message of Love, and you will find rest for your souls”. 

 Do you get it?.  Amen.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

A little bit of doubt...

Today, we are celebrating the Feast of the Apostle Thomas, transferred from tomorrow.  This is mainly because I could hardly overlook the feast day of another man called Thomas!  But it’s also because the set readings for the feast offer us some inspiration in this time of crisis.
Saint Thomas is universally known as ‘Doubting Thomas’, quite simply because of this one occasion when he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.  That ‘moniker’ he has had to live with stands as a badge of shame for just one small incident in what was otherwise an exemplary life.  He was, for example, the first of the disciples to recognise Jesus as ’The Way’.  He followed him Jesus diligently throughout his ministry, and unlike Peter, he did not deny his Lord.  When confronted with the reality of his mistake about Jesus’ resurrection, he immediately repented of his hasty words, and acknowledged Jesus as not just his Lord, but also his God...a word rarely used of Jesus by the other apostles.
Then, after Pentecost, the Church’s tradition tells us that he went East, with great enthusiasm for the task of spreading the Gospel.  He established not least the Church of India, which still functions today. But poor Thomas, everyone seems to forget all this wonderful stuff about him - they forget what a tremendous power-house for God that he was.  They just dismiss him for one moment of doubt.
Actually, I think that doubt is a healthy thing.  Doubt is a sign that the mind is working - weighing-up, critically and carefully, the information which it is being fed.  I think we could all do with a little more doubt in our intellectual diet.   
One area that we might exercise such doubt is in the way we interpret what our leaders, newspapers and social media try to tell us is true.  We must all learn those critical tools of checking the sources of information, examining the evidence, and testing the veracity of what powerful voices say.  In St Thomas’ terms, we need to poke our fingers into some holes to find out for ourselves what is really true.  
And, I have to say, within the field of religion, doubt is also no bad thing.  We owe a huge debt to those who have gone before us in the faith, especially to the writers of the Scriptures.  But if we accept everything they wrote without a little bit of doubt, we would, frankly, still be keeping slaves on Church of England-owned plantations in the Caribbean (because all the Bible writers shared a common belief that slavery was normal).
To borrow an idea from Rob Bell, we can picture faith as being rather like a trampoline.  The central fabric - which holds us up - is the main meat of our faith, that is the very existence of God.  But the fabric is held up by springs, which we can see as the various dogmas, theories, and claims of other people of faith throughout the centuries.  Some of those springs are, I’m afraid, rather rusty.  If we exercise the gift of doubt, intelligently, it is quite possible to take off one spring, without the whole trampoline collapsing.  We can then examine that spring, that dogma or that idea, to see whether it needs polishing, or oiling, or perhaps even replacing altogether.  But the rest of the trampoline still holds up.
Now here’s a radical thought:  I suggest there is a particular spring that we are being called to examine, right now.  This COVID crisis has, among many things, asked us to question the weight of significance we place on church buildings.  For centuries, we have unapologetically assumed that for the faith to flourish, we need magnificent buildings, dedicated to the glory of God.  Whereas, for me at least, the reality of the last three months has been that without our lovely building, faith has been flourishing all around me.  I’ve had more conversations about faith with parishioners in the last three months than I had in the whole five years of my ministry here prior to lockdown.  Really.  I have.  And many more people have worshipped with us online than ever come into the church.
That’s not the whole story - of course.  For many, the deprivation of the church as a place to pray or meet others has been real and raw.  Don’t think, therefore, that I’m planning to bring in the bulldozers!  I am looking forward with all my heart to the day when we get to sing God’s praises in St Faith’s again.  What I am suggesting is that, from time to time, a little bit of doubt about things we’ve always just assumed to be true is a good thing.  Perhaps there is more to faith than church buildings? Perhaps St Thomas the Apostle deserves not to be mocked, but celebrated for the gift of doubt.  Amen.