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Sermon: The Heart of the matter

19th April 2020

Sermon

This week we find ourselves like the disciples in our. reading.

All of us in our own way confined to our own version of the upper room.

With the disciples it was the fear of roving soldiers and the authorities out to get them 

And for us it is the fear of catching a coviid cold that has spread all too easily across the globe.

And so we all huddle behind our closed doors.

Some of us isolated and a bit lonely and others crowded and craving space.

All of us contained by fear and doubt.

And I don’t mean this is in a bad way.

Fear is an instinctive response mechanism to danger and a healthy dose of skepticism is appropriate when deciding to walk around in the midst of a contagious disease.

Fear and doubt move us to places of safety when we are in danger.

So I wonder what Thomas was doing.

Maybe post crucifixion he was looking into his heart and found that his faith was not as strong as it needed to be to encompass Jesus being back from the dead.

And so what a great thing for all those who doubt that Jesus turns up and gives our faith surety again.

You could say Thomas’ faith was tested and found wanting - like all of us at some time or another 

And then the resurrected Christ does his thing and turns up so even Thomas who had doubts could have his faith fully charged up again.

So in his heart Thomas could be full on in love with God again.

And this is really important because in our Letter from 1 Peter there is this image of testing around faith.

It reads:

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

Peters letter suggests that we as we go through trials that the genuineness of our faith is tested.

Interesting that it is not our faith itself - which is actually referred to as perishable 

And that makes sense as we read of Thomas who’s faith was perishable and then restored when Jesus appeared to him.

No it is the genuineness of faith (which is said to be more precious than gold) that is tested.

And that genuineness when tested may be found to result in the praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Again when I compare it with the account of Thomas this makes sense, because his faith had suffered 

It had taken a big hit and he couldn’t see a way through to believing Jesus was back from the dead.

And yet when Jesus was revealed to him post resurrection - what was his response?

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

In those five words are incredible depths of praise, glory and honour.  

Thomas’ was so genuine in his desire to believe that his faith was restored.

The resurrected Jesus opens doors to our very heart.

He plumbs the depths of who we are and places himself there.

And that is why the rest of our Acts  reading rings true for us as followers of Christ.

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

We know our faith will sometimes take a hit, yet our genuine openness to the divine, our response of praise, glory and honour to Jesus is what enables our inheritance as Peter speaks of at the start of his letter.

4an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Salvation, the resurrected life that Christ shows us is kept for us by God as our inheritance.

And however you understand salvation to be worked out 1 Peter shows us that it is in our genuineness to find God that we are saved.

Because a genuine encounter with Jesus ends with praise, glory and honour and our faith restored.

And the beautiful gift on top of all that is even if we struggle with our faith - God, Jesus, the Spirt will turn up to help us find it again.

And so it seems to me that our hearts or that deep place where our emotional and intellectual values meet.

The core of our being where we form our bedrock beliefs  

It seems to me that that place becomes very important in how we relate and understand God.

Is our heart a place of genuine openness to God or is it something else?

And in this lockdown time we have an opportunity to delve into our deep places more than usual 

We have time to study ourselves and to see if our faith truly is genuine

Or has it perished somewhat in the trials of life.

And in that self study we are invited like Thomas did to genuinely ask Jesus to show up.

So that our faith can be restored once again.

So instead of only preaching about the importance of our heart I wanted to see if we could engage our hearts.

We are now going to hear some voices from the biblical narrative.

Some voices that struggled with faith in their hearts and maybe these voices will resonate on some level with our own hearts.

 

Voice 1 

We met him on the way to Emmaus, and he asked us what had happened. We were silenced by the audacity! How could he not know? 

But it was a question not about events,
he was questioning what it had done to us, and we did not disappoint.
Over the three miles of our journey
we talked, one story leading to another,
and he listened,
until we sat at the table in the inn of Emmaus, and he asked his second question:
‘Shall I ask a blessing as we break bread?’ 

As his words began
he began to fade
and as bread crumbled
and light exploded
shards of gold and silver broke free and when all that was left were a few crumbs on the table 

we knew,
we knew
he had not died; Jesus was alive in us. 

Voice 2 

He asked me three times,
three times, if I loved him.
We thought we saw him on the beach,
days after he had come back among us,
and we jumped from the boat in which we were fishing, and into the water,
and across the beach

to where he was preparing the fire
to cook the fish,
and he faced me,
me, who had denied him three times,
and asked,
three times,
equalling each denial:
‘Do you love me?’
and we knew,
we knew,
Jesus was alive in us. 

Voice 3 

He asked me to believe
and I could
now that I knew,
knew he was not a rumour of life, but was among us and between us in that upper room. 

He asked me to believe,
me who was more comfortable in my unbelief,
he asked me to believe,
to trust what I longed for
and I knew,
I knew
Jesus was alive in me. 

Voice 4 

He asked them: ‘Who is without sin?’ and he asked me:
‘Is there no one left to accuse you?’ and in these questions he set me free, 

forever.
I knew I was no longer bound
to the whim and will of others.
I was bound to God.
Even after those last days,
and the Friday of crucifixion,
and the rumours of him alive again, I knew I was still free, and I knew,
if I was still free,
then Jesus was alive in me. 

 

Now these voices we have just heard are important because they moved beyond their fear and doubt.

And because like the disciples we cannot hide in a locked room forever.

Even though sheltering behind our doors during this time is actually a really helpful thing.

I read someone online say - "Collectively remaining apart is arguably one of the strongest demonstrations of collective solidarity, care for the planet, groundedness and true enfleshment that we currently see in our world.”

This coviid situation is a prime example of how being behind a door is a place of safety and healing for everybody.

Because we are responding to a virus that is hurting the world.

However when the virus has passed when our faith in the world outside has been restored we are called to move out again.

Because doors are also meant to be walked through.

Jesus knew this as he said in 

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

And so from the upper room or the rooms of our hearts and homes we are called to move outward into the world.

Blessedly we have Jesus who shows up and fills our hearts with faith so we can begin that journey one step at a time.

And practically we have a country committed to eradicating this virus so we can walk outside with others, free of fear and doubt.

Both these situations ring spiritually true to me.

Because as humans we genuinely want to be healed and whole both spiritually and physically 

And I pray for God’s Spirit to help us like Jesus helped Thomas.

To bring our hearts into places of genuine faith so we may overcome our trials and walk through the doors of life with boldness and life giving joy.

Praise be to God, Amen.