Sunday, December 5, 2010

To the East with Thomas

At our service on the second Sunday of Advent we welcomed Robin Radley of Chiks. He told us about Children's Homes in Kerala State. It is the charity we are supporting this month and our Christmas collection. In the New Year, our Church Secretary will be going out to Kerala and will visit some of the homes taking them our love.

Click here to hear what Robin had to say about CHIKS that Sunday.

Click here to visit

And Click here to read about this month's charity and our support of CHIKS.

To lead into Robin's talk, our sermon on the Second Sunday of Advent told Thomas's story. It followed on from the story of the Wise Men starting out on their journey to the stable.

To the East with Thomas

After one of her visits to Kerala and to CHIKS, children’s homes in Kerala State, Sue presented me with three books that made fascinating reading. How easy it is for us to think of Christianity as a western religion, something Europeans exported to India and the East.

How differently the story is told in Kerala itself. The Christians of Kerala is ‘a brief profile of the evolution of all major churches in Kerala’ by Anthony Korah Thomas.

It quickly becomes apparent that the rich mix of Christians in Kerala goes well beyond the protestant missionary enterprise of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, beyond the Portuguese Catholic missions of the sixteenth century. There’s an intriguing mix of Eastern Orthodox and Syrian churches that trace their history further back to the very first century AD … and to an ancient tradition that the Apostle Thomas. Acts describes the expansion of Christianity from Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria to the ends of the Roman World – west to Rome. And the way we tell the story has tended to focus on that western church.

But other traditions tell of the move Eastwards. And one of those traditions tells of journeys the Apostle Thomas makes to Syria and Edessa and beyond two journeys to India, the second of which took him, so those traditions tell to Kerala in South Western India. Not that he was keen to go. He was filled with fear, until as the Syriac Acts of Thomas from the third century records, that the Lord appeared to him in a night vision and said, “Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.”

Roman archaeological remains on the coast of Kerala together with coins show that trade took place between the Roman World and Kerala in the second half of the first century. The story fits.

More than that, another of those books tells the story of Kerala and Her Jews. The town of Kochi boasts a synagogue that’s three hundred years older than Cheltenham’s synagogue, dating back to the sixteenth century, but traditions of a Jewish presence going back to the second half of the first century, or possibly even earlier to the Babylonian exile.

As we focus on CHIKS as our Christmas collection and today welcome Robin Radley to tell us more about the work of those Children’s Homes in Kerala State, maybe we can bear in mind the Eastern dimension of our Christian story.

Nowhere is that plainer than here in the story of the wise men, the magi, who came from the East. And returned there. One of those traditions has Thomas meeting with two of them on his travels to India.

It’s no bad thing to bear in mind Thomas’s story.

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 14Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15and Matthew, and Thomas, Luke 6:12-15

We would do well to take a leaf out of Thomas’s book and be disciples of Jesus, called to learn … and then to go out into the world.

These twelve [including Thomas] Jesus sent out with the following instructions: … go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.

As a disciple and apostle, Thomas was always ready to learn of Jesus, but more than that he was ready to put that teaching into practice.
We have a teaching to share with Thomas about the love of God breaking into our world and coming to rule in our hearts, our homes and our world.

And, like Thomas, we must put that teaching into practice by bringing healing into the lives of those who hurt.

But that can be scary in a hostile world. Like Thomas at moments of fear we need to be aware of the presence of Christ with us, speaking through the storm the words, Peace be still! Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.

What draws me to Thomas is the commitment that he is prepared to make before he has all the answers to the things that trouble and perplex him.

Turning to John’s gospel it is the commitment that is apparent first …

When Jesus heard the news of the death of Lazarus, he determined to go and visit him, even though that would take him closer to Jerusalem and very much closer to his own death. Thomas is the one who expresses his commitment to Christ in forthright terms.

Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

Thomas and the others accompany Jesus into Jerusalem but by the time they have reached the evening of the last supper, questions begin to crop up for Thomas. What I like about Thomas is his honesty in asking those questions.

It is only as we ask questions of our faith that we will elicit responses that can help us forward on our journey of faith. That was exactly the experience Thomas had.

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe* in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?* 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’* 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Thomas may have been with the other disciples in the Upper Room on the night Jesus was arrested.

But he was not among the disciples in that upper room on the evening of his resurrection.

But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to 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.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Those words of Jesus stayed with Thomas.

He was among the twelve who heard the commission of Jesus to go into all the world, and make disciples of all nations, and among those in the upper room who sensed the strength of God’s spirit with them on the Day of Pentecost. And many in Kerala remain convinced that he overcame his fears and heeded the words of Jesus in that vision of his … recorded in the third century Acts of Thomas

“Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.”

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