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Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet
have come to believe”

The first is the end of the lesson we heard from the letter to the Hebrews, the first verse of chapter 11 which goes on to explore the role of faith in the lives of Old Testament figures/saints.

The latter, Jesus’ words to Thomas a week after the resurrection when Thomas responds to the invitation to touch the wounds - as he had wanted to for proof that the other 10 disciples were right about Jesus coming back to life - by falling down and declaring “My Lord and my God”.

Today, 3rd July - yes I know the calendar still says the 2nd, but when it comes to festivals at least the Church still follows the Jewish pattern of days starting at Sundown, or at least with the First Evensong - is the feast of St Thomas. In St John’s Gospel (where all his speaking parts occur) he is known as Thomas the Twin, but in Western Christianity at least he is known as “Doubting Thomas”. I do not know if the Mar Thoma community in India would use that epithet for the apostle who brought Christianity to them long long before English/British missionaries brought it with colonialism.

The account of Thomas’ scepticism in John 20 is the most famous of Thomas’ appearances and that is set as the Gospel for the Principal service (generally the Eucharist) on the feast day and is also commemorated in the collect for the day, with its reference to Thomas’ doubt being for our greater confirmation in the faith and its request:
grant to us, who have not seen, that we also may believe,
and so confess Christ as our Lord and our God;

At Morning Prayer tomorrow, we will read of another of Thomas’ appearances , in John 11 when he says “let us also go, that we may die with him” when Jesus decides (after two days) to go to Lazarus’ sick bed and the disciples worry because people tried to stone Jesus last time they were in that area.

His third major appearance, interrupting Jesus’ discourse on going to prepare a place for them, by pointing out that they don’t know where he is going, so they can’t know the way, which leads to Jesus saying “I am the way, the truth and the life”, is not set at any of the 4 services.

Tonight, for the first evensong, we heard a hopeful vision for Israel from Isaiah and a short passage from the Letter to the Hebrews ending with a verse which is often quoted as the definition of faith:
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen

The author is seeking to encourage the audience to persevere - to retain, not abandon, their confidence in what God has done in Jesus, who will return - in the face of persecution. They are not people who shrink back, but have faith and so are saved.

The passage from Isaiah offers a vision of that salvation. In our context, the power of this vision may not immediately be obvious. We live in a land where too much water is more often the problem than too little and so the vision of a desert in bloom, and burning sands as pools of water does not have the power it would in a dry land. Nor are we collectively in exile and suffering oppression. Indeed, Christianity still has a strong cultural resonance and privilege within our society and the church can be complicit, or worse, in oppression. We have heard this week in the Gibb review into safeguarding failures around disclosures of abuse relating to Peter Ball a former Bishop of Gloucester, of the way in which senior figures in the Church of England thought more of protecting the reputation of the institution and senior individuals within it than of responding to the hurt of survivors of abuse, at least one of whom committed suicide.

Some of us will have more experience of oppression than others. People of colour in our society face prejudice and discrimination in large and small ways, from violence to being less likely to get a job interview if their name is obviously not White British. Women still experience violence and abuse at the hands of men. We’ve seen in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, something of the way in which the voices of poorer people are not heard in our society. Residents warned of the the dangers but were not heard. Those with disabilities face cuts to their benefits and are dismissed as scroungers. Those who are not straight may well have experienced homophobic attacks. Refugees, having left everything because of conflict or persecution are then vilified and blamed in the countries where they are seeking refuge.

Approaching the text from this perspective, whether drawing on our own experience or imagining ourselves into that situation, can help us see its power.
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

I tend to see vengeance as a bad thing, as punishment, but that is only one side of it. For those who have been denied justice, the promise of retribution against the oppressor is powerful. It is salvation. As the Beavers say in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death.
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

A couple of weeks ago, Kat preached on “Whoever is not against us is for us” and “whoever is not with us is against us” and showed how the context had changed between Jesus saying the first and him saying the second a few chapters later, that by the latter, apathy was siding with the oppressor.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen

What do we hope for? For an end to oppression, for a desert in bloom, where wrongs have been righted.

Thomas was prepared to go with his Lord into danger
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July 2017


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