Aweful Adjectives & Other Insults
Sermon at St John the Baptist, Felixstowe – 3 July 2022 – Feast of St Thomas the Apostle
Text: But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came….
Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ (John 20v24,29)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers
Do you like Icebreakers? I’m not talking about the Arctic Research Vessel ‘Sir David Attenborough’ which recently passed Landguard Point on her way to a mooring in Harwich. I mean the peculiar form of torture beloved of those who, armed with white boards, flip charts, and marker pens, deliver Team Building and Away Days for all those in any sort of vocational profession. They usually begin by saying, ‘turn to the person next to you and…’ And? Well basically tell each something random, banal, and unthreatening about each other which then, if you feel comfortable, you are encouraged to share with the whole group. Apparently knowing that the person next to you has two Siamese cats will make you firm friends and enable closer working in future. Who’d have thought that cats where that important in the world economy.
I, when I have to begin a training day with an icebreaker try to make it something that helps everyone feel a little better about each other. My favourite is to ask people to introduce themselves to each other by asking them to share their name and an adjective that describes them beginning with the same letter as their name. My go to ones are Amiable Andrew (it’s a safe aspiration) and, when I’m feeling particularly on top of my game, Able Andrew. Although that can come to pieces very very quickly.
So… Turn to the person next to you, introduce yourself to them and choose an adjective that describes you and begins with the same letter as your name….
Anyone want to volunteer what the person next to them said?
The problem with personalised adjectives is that they stick and often end up as insults. We need only look at, and I won’t name any of them here, for the generic adjectives that are given to Scottish people, members of the Jewish faith, and the Gypsy and Traveller Community, to realise that words not only hurt but they also destroy and murder. I never did quite trust the schoolyard reply to bullies about the bone-breaking ability of sticks and stones compared to the alleged ineffectiveness of name-calling. I don’t know about you but, when I am around my school friends I still die a little inside when I am jovially called by one of my old nicknames….
And so we turn to Thomas, the first of the disciples to recognise the Divinity of Christ after the Resurrection (for only Thomas proclaimed Jesus to be both ‘Lord and God’). Yet he seems forever doomed to be known by the epithet ‘Doubting’ as if nothing that happened after he missed the first Easter Day can change his legacy. He is dismissed as a doubter regardless of his profound faith and later witness taking the Gospel to far away India.
Why is it only Thomas who gets such a bad press? Why isn’t Peter known as Denying Peter? Surely Mark, who told the story in his own gospel, should be known as Run-Away-Naked Mark? And I’m convinced that Peter’s brother Andrew should be known as Woke Andrew? After all he was always bringing woman and children and Gentile Goyim into the comfortable company of his cohort of male Jewish Disciples?
It’s not fair on Thomas and perhaps a little cruel that John ends his story with;
‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ (John 24v29)
But the evangelist in telling the story of Thomas’ doubt engenders faith in others and, in so doing, Thomas’ uncertainty gives birth to faith in many many others.
But that is not all that doubt does for us. As Archbishop Rowan Williams and Benedictine author Joan Chittister write: (please excuse a lengthy quote)
Doubt… is the mother of conviction. Once we have pursued our doubts to the dust, we forge a stronger, not a weaker, belief system.
These truths are true, we know, because they are now true for us rather than simply for someone else. To suppress doubt, then, to discourage thinking, to try to stop a person from questioning the unquestionable is simply to make them more and more susceptible to the cynical, more accepting of naive belief.
Our institutions are filled with people who never question whether or not the government and the Constitution are of a piece, whether our churches and the gospel are compatible. So we produce unpatriotic patriots and corporate believers, people more committed to the system then they are to following Jesus.
It is doubt that is the beginning of real faith.
It is doubt that is the beginning of real faith.
Doubt leads to a faith that is personal, intimate, and life and world changing. Going back to that first Easter Day why was it that Thomas was in a place of doubt? The first line of today’s Gospel reads;
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came…. (John 20v24)
The opportunity to doubt arose because Thomas ‘was not with them’ John doesn’t give us any clue as to why he was absent but his words foreshadows the writer of the Book Hebrews speaking of the need for the faithful to meet together;
Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrew 10v24-25)
As Elizabeth reminded us last Sunday;
‘Seven days without prayer makes one weak’.
We all have doubts, even Archbishops and vicars, but they are not always something with which (like history has with Thomas) we should be condemned. Instead they become the garden of faith when we decide to spend time in each other’s company learning of God’s love and living a Gospel life for, as Jesus himself said,
‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18v20),
…and when Jesus appears doubt is transformed into a declaration of faith.
If we want to see an end to doubts that destroy and cripple us
If we want to see doubts about the Holy Spirit ability to transform lives vanish.
If we want to meet Jesus and have our doubts blossom into a lively faith then we must meet with fellow Christians.
And it has never been easier to do this.
Worship together on Sundays, face-to-face or online.
Join in Morning Prayer during the week, face-to-face or online
Attend one of our Home Groups – maybe even start one yourself there is room for many more.
Zoom with each other on Wednesday nights or slip into the close fellowship of the Thursday morning Communion service at St Edmund’s.
Phone one another to pray together and, if all else fails, write letters to each other. After all it was the first Christians writing letters to each other that fanned the faith into flame to begin with.
All of these are places where doubt blossoms into faith and moments where each of us may, with the Blessed Thomas, come to proclaim ‘My Lord and my God.’
 From Uncommon Gratitude – Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams – Liturgical Press ISBN 978-0814630228