Sermon - 5th June 2016
Wounded on the journey
Scripture - Psalm 22:1-8; John 20:24-28; Romans 8:38
[An audio version of this sermon (mp3) is available via the link at Spirituality > Audio and Video.]
The readings today are about anguish, honesty and belonging. We all experience these and we all will struggle with them at different times in our lives.
Last week we heard the tragic news of Jane’s suicide. In trying to come to terms with this news, I am sure that most of us will have asked the question ‘why?’ this week to God. Why did she do it? Where was God?
Honestly, we will never fully understand the reasons that Jane decided to what she did, that is between her and God and we have to accept that. There will be times in our lives when we can’t fathom things that happen, things that hurt us deeply and cause us pain and anguish.
The Psalm that Susan read has the title ‘A Cry of Anguish and a Song of Praise’, and the first 8 verses we heard from it has lots of ‘why?’ questions too – ‘My God, My God why have you abandoned me?’ ‘You relied on the Lord, why didn’t he save you?’
When we feel pain and anguish, it is natural to want to look for answers – to find a way out of the darkness. I am sure we have all asked at some point in our lives ‘why me?’ or ‘How can this be happening to me?’ and often these times that we feel most alone. But just because we feel alone, doesn’t mean that we are.
This Psalm lets us know that our forefathers and foremothers also struggled and questioned God too. In fact, the Bible is full of accounts such as these:
- Sarah’s anguish at not having children,
- Peter when he denied Jesus,
- Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane,
- And when Lazarus died, he wept.
It is part of being human. We can’t avoid it and we all go on our own journeys with God to come to terms with it.
The reason I chose to look at the story of Doubting Thomas is because we get a glimpse of his personal journey with God and how he made it real for him.
We often read this story as an example of skepticism, that Thomas doubted Jesus’s rising and therefore he has been perhaps described as someone who didn’t have enough faith. But I think differently – instead I think Thomas had to ask to see the wounds in order for him to believe fully. Had he not asked the question and, instead, just went along with what everyone else was saying, then his journey and relationship with God would maybe not be honest.
Its like watching a concert on the TV – its nice but you can’t really experience it or feel it unless you are there. You simply wouldn’t have the same energy toward it.
And Jesus doesn’t tell him off, instead he shows him the wounds and then sort of goes – see I told you so
In Matthew 28 verse 18 where Jesus gives the great commission ‘Go, then to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples’
In verse 17, so just before it, it says… ‘When they saw him, they worshiped him, even though some of them doubted.’ Even though some of them doubted … Jesus did not separate the doubters and tell them that they could not go– he sent them out like everyone else.
I could have imagined that the easier option would have been to have just believed that Jesus had risen like the rest of the disciples. But by boldly asking the question, he places importance on the need for personal honesty in his relationship with Jesus. He had to be true to himself by asking the question.
This question of being true to ourselves, is one that is very pertinent to most of us in this room. It was for Jane too as she was met with difficulties about her sexuality while she was in the Navy.
I have always known that I was a lesbian, but throughout my school years, I tried very hard not to be. I was not able to express these thoughts to anyone, instead I tried desperately to fit in and be like everyone else, I went out with boys and hoped that the feelings I had for women would go away.
I went to a church, and buried them further – then I reached a point could no longer hide this part of me, and I came out and as a result, I was asked to leave the church.
But that is just it: these feelings are a part of our very being - ignoring them is so very very difficult. We can bury them and hope that they go away – but then like Thomas – we are not being true to ourselves. And I can no more control them, than I can the fact I was born with dark hair.
In the end, I could not be anything other than me and and trying to pretend otherwise is very damaging to your mental health. The pressure of feeling like there is something wrong with you because you are not like everyone else is very isolating.
It is not at all surprising that the NHS reports a higher prevalence of mental illness among LGBT people than our heterosexual counterparts - because we all have to go the extra mile just so that we can be us. And for many of us, this has meant we have had to make some very tough choices in order to live our lives as who we are - some of you at considerable risk to your own safety, but it is a journey that is impossible to ignore.
For many of us, this journey has left us wounded, physically and mentally. Jane made no secret of the fact that she lived with depression, Walt has spoken about his depression too, I very recently had my first bout and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder: my Anne has lived with depression for twenty years.
These are our wounds and the more we realize that we all have them, and not be ashamed of them, then the less isolated we could feel at times.
Jesus was identified in this story by his wounds; he didn’t hide them, in fact it was these wounds that made him authentic to Thomas.
Perhaps in the tragedy of Jane’s death, we can find light and compassion for our wounds and care and understanding for others. Healing from anguish and wounds surely begins within: to lovingly embrace yourself and treat yourself with the same tenderness that you would others is a sound place to start.
And instead of just going through the motions with your pain, have the courage to tell someone and understand that you are worth listening to and caring for.
For us all here, we perhaps think that Jane had a choice: for Jane, perhaps there was no choice. Carrying on was more painful than not. None of us can judge her, we just now must mourn her and pray for those closest to us, Rita and her family.
As we finish with words from Romans, we are told this wonderful passage:
‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God.’
I believe that: I don’t believe God left Jane on that bridge, I believe God was with Jane on that bridge, loving her through it - loving her because her pain was too much.
It is at our hardest times that we feel that God is absent. I don’t believe that either: I believe that God is sat right with us, in our painful silences. We perhaps think because we can’t hear God that God isn’t there – is it not harder, though, to sit with someone who is silent and suffering? God is sat with us, waiting patiently for us to whisper.
Truly nothing can separate us from the love of God.
May Jane be at peace with God now. For us who are left, I love you my brothers and sisters and let us find peace on earth.