Faith Found Through Scars

Lauren Odile Pinkney, Children, Youth & Families Minister gave this reflection at the 10:30am Choral Eucharist. 

Sermon Text:

Good morning everyone. My name is Lauren Odile Pinkney and I am the Children, youth, and families minister here at the cathedral. I am so excited to be with you today and to preach, something I love to do but rarely get a chance to. And of course, as fate would have it, our gospel reading today is the story of Doubting Thomas. How ironic? Ironic because I like, many of us, have had doubts, I have doubted myself, my faith, my choices, I have doubted my call, I have doubted that good things were coming, I have doubted hope itself, I have doubted love itself. Doubting Thomas, when we really look at this text, hits a little close to home for many of us I am sure. How many of us have known this story and seen ourselves reflected in doubting Thomas? How many times have we questioned ourselves? Or had others question us about when we believe things we have not seen? Or indeed more frequently, not believed things and had our doubts, needing proof before we believe. What does proof even mean in this day and age? Indeed what does faith mean in this day and age?

Over my career, thus far, working with children and youth I can tell you I have so many variations of answers to these questions. When I worked in prison ministry, the answers to these questions would have been worlds away from the answers that I found when working on the Downtown Eastside and would have been varied yet again when working with children in a school or in a church setting. Why are the answers so different? Because our lives and our stories define our faith, they define what barriers we have overcome, and what trauma and scars we carry.

This means, that in this church right now, you will not find a single person with the exact same faith journey and experience as you because our spiritual journeys and lives are just that, our own, and are formed by our decisions and what happens to us. This is both a comfort and quite the reality check…

I remember hearing this story as a child, in church, a cradle Anglican both my parents being ordained Anglican priests, I remember hearing this story and almost laughing at Thomas, how foolish he was to doubt something he did not see, why wouldn't believe something we know to be true? Something that was literally standing right in front of him? And yet when my mother died and I was deep in grief, I can tell you, I was not laughing at Thomas, I was weeping with him, I wonder what pain Thomas might have been carrying that led him not to believe when so much sadness and brokeness had happened how could we blame Thomas for his unbelief? This is the same Thomas that was so full of faith, that earlier on in John’s Gospel. Was ready to be stoned to death alongside Jesus so that he could stay with him when Jesus went to raise Lazarus from the dead… This same Thomas to then have seen his God, his Rabbi, and teacher, his leader and friend, murdered before his very eyes. A man who had healed the sick raised others from the dead. Did not save himself? For him, God might be dead, for him, the earth had shaken, the sky had gone black, and there was no hope left, there was no love left…How can we possibly hold him responsible for not believing? How can any of us, in a moment where we are blessed enough to quietly sit with another person in their grief, can we possibly sit there and say to them they should still believe when their reason for belief is gone?

We know John's gospel is all about signs, and a literal interpretation of this story is to see the signposts along the way and know that people should have believed, but, that is easy to say after the fact. I do not think the only message here is Jesus’ words to Thomas “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” It is not just Jesus’ words, but Jesus’ actions that invite us in, in a different way. To experience the very realization that death is not the end and our hope might be in more than just proof of the resurrection, but what has been learned in and through the resurrection?

Because I am not here today to talk to you about doubt, I am here to talk to you about scars. I am here to talk to you about Jesus’ very own vulnerability, and his portrayal of not just empathy but pure compassion. Jesus in John’s Gospel, as we would call him the UK is a pretty complicated geezer. We see him making a whip out of chords and driving the money changers from the temple, we see him weeping at the tomb of Lazarus, we see him calling out people, including Thomas, left-right, and center for their unbelief. John’s Jesus shows vulnerability, John’s Jesus had complicated and human experiences of emotion, from righteous anger to compassion. These are not just signs pointing to the Messiah, they are proof of a God that chose to be one of us and embody all that being a human means.

God chose to become one of us, to be a baby and child, to grow through puberty from a youth into a man. Work in hard labor as a carpenter. And he did not shy away from the ritually unclean in society, but embraced them, and held and changed those whom society deemed untouchable. We see a Jesus that weeps at the tomb of Lazarus, this story of Lazarus is not in the synoptic gospels, it is featured in Luke as a parable, yet John chose to include it because there is a very important teaching which, I think, the writers of John want to impress upon us. This is that Jesus was not weeping for Lazarus, as he must have known he was going to raise him, Jesus saw the pain in the eyes of the people around him, and wept, for the people. And we know Thomas was there, John makes a point of telling us so.

So now we gather in the upper room with the rest of the confused and grieving disciples. Where he appeared among them and said “peace be with you” and my gosh did they need that peace, do we need that peace, can you imagine the gasps, maybe even screams, or was it absolute silence? All we know is that Thomas was not there and he didn’t believe them when they told Thomas that it was him.

We are then given this very visceral image, an image famously captured by Caravaggio depicting this scene… Thomas poking and probing Jesus’ own flesh. I don’t know about you, but a Thomas that was willing to die for Jesus wouldn’t just suddenly begin probing him like some alien…Nice try. Jesus guides him and shows him so that he knows and sees that it is, indeed him. And I don’t know about you but touching some zombie deity was probably a little shocking for Thomas? So I like to think this moment was a little more tender than it's made out to be, like when we teach a child how to knead bread, we use our hands and show and guide them. This is not a scientific dissection, but an act of teaching and tenderness

But the piece we always miss, because we are so wrapped up in our own stuff, we just see Thomas as us when we feel doubt. The piece that we miss, even though Jesus makes a point of showing Thomas, the disciples 
and even us is that Jesus had scars.

The image of the resurrected God, the image of the body of Jesus the redeemer, is not some perfect superhero. Jesus does not come back with shiny 6 pack abs and deeply conditioned hair. Jesus, came back from the dead, with an imperfect and scarred body. Marred by the very acts that killed him, they have become a part of him. A part of God. The scars were not erased, they were not healed, and they were not invisible. But were the very reason that Thomas comes to faith.

The scars, Jesus' own vulnerability, bodily so-called imperfections, and proof of the trauma. Brought faith to someone who was drowning in grief, to someone who thought all hope had gone from the world, who might have even though that God is dead. These scars brought him back to faith and brought him, Thomas, back to life, again.

Now I am going to tell you a story. Many years ago there was a young woman, who felt called to be a priest. Female priests had only just been allowed, and she had felt so deeply called for years. She had also been fighting cancer and had already had surgery to remove it. Then she fell pregnant and while she was pregnant the hormones had made her Cancer come back, and she was told this time, that it was terminal. She was blessed to give birth to a daughter, but only 3 months after the birth, she had surgery again. A surgery that had never been done before, that there was a high probability she would not survive. But if she waited, there was no way she would live to see her daughter grow up. So she took the risk and had almost half of her face taken away to remove the cancer. She had reconstructive surgery and would have to wear an eye patch for the rest of her life. But she survived, and went on to be ordained 6 months later, and live to see her daughter grow up and get married.

She called herself a pirate for God, as she helped people find their “buried treasure”. Now the point of my story, for you today is this. She brought so many people to faith and was amazing at pastoral care. And you want to know why? Because people could see her scars. People could see on her very face that she had suffered pain. So people knew they could talk to her, people knew that she would understand because she, herself had gone through it. People were brought to faith through her scars, as well.

This woman, was my mother, and yes I am indeed the one and only child from the story, and my mum lived to see Jonathan, who many of you know, 
called into the priesthood, just like her, and to see the two of us married in September 2011. She died in November 2012.

This is to say that I strongly believe that God did not cause her cancer, but walked with her, every step of the way. God guided her to use her scars to the glory of God, to help people when they are most broken to know they are not alone.

God calls us to use our scars, our pain, trauma, and vulnerabilities, 
whether visible or invisible, to make us who into who we are 
and help guide others through their darkest times. Our scars make us who we are, and who we are, helps others not feel so alone when they are traveling their spiritual journey. When they are going through the valley of the shadow of death, 

In this story of doubting Thomas, we have missed the point if we only watch for the doubt. It is the faith gained through the vulnerability of Jesus, through God’s own experience of our human brokenness that we can gain and grow in our faith. God does not cause this suffering, but we know through the person of Jesus that God knows OUR suffering. More than we could ever imagine. And that through these scars, through proof of pain, proof of hurt. Through this vulnerability, we are given hope. We are not alone, and the great acclamation of “My Lord and my God”
Can be ours, gained through this community of hope and faith, that we are all broken, we all carry our own scars, and yet, if we offer an open hand, and walk with someone in their brokenness, not shying away from our scars, or theirs, we can begin to understand that faith that we claim Thomas doubted, can be gained 10 fold because we see an image of God that is broken yet whole

Once we realize that our faith does not hang on perfection. That in fact, our brokenness might help someone else who is broken feel a little more whole. That journeying with and allowing to doubt and question leads to deeper wisdom and stronger faith. That Jesus might just be talking about us when he says “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”What if that's us, what if Jesus isn’t insulting Thomas’ doubt. But saying “thank you” to us for believing, when we have not physically seen Jesus’ scars?

There is beauty in the brokenness, not because of the bad that has happened, but because we know we are called beloved despite these “so-called flaws”, despite our trauma, our baggage, our scars, We have a God that knows grief firsthand, that knows betrayal first hand, that knows pain and death, first hand. That God believes you are still holy, beautiful, and sacred beings, even with all our brokenness.

Holy and beloved siblings in Christ, we can only know the joy of the resurrection because of that brokenness. We can only know joy in our own lives because we also known sadness. And we can only know our strengths by knowing our vulnerabilities. And by making those vulnerabilities, our strengths. And that you who are called beloved, are also challenged to go out into the world and do something about it, it is by being the hands and feet of Christ in this world, that we can begin to show God’s, unconditional love in this broken, yet beloved, scarred yet sacred world.