Joseph 7 – 28/04/24 – Readings Genesis 42 1-10 & Luke 15:11-24


Today we’re meeting again our wobbly friend Jacob.  He’s now much older and with that he’s undoubtedly both wiser and less wobbly.  But as we’ve just seen, life isn’t treating him all that well.  The famine in Egypt is affecting Israel too. 


We have all seen on TV the horrors of starvation. Jacob had a wife, 11 adult sons, one adult daughter, their spouses, and who knows how many grandchildren, for whom he was ultimately responsible. 


Can you imagine the logistics of feeding that lot?  How many shopping trollies you would need for the weekly trip to SuperU? But when the shelves are empty …


“Why do you just keep looking at each other”, he said to his sons. Isn’t that just so human? Can’t you just see those brothers, each one feeling helpless and waiting for a parent or a sibling to come up with a good idea, a solution to the problem? This isn’t a fairy story, this is live drama.


So daddy Jacob made up his mind and sent the gang shopping in Egypt. That’s a long walk, probably 400kms, 250 miles. Each way!


He was confident that God had a plan, although at that precise moment in time he didn’t know what it was. Not only that, little did he know the chain of events that he was triggering. 


But one thing he did know was that God’s solutions don’t always come on a plate. “Get off your backsides”, he told his sons, “do something useful, go and buy us some grain in Egypt;”


Sometimes faith on its own isn’t enough. As Jesus’ brother James said in his epistle “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”


It's ironical, isn’t it, that Jacob sent the 10 brothers who had been guilty of trafficking Joseph, and quite a coincidence that Joseph should just happen to glance out of his office window and saw them at the very moment that they were waiting in line, with hundreds of others, to buy their grain before hurrying back home.


His memories all came flooding back. … What should he do? … Should he go and talk to them? … What would he say? … Think, Joseph, think. 


Then he made a decision, and grabbing an interpreter he went outside to confront them, calling them spies, not once but three times. You have to smile because that is exactly what the brothers had accused Joseph of being all those years ago back in Dothan, Jacob’s spy. He had protested his innocence, but was treated with harsh words and imprisonment in a cistern, before being trafficked and deported to Egypt as a slave. 


Now it was the brothers who were protesting their innocence, and it was Joseph’s turn to responded with harsh words and imprisonment. Now his brothers would know how it felt to be incarcerated for something they didn’t do.  


Was he just getting his own back?  Or was he trying to teach them a lesson? No, I don’t think so.


In their defence they pleaded “Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is still at home with our father, and one is no more.”  


Little did they know that they were actually speaking to Mr ‘No More’.  They didn’t recognise him because he was older, more mature, better dressed, had a different haircut, and appeared only to speak Egyptian, using his interpreter to translate his message into Hebrew.  And anyway, he was the very last person on earth that they would have expected to see in those circumstances. If they had even dreamt of seeing him by accident somewhere, they would have expected him to still be a slave. 


So he had them all locked up. After 3 days he released 9 of them, keeping Simeon as a sort of hostage, on condition that they return with Benjamin, who, you’ll remember, was his only full brother.  


Now, that REALLY set the cat among the pigeons.


Explaining to Jacob why they had had to leave Simeon would be bad enough, but separating Benjamin from their father, that would be something else altogether.  They could all too vividly remember how he had reacted to the news of Joseph’s supposed demise.  This was going to be 10 times worse. They knew it, and Joseph probably knew it too. 

Genesis 42 gives us an inkling of how their conversation must have been. “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we wouldn’t listen; that’s why this distress has come on us now.”

Reuben, the only one who seemed to have any integrity at all, replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.”

For something like 20 years those 10 men had been living the lie, but now it was all catching up on them.  It always does – just look at the news. 

The something rather puzzling happened. 

Nine sacks containing Egyptian grain were found to also contain nine purses of Hebrew money. The brothers were certainly puzzled, and then frightened. What was going on? And why? 

It was Joseph who had organized it, the author of Genesis is very specific about that, but how? Maybe he had a discretionary fund that allowed him to give grain without payment to those who couldn’t pay.  I don’t know. 

Why did he do it? Was this a spontaneous act of generosity on his part? Perhaps, because he also gave them provisions for the journey, which would explain why eight of the nine sacks weren’t opened until they got home. Or was Joseph teasing his brothers even more? 

Or was he, perhaps, beginning to show them how he was going to provide for their every need, despite the way they had treated him all those years ago. 

This is the Christian code of behaviour, isn’t it, turning the other cheek, loving our neighbour regardless of how he or she treats us. Providing for those in need as James just told us. Would that we saw more of that in our newspapers!

As for poor Jacob, he was now faced with a difficult decision.  Would he allow his sons to take Benjamin from him, or would he keep him at home and allow Simeon to fester in jail?  

We’ll leave him with that dilemma and take up the story in a few weeks’ time, because, as I’ve said, Neil and Helen’s friends Aaron and Lynne will be with us for the next two weeks and Aaron will be preaching to us.   

But before we finish let’s just go back to how those lies managed to catch up with Joseph’s brothers.  It’s easy for us to listen to the story and say to ourselves “what a foolish thing it was to do”, and how lying about it all those years only made it worse. Of course! How stupid can you get? 

But maybe we should look in the mirror too.  What have we been hiding, and lying about all these years? 

We’ve just heard Luke’s rendition of Jesus parable about a young man who tried to run away from a boring, mundane life working on his father’s farm, and thus escaping his family responsibilities. Eventually though, when he hit rock bottom, he realised that it was time wake up and smell the coffee, time to face the facts as they really were. It was time to get real, to tell the truth.  So he dragged himself back to his father, his cap in hand, his tail between his legs, and what an amazing reception he had. 

Love, unmerited forgiveness, grace.

Is it time for us, perhaps to face the facts as they really are? Is it time to tell the truth and drag ourselves back to our Heavenly Father?  

What a reception we will have too!  Love, unmerited forgiveness, grace

But like the prodigal son, we have to make the first move. 

Joseph 6 – 21/04/24 – Readings Genesis 41:1-14 & Matthew 25:1-13


It was in mid-February that we last talked about Jacob and Joseph. We took a break because of Lent and Easter but we’ve still got quite a way to go with him. So, this week and next week we’ll pick up the story, then we’ll have Aaron with us for the first two Sundays in May, he’s a friend of Neil ad Helen’s and is a retired pastor, then Sue’s going to speak on 19th May, so there will be another break before we can finish the series.  I’m not sure yet exactly how many messages it will be, but it’s good stuff, with lots for us to learn.   


We’ve had 5 messages in this series so far:
1. The first one was about Jacob and some of his wobbles, Esau for example, and about Rachel, Joseph’s mother, and her struggle to have children. Then we talked about Joseph’s brothers and some of the family relationships. We saw that by the time he was 17 Joseph had seen more of the ugly side of family life than many of us see in a lifetime and we ended up wondering how on earth Joseph had managed turned out to be a person of such integrity.


2. In the second we witnessed Joseph being trafficked into slavery by those whom he should have been able to trust. Little did he know that this was the beginning of a chain of events that would literally change history.  We saw that sometimes it’s when we seem to hit rock bottom, when things just couldn’t possibly be any worse, that God steps in and the unexpected happens.


3. In the third instalment Joseph endured the ignominy of the slave auction, and we thought about how his grandfather, Isaac, after his experience on the alter, would doubtless have taught Joseph how important it was to trust in God’s providential care. 


4. After that, we saw Joseph making the most of his situation, and despite all the odds piled up against him, rising to be Potiphar’s right-hand man, only to be foiled by the sexual desires of Potiphar’s wife which, like in a game of Monopoly, sent him back to ‘Go’ without collecting £100. But once again, Joseph’s qualities and integrity gave him favour in the eyes of his superiors.


5. Then last time we heard about the dreams of two of his inmates, and about the cup-bearer’s promise to put in a good word for him, should the outcome of his dream be as Joseph predicted.

In all of this we have seen Joseph’s humanity. We have seen him suffer terribly, both physically and psychologically, probably as badly as, if not worse than any of us in this chapel this morning. But despite all that suffering he didn’t quit, he didn’t take revenge, and nor did he miss the chance to help others who were suffering with him. 


Instead, he allowed his hardships, difficulties, problems and hurts to shape his personality for the better. 


Joseph is now in prison, but fulfilling the role of acting gaoler, while the gaoler himself sat around playing games and watching You-tube videos on an Egyptian tablet.  


Kneeling by his bed each evening, his prayers probably sounded very similar to David’s prayer in Psalm 13. O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? Nevertheless, he remained patient, waiting for God to do His thing in His good time. That’s a lesson we could all learn, I’m sure. 


Then one day, as we’ve just heard, two full years later, quite out of the blue, Joseph was told to go and have a shower, to shave and get himself smartened up. He had been summoned by his boss’s boss, the big man himself.


If that were you or I, I suspect that we would have been quaking in our boots, it would be like having to go and explain yourself to King Charles, or to Emmanuel Macron.  But I don’t think that Joseph was at all intimidated.  He knew, he just knew, that God was with him and that whatever was happening now, would not be of Pharaoh’s making, but of God’s making.  


Pharaoh's two dreams, the first about seven fat carnivorous cows, and the second about seven huge and hungry sheaves of corn, had got him seriously worried, worried enough to send for “all the magicians and wise men of Egypt” but as happened frequently in the Bible, those heathen diviners proved themselves powerless to help.

The cup-bearer must have been aware of all the commotion and overheard what was going on.  Pharaoh was perhaps drowning his sorrows with a bottle of Egypt’s very best Mouton Rothschild, or maybe its best 10 year old malt,  but in all the commotion the cup bearer was reminded of the promise he’d made to a young Hebrew slave he’d met in prison, all that time ago. It was time to make good on that promise, so he did.

Joseph was hurtled into the presence of the most powerful man on the planet, and immediately put on the spot.  What on earth, demanded Pharaoh, did his dreams signify?


“I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it,” Pharaoh said to Joseph, according to Genesis. “No, I can’t do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”


Joseph had immediately known that God would show him what the dreams meant.  What’s interesting is that he could so easily have taken the credit for that interpretation, but once again we see his absolute, unshakable integrity.   “No, I can’t do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”


This is fascinating, and it’s crucial.  The 7th word Joseph uttered was God’s name. Fascinating because he had no idea about what Pharaoh’s spiritual beliefs were, but he was not afraid to expose his own, not just because he wanted to give credit where credit was due, but because his personal relationship with God was all-consuming. Crucial because, as this episode plays out, we see Pharaoh, who, don’t forget, though he was a god himself, deferring to Joseph’s god.


You know what happened next.  Joseph interpreted the dreams ending with the additional information that the events were imminent. He said that it was decision time for Pharaoh, action needed to be taken, someone who knew what he was doing needed to take control of the situation, both quickly and decisively.

I don’t believe for one second that Joseph was suggesting that he was qualified for such a job, but he got it anyway.  Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?said Pharaoh, recognising and submitting God’s sovereignty, as I just said. 


The situation was both urgent and unavoidable. Pharaoh wasn’t arguing.  An honest wise and discerning man was needed. One who would not succumb to the inevitable temptations and corruptions that such a situation was bound to present. If only we had a few more Joseph’s in world political leadership today!


Joseph was now a mere 30 years old, but this time he didn’t say “No, I can’t do it.” Because God had already given him a plan.  


This last week I’ve been in Britanny to help my brother-in-law and sister-in-law get their house ready to hand over to their buyers.  They had had a HUGE storm last November, so one of the most urgent jobs was to saw up and remove four huge trees that had been blown down in a field in front of the house. The job seemed almost too big, but my brother-in-law had a plan and in three or four sessions of two or three hours the two of us 70+ year olds, with two small chainsaws and a very old Massey Ferguson, had it all cleared away. 


So, knowing that God had a plan, Joseph allowed himself to be dressed in robes of fine linen with a gold chain around his neck, and to be driven around in a Rolls Royce chariot. He was impatient to see how God was going to use him to save a nation.  But it wasn’t to be one nation Joseph would save, but two. Egypt and Israel. 


When the famine came, seven years later, and people started appealing to the king for help and guidance, he simply said “Go to Joseph”. Certainly this was partly a question of simple delegation, it was Joseph’s job after all, not his, to help and guide his desperate subjects through the seven years of depravation.  But Pharoah also knew, deep down, whether he was prepared to admit it out loud or not, that Joseph’s god was his only hope.  


When the wine ran out at the wedding feast, and put the host in a hugely embarrassing and socially unacceptable situation, Mary said to him, “Go to Jesus”. As we look, in desperation, at what is going on today in so many parts of the world, and as we look at some of the seemingly impossible situations in our own lives and in those of our families, we simply too need to “Go to Jesus”.  When things get beyond us, we need to be patient and attentive. God has a plan.


There’s another thing that we can learn from this business of the famine in Egypt, and that is that we need to be prepared for all eventualities.  I’m sure that when you look at your bank balance you ask yourself whether your financial reserves are enough to see you through the crises that may befall you. But let me suggest that we also need to keep an eye on our spiritual reserves too. Like the host of the wedding banquet, five of the ten bridesmaids didn’t have anything in reserve, with catastrophic consequences for them.  But the other five did. 


Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour”  Jesus told his listeners that day.


Don’t wait for the crisis to “Go to Jesus”.  Work on your relationship with him daily, starting today, because God has a plan.

Sunday 14th April 2024 - Jess Jephcott


1 Kings ch 3, v 1-15

Proverbs ch 8, v 22 - 31

The Wisdom of Solomon

In anticipation of his absence, Martin asked me to fill in for him today, this 3rd Sunday of Easter.

First, a prayer.

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14 NIV).

So, in continuance of the historical theme that I have followed on previous occasions like this, I shall be speaking about the wisdom of King Solomon, from the Old Testament, some 3000 years ago. I have previously talked about the lives of:

Gideon and Sampson, both from the Book of Judges, and then King David, written about in the Book of Samuel, the son of Saul, and who became the 2nd king of Israel, he composing many psalms contained in the Book of Psalms.

King Solomon, was born in Jerusalem, the son of King David and Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 12:24-25 tells us that he was named by God as Jedidiah. Some of you may recall, from when I spoke of King David’s life last year, how David had had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba, later marrying her, having previously sent her husband to an inevitable death in battle. That had greatly displeased God, and we learn from 2 Samuel 12:14, that God had allowed their illegitimate first child to die, but had welcomed Solomon, their legitimate second son.

Our first reading, read to us by Vaughan, in verse 3, gives us an insight into Solomon’s love of God. This account is repeated closely in 2 Chronicles as well. It tells us that he was newly crowned, having been nominated by his father David and how he was clearly feeling uncomfortable about his new found responsibilities. In this reading, we learn how Solomon turns to God. He dreams of a conversation with God, where God said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.

Solomon’s answer was, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, Lord my God, you have made me, your servant, King, in place of my father David. But I am only a youth and do not know how to carry out my duties. So, give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?

God was pleased that Solomon had asked for this and he said to him, “Since you have asked for this, and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies - but have asked for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.

Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honour—so that, in your lifetime, you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands, as David your father did, I will give you a long life.

Solomon, as instructed by his father, David, began his reign with an extensive purge, including his father's chief general, Joab, among others, and further consolidated his position by appointing friends throughout the administration, including in religious positions, as well as in civic and military posts. At what age Solomon became king, is not known, but we must assume that he was in his late teenage years.

The Bible says that Solomon built the First Temple in Jerusalem. For some years before his death, King David was engaged in collecting materials for building a temple in Jerusalem as a permanent home for Yahweh and the Ark of the Covenant. After the completion of the temple, Solomon is described in the biblical narrative as erecting many other buildings of importance in Jerusalem. For 13 years, he was engaged in the building of a royal palace on Ophel (a hilly promontory in central Jerusalem).

He greatly expanded his military strength, especially the cavalry and chariot arms. He founded numerous colonies, some of which doubled as trading posts and military outposts.

Trade relationships were a focus of his administration. In particular he continued his father's very profitable relationship with the Phoenician king Hiram of Tyre; they sent out joint expeditions to the lands of Tarshish (Spain) and Ophir (an uncertain location but probably in the Far East) to engage in the trade of luxury products, importing gold, silver, sandalwood, pearls, ivory, apes, and peacocks. Solomon is considered to have been the wealthiest of the Israelite kings named in the Bible.

In the New Testament, he is portrayed as a teacher of wisdom excelled only by Jesus of Nazareth, and as arrayed in glory but excelled by "the lilies of the field".

Perhaps the best known story of his wisdom is what has become known as ‘The Judgement of Solomon’, which follows on from our first reading. The story is told of how two women each lay claim to being the mother of the same child. Solomon easily resolved the dispute by commanding the child to be cut in half and shared between the two. One woman promptly renounced her claim, proving that she would rather give the child up than see it killed. Solomon declared the woman who showed compassion to be the true mother, entitled to the whole child.

According to the Hebrew Bible, the ancient Kingdom of Israel gained its highest splendour and wealth during Solomon's reign of 40 years. In a single year, according to 1 Kings 10:14, Solomon collected tribute amounting to 666 talents (18,125 kilograms) of gold. Solomon is described as surrounding himself with all the luxuries and the grandeur of an Eastern monarch, and his realm prospered. His alliance with Hiram I, King of Tyre (to the north of Israel), greatly assisted him in his numerous undertakings.

Solomon has traditionally been considered to be the author of several Old Testament books, including:

The Book of Proverbs, a collection of fables and wisdom of life.

Ecclesiastes, a book of contemplation and self-reflection.

Song of Songs, a collection of erotic verse.

They make interesting reading.

He clearly was not a warmonger. On the contrary, his interests appear to have lain in matters of architecture, scholarship, writing - and love. According to the biblical account, Solomon had 700 wives - and 300 concubines. Over Solomon’s 40 years as king, that calculates as a new wife every 20 days! Of course, the term ‘wife’ must surely have had a very different meaning to ‘wives’ of today.

The wives were described as foreign princesses, including Pharaoh's daughter and women of Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and of the Hittites. His marriage to Pharaoh's daughter would have cemented a political alliance with Egypt. The only wife mentioned by name is Naamah the Ammonite, mother of Solomon's successor, Rehoboam. The mind boggles as to how he must have divided his time.

Indeed, despite God’s instruction, his foreign wives were his biggest weakness, his falling into idolatry when he permitted his wives to import their national deities, building temples to Ashtoreth and Milcom, was to displease God greatly.

In both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles, we learn of the visit by the Queen of Sheba, who sought confirmation of Solomon’s wisdom. The queen is described as visiting with gifts including gold, spices and precious stones. When Solomon gave her "all her desire, whatsoever she asked", she left satisfied (1 Kings 10:13).

Upon Solomon's death, his son, Rehoboam, succeeded him, but ten of the Tribes of Israel refused him as king, splitting the monarchy into the northern Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam, while Rehoboam continued to reign over the smaller southern Kingdom of Judah. Henceforth the two kingdoms were never again united.

He is believed to have been the last, but one, ruler of an amalgamated Israel and Judah. Scholars tell us that he reigned from 970 to 931 BC.



Solomon was indeed the wisest man who had ever lived. But a thousand years later, one of Solomon's own descendants was born, some 26 generations later, in fact. He was supposedly the son of a carpenter; and became a carpenter himself. He went around teaching and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Of course, I'm speaking of Jesus of Nazareth.

Our second reading was from Solomon’s hand, that of Proverbs 8, read to us by Liz. So, we might ask, does Jesus connect or fit-in with Proverbs 8? Jesus is, of course, infinitely greater than Solomon, and I want to explore this a little. I want to discuss how Jesus is the wisdom of God for us. Not merely that he speaks wisdom or he displayed wisdom, or he lived a wise life, but how he actually is wisdom from God for us.

Whilst the Book of Proverbs, comprising at least 800 proverbs, certainly gives us wisdom about our daily lives, early Christians saw Proverbs 8, in particular, and especially in verses 22 to 31, as wisdom himself, the Lord Jesus.

In these verses, a clearly female orator describes herself as one whom the LORD “possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old”, who “ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” She was “brought forth” when “there were no depths” and “before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills”, “before [the LORD] had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world”; and so on.

Early Christian scholars posited that ‘Lady Wisdom’ was a figurative depiction of God the Son. This is because other biblical texts identify Jesus as God’s Wisdom, perhaps most importantly in 1 Corinthians 1:24, where Paul calls Jesus, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”. This must surely be, yet another example of the many prophecies in the Old Testament, the Hebrew bible, of the coming Christ.

To put it simply, if Jesus is God’s Wisdom, then Proverbs 8 must be a reference to Jesus, since it refers to God’s wisdom.

Solomon spoke of the ideal king. Proverbs 16:12, he said, "Kings detest wrongdoing, for a throne is established through righteousness." He described it; Jesus lived it.

Solomon commanded sons to obey their fathers. He says in Proverbs 23:24, "The father of a righteous man has great joy, and he who has a wise son delights in him." Well, that's good, but Jesus lived it perfectly, constantly obeying His Heavenly Father.

Solomon's wisdom is compared to a bubbling brook (Proverbs 18:4). But Jesus said to the woman at the well, "Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14).

Solomon's wisdom commanded that we feed our enemies, but Jesus actually died for His enemies.

Solomon worked his people half to death, so much so that they wanted his son, Rehoboam, to go easy on them. But Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28).

Solomon became an idolater and committed spiritual adultery against the living God; Christ died for Solomon's sins.

Solomon died and was buried, and his kingdom was torn from his son because of his sins - Solomon's sins. Jesus died and rose again on the third day, and His kingdom - of the increase of His kingdom – there will be no end.

Let us pray.

Father God, Your Word says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding” (Psalm 111:10 NIV). Help us to trust in You and follow Your precepts in every twist and turn of our lives. Grant us good understanding and guide our steps. Amen.

Jess Jephcott – ESCM – April 2024

Sermon by David Matthews.   7th April 2024

Readings:  cc John 20.19 to the end &. 1 John 1.1 to 2.

“A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them…” 

And here we are, also a week after Easter, re-visiting that extraordinary moment. Hearing again, what Jesus had to say.

First of all, let’s just note that Jesus is at pains to pacify his disciples when he appears to them. ‘Peace be with you,’ he says. This maybe a standard courtesy but John emphasises it, making sure we have understood that Jesus is not seeking to bring emotional turmoil, despite the inevitable upheaval that his disciples would be feeling – which anyone would feel if a beloved friend, newly dead, suddenly popped up in the sitting-room. Jesus is bringing peace which means that what he intends to communicate will ultimately be calming and satisfying. The response he hopes from his disciples is a deeply felt: Ah! we understand.

But, like the disciples, we probably have some way to go before we get to that point of understanding. Because we have been thrown into the realms of the impossible. The man is dead. The house is locked. The doors are shut. Yet here he is. “This can’t be happening,” we say. And yet it is. 

What we are experiencing is a collision between two realities. We are fixed in our own physical bodies, using our own senses (indeed, commanded by Jesus to see and to touch) but yet what we are ‘seeing’, ‘perceiving’ is something ‘other’, outside our normal experience. Somehow, we have to find a way to reconcile these two colliding realities.

Jesus makes two appearances because this reconciliation which he wants us to grasp is huge – too huge, he probably realises, to be taken in one go. Firstly, the disciples have to be made aware that the crucified Jesus is no longer subject to the physical laws that govern mortal bodies. Jesus is no Lazarus. He has not merely (merely!) woken from death. He has passed beyond death. He is recognisable corporeally but there appear to be no physical barriers that he cannot transcend. Locked doors present no obstacle to this body.

What Jesus wants to do, during this first appearance, is to transmit to the disciples the Holy Spirit. He breathes on them. We can imagine him standing in a close huddle with his friends, clustered around him. What he breathes out, they breathe in. It is the opposite of passing on an infection. It is as if, by inhaling his breath, the disciples are injected with a sharper vitality. I believe I am right that the Greek word used for ‘spirit’ in this passage is pneuma. [spell it.] The same word is used for ‘breath’. So, while the disciples are still breathing mortals, they are now breathing in a deeper, more profound way. This means that Jesus can convey to them the clarity of vision to recognise sin – those obstacles which we erect to barricade ourselves from God’s grace – and to challenge sin in order to clear the route to God. That now is the task before them. 

As if all of that were not enough, a week later, Jesus is back, ostensibly to gather Thomas into the fold.

Thomas has admirable qualities. If he were living in the 21st century, he would be reliably hostile to all conspiracy theories, every deep-fake creation, every manipulated Mother’s Day greetings card, every intrusion by the virtual world into real life. He would not fall for an on-line scammer. He would not take anything on trust. We could all rely on Thomas to keep us grounded, telling us how it is. He’d probably be a Yorkshire man.

But, despite these worthy qualities, grounded in the concrete, the physical, the mortal sphere, Thomas needs something more. And Jesus provides it. He gives Thomas the hard evidence he needs, forcing him to look through those certainties which gave him security to something brighter, more brilliant. And Thomas gets it. His exclamation is spontaneous and – crucially – it is a surrender. He hails Jesus as his Lord and his God, and, by implication, recognises his own position as that of a vassal. But he also owns this new relationship: ‘My Lord,’ he says. ‘My God.’

Jesus uses Thomas to speak to every aspiring Christian, down through the ages. He speaks to us. And what he says, in effect, is ‘see more clearly’. Look at the world differently. Don’t just stop at physical evidence. Come at things from a new perspective. You don’t have to limit yourself to looking in the way that a mere mortal looks. In effect, Jesus says, “You do not need to touch the holes in my hands and feet, or finger the gash in my side. Open your eyes more widely; take a deep breath and start breathing with the breath of God. Then you will begin to apprehend the abundant signs – the real evidence, if you like – of God’s saving grace.”

The passage which we heard from John’s Gospel ends by making the clear point that, although Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, they do not particularly matter. What Jesus demonstrated through Thomas is all we need, in order to believe.

Right. Let’s push on.

There is little doubt among scholars that the John responsible for the Gospel which bears his name is the same man who wrote the three letters by John. John tells us that, like Thomas, he has heard, seen and touched that which concerns eternal life. He has taken his mortal senses and stretched them until they have become the medium through which he reaches fellowship with the Father and the Son. His mortality has been grafted on to immortality.

By grafting ourselves onto Jesus, we can be knitted, like him, into an indissoluble union with God. Committed Christians have been able to take this step: they have not seen and yet they have believed. But what of those millions, perhaps with no religious heritage to support them, who struggle to put their human faculties to work to this end? What does John offer to guide them?

In his letter, John advocates walking in the light. We are reminded of the opening of John’s Gospel where Jesus is described as the life which is the light of all people: ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.’ If we walk in this light, John writes, we shall have fellowship with one another and, if there are obstacles getting in the way of that fellowship, Jesus, through his death, removes them – he clears away the obstacles or, if you like, cleanses our sin. John gives us ‘light’ and ‘fellowship’ and the ‘saving blood of Jesus’. And, as John explains in his letter and as he has made clear in his Gospel, the mechanism by which we are able to walk in the light, is, of course, love.


If you are tempted, as I am, to throw up your hands in despair at being told this over-used, four-letter word is the answer to everything, John helps us out. He defines the love he is talking about. It is not primarily about attraction or fondness or delight. No, it is bigger than all those things. It is a dissolution of self, a sort of blending. Listen to these sentences taken from chapters 14 and 15 of his Gospel.

I will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also [14.3]

Do you not believe that I am in the father and the father is in me? [14.10]

This is the spirit of truth…You know him because he abides with you and he will be in you [14.17]

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them, and make our home with them. [14.23]

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love. [15.9]

I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. [17.26]

To love in this way is to move to a oneness, where self, the ego, is surrendered. This oneness, unites the apostles to Jesus and to the Father.  Just as Jesus breathed on the disciples, empowering them with the Holy Spirit, Love can be described as energy travelling from one source to another. For is not, that stepping back from self out of love for, care for another, a flow of energy? That energy which we might have directed towards our own ends, is re-directed to benefit another. The more we love, and the more that love is reciprocated the closer we get to an equilibrium, a ‘perfect uniformity’ at one with God: Father, Son, Spirit.

But perhaps we are no nearer to closing the gap between our colliding realities; we are still on too ethereal a plane.

So allow me to risk a digression. 

When writing those words, ‘perfect uniformity’, I was jolted towards an image in the Bible which I have always found troubling. It is the description, first encountered in Isaiah, which John the Baptist picks up when he is proclaiming a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. He tells us that, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low, the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain.” Although he is describing a route to God, free of all obstacles, I have always pictured a disturbing scene of desolation, wondering how this can possibly be a metaphor for anything wonderful and inspiring. But then it occurred to me that, from another perspective, the levelled, uniform scenery could be a metaphor for a perfect, even union with God. 

So, if (as Thomas was taught) we are obliged to look at things differently, where else might we look?

While asking myself this question, I found myself staring at physics. I am no physicist. I studied it at O level and got a respectable pass but that was more than fifty years ago. But it was while reading a book on Artificial Intelligence given me by my youngest son (“Come on Dad this is something you need to understand”) that I was reminded of the second law of thermodynamics. Is anyone looking blank? No? Good. So you don’t need me to remind you that this states (simply) that heat flows spontaneously from hotter to colder regions of matter. We know this: a hot liquid will always cool until it is the same temperature as the surrounding environment. Apparently, in a closed system (like the universe) everything moves towards entropy (sometimes described as heat death) where everything is (as the author of my book on AI put it) “spread out in boring perfect uniformity, with no complexity, no life, no change.”

Well , that’s the AI expert talking. 

For me, confronting the concept of entropy, I saw “every valley lifted up and every mountain and hill laid low.” I imagined a network where reciprocated love is flowing evenly from one source to another until a perfectly balanced uniformity is achieved. I found in the second law of thermodynamics a beautiful metaphor for the absolute equilibrium that is oneness with God. 

I wanted to grab the lapels of Thomas, our dour ‘call a spade a spade’ Yorkshire man and say, “And another thing, the physical laws of the universe are also an expression of the love of God.” I want to touch the sleeve of every person who struggles to see beyond the concrete evidence delivered by their own senses and say, “You don’t have to take a leap of faith to grapple with the incredible, you just have to dig into the natural world to discover God’s imprint already there. Love is knitted into the very world we inhabit and the universal laws that shape it. What we have to do is stretch our senses to perceive the signs and move in the direction they’re pointing.

Now I do not expect everyone to get excited by the second law of thermodynamics. For me the connection I made (which may be naïve and entirely fanciful) gave me a thrill because I am always looking for common ground with my determinedly rational youngest son. Indeed, in our ferociously secular age, I think we should all seek out new ways to elucidate the manifestation of God, just as the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio are both mathematical and natural: wonderful examples of order and patterning.

The logarithmic spiral that describes the nautilus shell conforms to the same pattern that governs the arrangement of seeds in sunflowers, cauliflowers and pine cones, the formation of hurricanes and our ever-expanding universe.

A lone note played on a keyboard has additional relevance when it forms part of a chord or contributes to a melody; and the harmonics which please our ear are physical properties of sound.

The DNA of a caterpillar is the same as that of a butterfly. Metamorphosis is no miracle.

To surrender one’s ego in love is to conform to a divinely ordained law. We do not need to see Jesus’s wounds to believe. The signs are all around us. And, I suspect, as we come to understand more and more about the universe, as more wonders are revealed to us, we shall perceive  – if we stretch our senses to see more clearly – more and more signs teaching us how to love like Jesus and live like God’s children.

“A week later, his disciples were again in the house…”

A week later and his followers were again in church…

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.