Jesus was certainly very practical, wasn’t he? He chose twelve apostles, one for each of the tribes of Israel. Yet when it was clear that more help was needed he didn’t hesitate to commission another seventy or so (some bible versions suggest seventy-two, which is of course a multiple of twelve and might mean that each of the original twelve had a team of six). However that worked, Jesus never confined himself to the most exceptional in any way. These missionaries were just regular folk like you and me, with a job to do. Jesus also sent them out two by two. For two is generally better than one for most things isn't it? Another person can give us support, keep us up to the task, see something we've missed and fetch help in an emergency. And Jesus was anticipating emergencies - 'I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves' he says, 'so don't go it alone.' And don't take anything with you that will weigh you down, distract or be a temptation for thieves. Travel light and keep your focus. If you are welcomed, stay. If not, get out of there quickly and don't look back.
This is all very good tactical advice for a temporary, local mission that pushed the edges of the Jesus movement into hostile territory. Sadly, over time, especially where it has become mainstream, the Church became rather encumbered: with buildings, committees and traditions that tend to weigh us down and distract us. There is a case then, following Jesus and Thomas, for the radical simplicity of these first missionaries, who had one focus and simple, though not simplistic, message.
And what was their message? The message was peace, shalom, wholeness of being. We think of our own times as being dangerous, full of war and terror and indeed there is still far too much violence in the world. Yet, actually, humanity as a whole has rarely been more peaceful. It is certainly more peaceful in Toowoomba than it was for those first disciples, living as they did as a despised Jewish minority in an occupied country, and trying to take their message to Gentile areas. Without peace nothing is possible. People go hungry. Religion, education and the arts cannot thrive. Diversity is suppressed and it becomes all about survival. So peace is the first message of resurrection love. This is why we call Christ the Prince of Peace.
What do you think of when you think of peace? I think of openness, of an inner and outer landscape that is gentle, spacious, inviting and tolerant of weakness, both my own and that of others. It is the very opposite of suspicion, fear, hatred and bigotry. Peace is first an inward thing. I must be at peace with myself. Jesus told us to love our enemy. That includes the enemy that lies within us - those parts of ourselves we tend to deny. First let us speak peace to ourselves. This is especially important when our outer circumstances are trying. Let us pray, breathe and let the peace of God fill us. Only then are we ready to share that peace with others, as Jesus told his first apostles to do.
We can see from the Gospel passage most clearly associated with Thomas that the sharing of peace is fundamental. This is why at every Eucharist, we symbolically share the peace with one another. And we then rreach out the same hands which share the peace to receive communion, taking Christ the Prince of Peace into us. Sharing God’s peace is thus at the very heart of our liturgy and of who we are as Christians. But it doesn’t stop there. At the end of worship, we say 'go in peace to love and serve the Lord, in the name of Christ'. For, just like Thomas and those first seventy apostles, we too are sent out every week to proclaim peace in the harvest fields of our lives. Our offer of peace may not be received. That does not matter. What is not received returns to us as Jesus said. What matters is that at every moment we continue to seek to spread the peace of Christ.
It is in the end a matter of perception. As Jesus confided to his closest disciples, 'blessed are the eyes that see what you see.' In Christ we are able to see that all human beings are children of God and that therefore there can be no enmity with another that is not an enmity with ourselves. In Christ we are enabled to let go of our fears and seek ways that are inclusive and loving. Across our world at this time many are acting (and sometimes even voting!) out of fear: fear for their economic security and standing. Yet Jesus said 'take no bag or purse for your journey'. The important thing is to go, and wherever you go, seek to share peace.
We are the apostles, the ones sent out in our own time, into the harvest fields of fear, suspicion and hatred to share peace. We may not all go to India, or come from India. Yet like Thomas, we are called to God’s mission. As he did for Thomas, may Christ thus give us eyes to see with love, courage to proclaim peace to troubled spirits, and faith to continue on the way. In the power of the Holy Spirit, and the strength of our common fellowship in Christ Jesus, Amen.
Jo Inkpin for St Thomas/Pentecost 7, Year C, Sunday 3 July 2016