The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s023e05 Lockleys Easter Day 27/3/2005
'seek the things that are above, where Christ is'. Colossians 3.1
I must admit when I hear the words of that collect for today: 'raised from the death of sin to the life of righteousness' I cringe. I wonder what is being expected of me? Am I going to have to give up walking along the beach in summer, sell my motorcycle, and spend more time on my knees, reading the Bible and giving more money to the Church! This actually doesn't seem all that good news to me, and if I really had any choice in the matter, I would be tempted to respond, well, not just yet, if I may. When I'm too old to walk along the beach and ride my motorcycle, then I may be interested.
Over the past months I have been exploring what 'original sin' actually is; and for me it is that my offering to God is more acceptable than everyone else's. Cain killed Abel because he perceived that his offering was more accepted than his own. And Jesus was killed because he accepted the offerings of others.
So the fact that Jesus is risen, that we celebrate today, means that the efforts to get rid of this person who accepted the offerings of others, failed. Jesus is alive and axiomatically our contributions and the contributions that other people make; continue to be accepted by him.
So sin is exercising one's supposed moral or spiritual authority over others to put them down; to suggest that they and their contributions are less than acceptable to the Almighty as they are.
Righteousness is therefore the opposite of this. Righteousness is to accept where others are at and to encourage them along the journey they are taking.
We do this naturally as parents, when we encourage our children in their pursuits rather than expecting them to become respected professionals 'like us' or even exceed our expectations.
We do this as we do not spend our lives trying to get others to become Christians 'like us': but rather accepting that the worship of others is likely to be as sincere as our own.
It is interesting that my reaction to these words, that God is here wanting me to become something different from who I am defines so much of our faith. We assume that God and the Church are naturally on about our deficiencies, and how we may do better, and be better, next time.
But if the Cross was initiated by those who were experts in telling others how poorly they measured up, then the Resurrection and our Easter faith is surely the ultimate repudiation of this. Our faith is primarily about God's acceptance of us; and others, as we are.
If we are to live lives of righteousness, of acceptance of others as they are, this only mirrors God's initial acceptance of us, and others, as we are.
So our Easter faith is not that God blesses us because we have come to Church this Easter morn. In the Resurrection of Christ, God assures us that God blesses all people with acceptance, and we celebrate this morning this acceptance of one and all.
So our Easter faith is all about our self-confidence, that God loves us too much to want us to be continually assailed by self-doubt, or doubt dumped on us by others.
For me it is good news that God wants only of me nothing more than often I would naturally give anyway. In the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, both come naturally. Neither of their prayers is forced. The Pharisee doesn't ask for anything, only a recognition of how much better he is from his fellow worshipper. He is disappointed.
So I am actually happy to seek the things that are above, for this means the acceptance of all, including myself.
Now it might be asked, are we called to accept those who molest children, but those who molest children, are those who use other people for their own personal gratification. But before we get too critical, is our interest in other people who come to worship, only for what we, as a community, can get out of them? If this is true then we are operating in the very same manner.
All using of other people is contemptible, it is the opposite of a life of righteousness.
The interesting thing is that we accept religious putdowns, time and again. I do. It has become a normal part of our existence. And, in doing so, we perpetuate the system, rather than doing something about it. But to change society, we too will need perseverance and faith, to be clear about the direction we are taking. God's grace will be with us if we are going in God's direction, accepting others. God's grace will not be with us if we seek to abuse others, and keep them in their place.
A couple of weeks ago the cartoon in the Church Times showed a group of Bishops, all dressed in copes and mitres, sitting in front of a television. The program was obviously the start of the show "The Simpsons". The caption read, "At last the Bishops could agree on something" :-) In that show there is a good natured relationship between the Simpsons and their next door neighbours, the Flanders, even though they go to Church. Even though there is a friendship there is a tension over "religion". It is assumed that the Flanders would disapprove of the Simpsons. In Australia, where our relationship with our actual neighbours can almost be non-existent, I wonder if we would be more scared if our neighbours turned out to be "Christians" out to convert us. This seems so different from Jesus who mixed easily with all sorts of people, all without pretensions and without expectations. If this is what "seeking the things above" means then I am all for it.
It seems to me that Jesus was killed by those who had pretensions about their own uprightness and expectations for everyone else. If our "Christianity" is viewed by those outside as no different from this, then we have got a severe image problem.
Today is Easter Day. Christ is risen, because the eternal mission to bless the lives of ordinary people like you and I and the neighbours down the road (even the ones who don't call themselves Christians or do not come to Church) could not and will not be thwarted. Praise the Lord!
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