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s023g11 Easter Day  Amberley  24/4/2011

‘I send you’  John 20.21

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

Last century, across the ditch, when the AIDS crisis first hit, one of my colleagues made the comment that life itself was a sexually transmitted terminal illness!   I have often thought that the great festivals of the church have just provided a welcome hiatus in the course of mundane or adversarial life.   They have all been very nice but they haven’t touched our mundane existence.   They are spiritual, other worldly, unrelated.   And I suspect that this is in part intended.  We come to church to seek relief from the pressures of life, a haven of security, a respite from the day to day battles.   And when the church tries to change, we get angry because what we want from the church, a relief and a haven, ceases to be.   The words of the service become our rock.   When I was in Australia recently, I went to a mid-week service at the local cathedral, and the service was 1662 BCP, priest and one server and a dozen devotees steadfastly resisting change.  The angst when the words of the Lord’s Prayer changed from ‘lead us not into temptation’ to ‘save us from the time of trial’ (amongst other things) still continues.

But christianity ought to affect our day to day life.   It seems sad if it only serves to re-invigorate us to return to the battle during the rest of the week.

Recently I was interviewed for a job and one of the questions I was asked was what invigorates me.  I answered that the preparation of my sermons was one thing, for here I engage with people of past generations, their thoughts, motivations, their faith.   And the other thing that invigorates me is my encounters with plain, ordinary people - people of other faiths and people professing no faith.   So frequently I find that people other than in a religious context have a faith and a genuineness which shines out - as I say, even in those who do not profess any faith.

I said on Good Friday that so often some ‘christians’ are known for being critical, judgemental, and demeaning of others.    And it has struck me how accepting, non-judgemental and affirming of others secular organisations are.   So I am often invigorated by people with no pretensions to religion as I often find my self-esteem diminished by some ‘christians’.

Jesus sends us out, and our Easter joy is that we will never go where the risen Lord has not already been.   So we are sent out to be invigorated, invigorated by the faith and genuineness of others, regardless of their faith or lack thereof.  

Let me say that I do not always agree with the biblical writers.   Sometimes I wish they didn’t write some of the things they did.   One of the classic cases are some words ascribed to St Paul: ‘It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said, "Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons."   That testimony is true.   For this reason rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith.’  (Titus 1.12-13)   Such a generalisation cannot be true of all people from Crete; and funnily enough, I don’t think that these words make it into our regular round of Sunday readings.   In fact I don’t recall them ever been used in the context of worship.   Similarly I wish St Paul didn’t write some things about gender difference, and wonder what makes these words which demean all of the female gender affecting 3,000,000,000 of the world’s population more inerrant, far more frequently read and proclaimed as gospel truth, rather than those demeaning a mere 600,000 Cretans (figures for 2000ish).

I sometimes wish Jesus didn’t say those words: ‘if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’   Clearly that is possible, and it invests ‘christians’ with considerable authority which needs to be exercised in the light of those other words of Jesus: ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.   For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.    Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?’  (Matthew 7.1-3)

I spoke earlier about us never going where the risen Jesus has not already been.   In other gospel accounts the risen Jesus tells the women:  ‘"Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."’ (Matthew 28.10)   We only follow Jesus, we never take Jesus anywhere, and we follow Jesus not back to the Temple but into the world, into communion with all, including the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners - not away from the world and these sorts of people.   Following Jesus takes us out of our holy huddles.

The exchange between Thomas and the risen Jesus tells us that our experience of the risen Jesus is no less real than that of the first disciples.   We are not the poor cousins of the apostles, hide-bound to follow their every utterance without question.   The risen Jesus is as present with us and with others as Jesus was to the first disciples and the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners with whom he associated, the very people whom the religious of Jesus’ day would be critical, judgemental and demeaning.   The paradigm hasn’t changed.

And for me the real question is why religion is used by some people to be critical, judgemental and demeaning, even one that has Jesus as it’s founder, who preached and practised love of all and called us to do likewise.

The way of criticism, judging and demeaning of others inevitably leads to an unhappy life.   The way of acceptance, non-judgemental and affirmation of others brings that ‘peace with passes all understanding’.  

Some people are naturally depressed, but it is important to say that God is not depressed and doesn’t exist to make everyone depressed.   Some people are naturally anally retentive, but God is not anally retentive and doesn’t exist to make everyone else anally retentive. 

The message of Easter is that God still believes in the world and God still believes in us.   God continues to inspire people of all sorts of faith and none and we are sent by the risen Christ to witness that inspiration and rejoice in it.

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