s023g99 Somerton Park Easter Day 4/4/99
"The angel said to (Mary Magdalene and the other Mary), "Do not be afraid ... go ... and tell his disciples ... "He has been raised from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him." (Matthew 28:5-7).
In fact it is of course twice that the women are told that Jesus would be seen in Galilee, they are first told by the angel, then by the risen Jesus himself. So the words are of some importance. They would not find the risen Jesus in Jerusalem, the centre of all things "religious" and "spiritual". They would meet the risen Jesus rather among the flotsam and jetsam of society - in "Galilee of the Gentiles" - as it was described long before by the prophet Isaiah (9.1).
It is significant that the passage we read for the first lesson today: Acts 10.34-43 is set to be read each and every Easter Day - though options are now provided for other readings in its place if desired. We can assume therefore that it is a very important reading and deserves our thorough attention.
Those of you who know me a little, know that I have built up a considerable archive of sermons over the years. 14 years I have been preparing sermons on computers - I suppose it would be close to 44 a year for 14 years - that's over 600 sermons. I have only recently thrown out the hand - written ones - BC - before computers - that I'd filed away. Doing them on computer has the wonderful advantage of being able to go back, to look at what one wrote in the past and use or modify those words again. Let me say that there are some words in past sermons I wouldn't ever use again, some I simply disagree with now, some I'm even ashamed of.
The exercise of going back is useful however - it gives me a much needed dose of humility :-) But it also gives me some confidence that I have moved in my theology, and in a direction I am happy with.
(I found the same thing with Christmass letters I sometimes send with my cards. It is interesting to go back and read the brief potted resume of our lives and activities of the year past and realise how we have grown as individuals since.)
But back to the sermons. I would be horrified if people took as scripture some of the things I've said in the past. And I suppose I'm not alone here.
And I want to look at two statements by St Peter in the same way.
The first is the opening words of St Peter's first sermon to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius, whom God had made quite plain to Peter he was not to call common or unclean: "Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality"".
I point out that this is a far, far different sentiment than his words in chapter 4 of Acts. When addressing the religious authorities he says: "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (vs 12) Perhaps Peter thought that God still considered the Jewish people as specially favoured, or it might be that he considered those who confessed Christ to be specially favoured. But later he came to realise that God crossed such criteria.
In between these two statements we have a number of events, and most often we focus on the conversion of St Paul in chapter 9:1-19 (19 verses). However I point out that a rather more significant event is described in rather more detail from chapter 9:36 to 11:18 (74 verses) - the conversion of St Peter and the reporting of this to the Jerusalem Church. And central to this conversion is precisely the words "Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality"" - that God cares for the flotsam and jetsam - the riff raff.
It is a remarkable statement, though it should hardly surprise us. We read that the risen Jesus twice tells the women to tell the disciples they would see him in Galilee of the gentiles on that first Easter morn. Among the religious riff raff.
I hope that people would take more notice of the words I say now than the words I said in times past. None of us ever hold the truth of the gospel in its entirety in one's own hands. There is always more to learn, more to find out. So too with Peter. I can understand that there is a logical progression from his words in Acts 4 to Acts 10, but surely we treat him kindly if we take his later words rather more seriously.
Indeed I wonder if the Church has in it's Easter proclamation "Christ is risen" stressed quite the wrong thing. Perhaps the more important proclamation is that he goes before us to people we least expect, and it is there that we will see him. For when we see him, we too will know of the reality of the resurrection for ourselves.
Indeed in this sense - for the Church to proclaim "Christ is Risen" - as she is frequently wont to do - is not a very helpful statement at all. If we don't say where the risen Jesus can be found, we are being unhelpful to say the least. Is the risen Jesus playing "hide and seek" with humanity? Is he a chameleon, cleverly disguised in camouflage to ensure only "the sincere" find him? Do we perceive him only in the mystery of the Eucharist? Has the risen Jesus swapped the tomb of old for the confines of this building, or hiding in between the molecules of the holy sacrament - ne'er to be seen except by those versed in the intricacies of Aristotelian metaphysics :-)
No, the risen Jesus is to be found in Galilee, among the flotsam and jetsam of society, where we least expect to find him. We are likely to find the risen Jesus at an AA meeting or among a group of people supporting an AIDS sufferer close to death. That is the sorts of places Jesus has already gone before us. We don't pray that he will be there - as we are wont to pray that God be merciful on unbelievers. We don't take Jesus there by condescending to visit these unfortunates. We are bidden to gird up our loins and follow, to be enriched with the joy of finding the risen Jesus in new places doing new things. If we don't we will be simply left behind, left to reminisce on when we last met the risen Jesus.
And perhaps we might find him in the very last place we would expect - in our own lives - if you're anything like me - for I don't consider myself "spiritual" or "religious".
One of the great promises of Jesus, dear to all disciples is "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." (Matthew 18:20). However this is sandwiched between people agreeing one with another, and people forgiving one another. We do things "in the name" of Jesus when we agree with others, when we forgive others. Again and again, it is how we accept others - people of other faiths and non believers too - that we operate as disciples.
I have matured, not as I have spent my time on my knees in devout prayer over the years, or as I've read and studied the Bible. I have matured as I have come into contact with other people - ordinary people with the ordinary cares and concerns that we all have. St Peter matured as God brought him into contact with other people, ordinary people - if there is ever such another person who can really be described as "ordinary".
I was recently sent a free copy of the magazine "Eureka Street" (Jan & Feb 1999) and read a lovely and insightful article by Antony Campbell (professor of OT at the Jesuit Theological College within the United Faculty of Theology, Melbourne). He says "One who loves is by definition biased; that's what it means to be in love. One who judges is by definition supposed to be unbiased; that's what it means to be a judge." (p47) He rightly points out the inherent conflict between love and justice and comes to the conclusion "For me, God's love has to have priority over God's justice." I commend the whole article, for it calls us to critically examine words we ascribe to God, which are essentially conflicting and confusing. I found it delightful.
But I find insights coming from this unexpected source. For of course God's love is biased, but biased towards humanity as a whole. God's love is biased but there is nothing and no one against whom God is biased. Jesus' preparedness to die on the Cross shows how biased he is, and at the same time that he is not biased against anyone - even those who crucified him. Again, I am not at all criticising the professor - for his whole thesis is about God loving us unconditionally.
It is as we as a community unconditionally accept people that others will find the risen Jesus in this place, in the sacrament of this altar. If people find us to be - not people all religious and proper - but people agreeing and forgiving - then the risen Jesus will be plainly seen in our midst too.
And Jesus bids us not be afraid as he bid the women not be afraid. Far from fearing people of other faiths and of no faith, we will be enabled to rejoice as we see the risen Jesus in their midst too.
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