The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s106g09 Third Sunday of Easter 26/4/09
'he opened their minds to understand the scriptures' Luke 24.45
One of the things the risen Christ did was to open the minds of the disciples to understand the scriptures. Indeed of course, this was also part of pre-Cross teaching too. Jesus didn't come to answer all the questions about scripture. He didn't help the disputation between the Sadducees and Pharisees, and I suspect he would be similarly dismissive of many of the issues about which we debate today, quoting scripture on both sides, equally vehemently.
I was reflecting recently that it is about 12 &1/2 years since I began putting sermons on the internet and I've been preaching regularly since my ordination as a deacon in 1977. Deacon Sil's sermon collection started on the internet about the same time (http://www.deaconsil.com/). I sometimes wonder where the inspiration comes. Curiously the one thing that will lift me when I'm feeling a bit down is to sit down and prepare a sermon. It is where I am fed so I do this for myself as much as for anyone else. I guess I come to scripture wondering what this means for me. Often it is when there is a logical discontinuity in the words that spur my interest to try and draw out the meanings of the discontinuity.
But it is not just this openness to meaning. It is also the realization, the growing realization, that the cross and resurrection is all about bringing all people together. It is not about my own personal relationship with the Almighty, or my personal relationships with the people around me. It is what I do in the name of God for all of creation and how as a matter of faith I am open to the spiritualities of all other people. Jesus came to break down divisions between people, particularly those divisions done in the name of some 'god' or other.
It also sometimes seems that I have only one message, and I harp on this one message, week after week. But this message is of fundamental importance to the whole world. But I suppose individuals and individual congregations might get tired of this message. It is more important to get on with being 'Anglican' or whatever. I was interested to read one priests reflection about the Easter just gone words to the effect that from Maundy Thursday night to the night of Easter Day he'd had 6 services and lots of people attending. He was 'pretty exhausted but spiritually feeling FANTASTIC'. I am glad for him but I would want to ask if the resurrection was about making us feel good?
Again I was interested to read the recent Anglicansonline news grab: '11 April 2009: Sydney (Anglican) archbishop laments Biblical ignorance - The Australian reports that the Archbishop of Sydney has expressed sadness and frustration at the vast ignorance of the Bible among the people. Since we know that the Bible tells us that only Bible experts will be saved, we find this all quite sad.' (http://anglicansonline.org/news/index.html) Was the resurrection all about making us biblically erudite?
I often feel like the author of Easter week's Anglicansonline front-page editorial where they were 'sitting in a café in the midst of a large city, ordering a light meal. .. As we idly reflected on whether any of the diners round us had been to Divine Worship today, suddenly a few words from the otherwise indifferent 'background music' highlighted themselves in our ears' and the words of a very contemporary song caused them to reflect on the passion and Easter story. (http://anglicansonline.org/) I too find inspiration in unusual places, where and when I least expect it, in real life.
The understanding of scriptures comes from our repentance - our rejoicing that others have been found, or (in other words) our forgiveness of others who are different from us. Central to this interplay between scripture and real life is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus - the Lord of all.
If our bible study or our emotional response doesn't lead us to an acceptance of other people it is a waste of time and energy, and our acceptance of other people grounds our bible study and our emotions securely. If we are doing nothing to ease the divisions between people we can't really remain happy when we find others opposing us as much as we oppose them.
The death and resurrection of Jesus was not about making us feel fantastic nor was it about making us biblical erudite nor to make us Anglican. Jesus was killed because he associated with other people, so his resurrection was the rebuke that even death could not keep him from all. We celebrate the resurrection by opening ourselves to others, and of course we make it effective in our own lives by doing so.
As I read this morning's gospel again to the gathered worshippers at the drug and alcohol and mental illness hospital chapel, I reflected that the risen Jesus is easily able to penetrate the walls and locked doors behind which the church attempts to hide away to be **secure**. And the risen Jesus bids us leave the **security** of those confines and be incarnated into the real world of ordinary people. What a privilege it is to celebrate the Holy Communion to these people who would find it difficult, if not impossible, to find a spiritual home and acceptance in an 'ordinary' congregation! That some of these patients have survived is testament to their courage they have had such a rotten hand dealt to them in life far more difficulties than my petty gripes. It really is a glimpse of the kingdom, these little services, and it has nothing to do with me. True there were only 17 in the congregation the chapel only holds about 24 anyway but nearly all of them were considerably younger than me which is the first time in my whole ministry I could say this. In all of the parishes I have ministered the congregation has started at about 60 years and older. Sunday morning in 'ordinary' parishes has often seemed like an activity to entertain the aged and infirm with nothing better to do when nothing else is on for them.
I often reflect that it is in the wards of hospitals where I see God at work, in the care and attention given to the patients, by the doctors and nurses. I know that few would profess any particular faith, but each is doing what they believe they are called to do. God does not need to be named, or named correctly, to be active, and praise the Lord for this!
Interestingly I am about to celebrate a wedding, the first for a long time, and this has caused me to reflect on the Church as an institution based on the ideal of unconditional love. More on this next week! :-)
And it becomes clear that I have to wait and live my life for these moments of inspiration to come. They might come from my interactions with people in hospital, so I couldn't complete the words of this sermons till after this morning's service. Inspiration comes from my attempts to understand the words of scripture. It comes from an appreciation of the work of those around me. It comes from my reading of other people like Hans Küng, the authors of 'Eureka Street' (a Jesuit magazine originating in Melbourne, Australia http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/), Anglicansonline and Church Times (http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/ St Gargoyles cartoon, found under 'humour and crossword' is a weekly joy). Lots of places.
I have often had cause to reflect that some of my best friends aren't Anglicans or 'christians' at all and I suspect that this is true for most clergy and lay people. When one talks to Anglicans or 'christians' one inevitably talks about church politics or matters of faith, and both of these can become exceedingly tiresome. When one talks to one's best friends such topics don't arise. There is a refreshing unconditionality to a genuine friendship that is remarkably Christian and should be a mark of the church but often isn't. It makes one think or at least it makes me think it makes me open my mind to other possibilities.
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