The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s106g15  Third Sunday of Easter  19/4/2015

‘they thought that they were seeing a ghost’   Luke 24:37

Today we are confronted with reality.   The risen Jesus could be touched, he readily perceived their feelings, he could speak intelligently, be heard and understood, he could eat food.   The resurrection is not about some mystical, spiritual reality, unable to be perceived by anyone who isn’t initiated or elect.   Jesus did not ascend to some mythical elevated ethereal state, to which we have to graduate or perish.   It is not ‘believe the unbelievable’; God does not privilege the gullible.  

So the church needs to point to realities if she hopes to witness to a resurrection.

If our religion is demeaning of the 99% of others who don’t worship like us, marginalising the 50% of those who then happen to be female, and then alienating the 10% who are not straight ‘like us’, the world is entirely justified in asking where is the good news for 99.55% of the population!

I have said, time and again, that it was those who loved the Lord with all their hearts and minds and strength who engineered Jesus’ murder.   If this is true, then Jesus identifies with 99.55% of the population not the 0.45% who are religious.

If our religion is the primary reason why countless millions live lives of poverty, illness and premature death because of a prohibition on effective contraception, where is the evidence that we have good news for others?

The resurrection tells us that the world is right to demand of the church evidence of good for our faith.   ‘Faith’ has led countless people to hurt others.   We are only too well aware of suicide bombers but the scale of their killing pales into insignificance when the plight of those millions denied contraception is considered.   At least the victims of suicide bombers are killed instantly, whereas those denied contraception are compelled to live a lifetime of misery.   ‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’  (1)   It must be soul-destroying to be burdened with being perennially pregnant.

The world can point to centuries of the church’s resistance to change but at the same time to the benefits of scientific enquiry.   If centuries of evidence points to the church resisting scientific advances to the death, advances through which we all now benefit so enormously, is not the world right to consider the church more than just irrelevant, but an agent of evil?   So often the Church comes across as opposed to capitalism and corporations; they are opposed to ‘charity’.   As we witness the re-build of Christchurch, it is important to note that this is not happening just by giving to the poor.   We need entrepreneurs and people prepared to invest in speculative ventures.

The risen Jesus could be touched and so continues to touch our lives in affirmation and inclusion.   We can’t ignore, avoid or dismiss anyone else as irrelevant.

As I reflected on worship on Easter morning, either we get our energy in excluding others or we get our energy including others.   The other option, defending our particular version of faith, christianity or the Anglican Church is a dead end.   When we surround ourselves with people who think, worship, live and believe like us, we will end up being bored stiff.   We end up apologising for our lack of direction and energy.   We are told to believe in the resurrection and new life, but not where or how to find it.   We cannot show anyone else where to find new life, if we can’t find it ourselves.   We have no option but to embark on a doomed and meaningless crusade to convert everyone else to our way of being.   Any ‘god’ that demands this of us is a devil in disguise.

I note that all of the renewal movements which have sprung up in my lifetime - the charismatic movement, Cursillo and Alpha have been silent on affirmation and inclusion of others.   They end up just like the church, unable to see beyond themselves, condemned to trying to convert others to their cause.

I was interested to hear someone on the radio talk about the death penalty.   The question for this person is not: ‘Does society have the right to inflict the death penalty?’ but: ‘Is a society that inflicts the death penalty worth belonging to?’   So translating this to the church - the question is not ‘Does the Church have the right to condemn others?’ but ‘Is the church which blithely condemns others to eternal damnation worth belonging to?’   I am sorry I haven’t a reference to the author. 

My words have nothing to do with the fate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston 2013 Marathon Bomber, or Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia.

On the BBC program ‘The Why Factor’ recently it was noted that 1,000,000 people every year commit suicide. (2)  Clearly many people don’t find living in our ‘christian’ society affirming and inclusive.

Our Easter faith is the reality that direction, energy and life are found in incarnation into the world and that this was not thwarted on the Cross; that a religion which marginalises, alienates and condemns is not and never was God’s intention.   Indeed our Easter faith is that God intends affirmation and inclusion of all people.   The resurrection tells us that religion which ignores others and dismisses them as sinful, irrelevant and expendable is evil and defeated.

In another context completely I came across the adjective ‘phlegmatic’ and I confess it sounded like a different form of an automobile gearbox :-)   However it is one of the four temperaments and it seems the one closest to my own - I hate any form of conflict. (3)  So it is interesting that I have become more strident in my old age.   And I have become more strident as I have, through being divorced, through leaving parish ministry, through being a little more financially secure, finding myself able to be less constrained in my pilgrimage.   I have noted before that often bishops are able to voice their real beliefs after they have retired.   Why is it that the church, of all institutions claiming to offer new life, actually inhibits it?

So the question to us today, is: Is our risen Jesus a ghost, an unreliable and unpredictable phantom often leading us into self-imposed exile from others, or reality leading us more and more into incarnation, inclusion and acceptance, on a corporate as well as a personal level?   And if the later is the case, what are we doing about it on a corporate as well as a personal level?

1.  Matthew 10:28