The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r159.htm
s159g04 Easter Day Lockleys 11 April 2004
"These words seemed to (the apostles) an idle tale, and they did not believe (the women)" Luke 24:11
Christ is Risen &endash; Alleluia!
And yet today is little different from yesterday. The weather might be a little better or perhaps a little worse. It is interesting that we here in South Australia are anxiously looking for rain and the beginning of winter, so that the farmers can start planting, and a good season be assured. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, they are more likely looking for the beginning of Spring and the new life that this heralds. Each of us, at the opposite times of the year, look with anxiety and anticipation, and we each celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, ostensibly tied to a particular season, equally validly. For all that the Christ event of death and resurrection is indeed unique and good news, it doesn't actually seem to have made much difference to this world.
It may seem an "idle tale" to some, something which can be believed in or not, with little or no consequence either way.
Until one thinks of how life might be if the resurrection hadn't occurred. How would life be if God could actually have been successfully killed by the rich and powerful religious people? God would no longer be available to anyone, let alone you and I. Each and every experience of God would be delusional.
People with a modicum of conscience would probably still try to do the right thing. One does not have to postulate a God to try to save the environment, to work in medical research to try to help the sick and suffering or any of the 500 million other ways to contribute to society. It is quite possible to live and love without God - people do it all the time.
Many people are able to find self-esteem through their relationships with other people, and through the feelings of self worth they get from the contribution they are able to make to society through their work or voluntary activities. People find inspiration in all sorts of places, in the outback of Australia, in the microscopic world as well as in the heavens. Some people are moved by music and the arts. This is still a beautiful world despite some people trying to terrorise others.
If we look at this world as a place to be avoided, hated and changed, then I suspect that we will be disappointed with the message of resurrection and the message of the church.
If we look at the resurrection as something which everyone has to believe or else they will go to hell - as another and narrower gate designed to keep people out - then I suspect that we too will be disappointed.
For me the blessing of Easter is that is God's blessing on the world as it is. The most important thing for God is not that people believe in the divine, but that people get on, one with another. This is possible, unless of course, our religion dictates otherwise. If our religion dictates otherwise, then we are condemned to more fear and more terrorism in the name of one god or another. It is precisely this that the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ uniquely defeats - any religion which dictates to people that the most important thing is that they believe in god and they can forget about others.
In this sense I would not wish to be labelled a "liberal". Jesus is not one amongst many appearances of the divine. Jesus gives us no option but to see the divine in other expressions of the faith and in the spirituality of other people. Seeing the divine in others is not a peripheral "tacked on afterthought" to satisfy the politically correct, but the foundation of our faith. It was the fact that Jesus sat down and ate with tax collectors and sinners that had Jesus killed - therefore the resurrection is an affirmation that Jesus will not be thwarted by anyone from continuing to do this. Which other religion has as its central figure one crucified by those most devoted to that religion?
So our affirmation today that "Christ is risen" is an affirmation of our own experience of the risen Christ, however that has come to us. Our affirmation today that "Christ is risen" is an affirmation of the reality of everyone else's experience of the divine - which is not at the expense of someone else.
If the most important thing for humanity was that we believed in a particular form of God, then God could make that an awful lot plainer. The fact that terrorism continues to exist ought to make us realise that getting on with our brothers and sisters or not - continues to have immediate and global effects - and this is plain as the nose on our face.
The good news is that God doesn't demand the continuance of terrorism in his, her, or any other name, but desires the opposite - and again and again tells us so. The words of Jesus on the Cross immediately spring to mind: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!"
It was our Primate some years ago, when he was speaking on "tolerance", who alerted me to the fact that while this is politically correct it is not especially "Christian". The gospel and Jesus call us to do more than tolerate others, the gospel and Jesus calls us to love others.
God is always affirming of everyone, so God is by definition not affirming of some but not of others - that is the way off the world - the survival of the fittest - the law of the jungle.
And some people's experience of the divine is less happy than our own or perhaps less clear than our own. We are called to acknowledge the reality of the less happy experiences of the divine, and not criticise those whose experience is less clear than ourselves.
It would be less than human for a parent who has lost a child to not rage against God. We are called to love - not to be affronted by this or to "defend" god.
How often have you heard the saying that Confirmation is the great "passing out parade" of the Church" as people lament the lack of young people at worship. Teenagers and those in their twenties naturally are concerned about how they relate to people of the opposite and of the same gender. It is right that they are thinking about who they want to spend their lives with, and if and when they want to bring children into this world. It is right that young people spend time setting themselves up in a career so that they can provide for themselves and those whom they love. "Be fruitful and multiply" was one of the first commandments given to creation. And these things can be done without much reference to God. Actually God doesn't need a lot of input at these times - "nature" and hormones take over. But again, this seems to imply that worshipping god is the "be all and end all" of the Christian life. Does this not alienate people who are doing what comes naturally and not hurting others?
The good news is that we and all people are accepted and this is what we celebrate this day.
The second part of my text is that the apostles didn't believe the women, and indeed scepticism is a consistent part of every experience of the risen Jesus. And it is not just scepticism. Again and again the people with whom Jesus had lived and loved - people who had hung on his every word and witnessed all that he said and did - failed to recognise their risen Lord. Jesus had changed. They too had to change their perceptions and preconceptions.
When I went through theological college there was this especial devotion to those who had gone before. We considered the disciples as especially privileged, living and working with Jesus. The words of the disciples and the apostles had a special and unarguable authority. But even they had to change their perceptions. When faced with the new reality, they had to alter their focus. So too we, who may well have found the risen Jesus in word, sacrament, fellowship, acts of charity or works of art, are bidden to see the risen Jesus elsewhere, in a different form. It is not that the experience of the risen Jesus that we have had previously is less authentic, it is just that the risen Jesus can be discovered in all sorts of other places as well.
The essence of my text today is that the apostles, male, and in authority, did not believe the women and their testimony. Surely the corollary to my text is that we are called to believe, even surprising people, when they testify to experiences of the risen Jesus that we ourselves have not personally had.
We are called to trust that God isn't limited to the way God has dealt with us, and this is indeed good news.
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