The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s159g07 Easter Day 8/4/2007
'an idle tale' Luke 24.11
I suppose that it's an occupational hazard of being a priest, but each year after the great festivals of Christmass and Easter pass, one wonders what difference all the effort we put into these great festival celebrations has made. Life goes on, essentially unchanged. We continue with a time where the priest has white vestments, and then he or she wears purple, green or occasionally red. Church life is one great circle, going round and round, but not actually changing anything in real life. One could actually dispense with the story and what would be different? Like the apostle who thought the story of the women was an idle tale, of no practical import to their day to day lives, so we can conclude, by our very familiarity with the story and the fact that it perhaps has made precious little difference to how we live our lives, or the life of the world, we can think that this is an idle tale too.
If it is only about what colour vestments the priest wears, whether we are eating chocolate or not, or the joyfulness or otherwise of the hymns we sing, what is all this? Did Jesus die and rise again to institute these little changes in our lives? If we think that this is so then we are certainly 'up ourselves' liturgically and actually!
So my real question today is how do we make this something more than an idle tale?
On Good Friday I spoke about the crucifixion being not a personal thing but a corporate thing. It is not about my sins, negligences and ignorances, but is intimately linked to what I believe, and in particular about what I believe about other people, particularly those who believe in different terms to myself.
So if we want to live resurrection lives, this happens as we open ourselves to other people, particularly those who live differently, worship differently, believe differently. It is then that our lives become opened up and blessings come.
It has come to me that these other people are God's gifts to us. Other people are not there for us to change, convert, or correct. We are not called to change the world into a place where everyone thinks the same, believes the same, lives the same or worships the same. This is actually good news, for the prospect of 'changing the world' is a wild goose chase if ever there was one. The 'god' who would demand of us to change the world is a demon rather than God. No, other people are gifts to us, God's gifts to us.
The old conception of religion was that there was the Church where God's people gathered, and then there were the others who were either evil, mistaken or neglectful. The old conception of religion was that it was a competition between religions, and only the true one would survive.
Now, through Christ, we look at religion differently and other people differently. The old divisions are done away with, and we are invited to appreciate others in their uniqueness, their difference, and the way they complement us. And this is God's gift to us, and if we were to grasp this completely the world might have a chance for peace.
The old concept of religion, the competitive one, implied that all the religious strife in the world is actually God's fault! If God couldn't make plain which religion was right, then surely God is to blame. God could write in the sky: 'The true faith is Calathumpian' or whatever, but chooses not to. There is no such thing as the true faith, only the faith that leads us to appreciate others rather than fight against others.
We can't change the world, we can't in fact change even one other person, we have difficulty changing ourselves at least I do. But we can change our attitudes towards others. We can realise that God wants us to love and include others rather than marginalise, alienate and exclude others.
I have sometimes wryly thought that those who oppose the ordination of women are really saying that a woman's ministry would be acceptable, provided only that the woman changed her gender a 'big ask' if ever there was one. It is actually more reasonable to ask that someone change their theology, but in practice perhaps it is just as unlikely!
Many, many years ago, I recall being a part of a theological student placement in a psychiatric hospital alongside a centre for the developmentally disabled curiously an identical situation to where I have ended up in my ministry in later years. I remember saying to the group at the end of the week, that while I didn't want to be critical, I wondered where Jesus was in all this lovely acceptance of these people. And I reflect that this same question has been something that I've been gnawing away at all my ministry. Where is Jesus in all this? The conscientious humanist could accept and love these others as effectively as 'christians'.
I suggest that we find Jesus in where we look for Jesus - expecting to find him. If we only expect the risen Jesus to be found in people who believe like me, live like me and worship like me, then this will be true, and we will see the risen Jesus no where else. If we expect to find the risen Jesus in all sorts of people the tax collectors and sinners with whom Jesus associated then again this will be true. But what a difference in outlook these two attitudes produce. The former might include 144,000 (if we are lucky). If the internet is to be believed the later might presently include 6.5 billion people!
What a great blessing it is that the conscientious humanist can accept and love as effectively as 'christians'! This is something for which we can really praise God!
If we believe that the risen Jesus can only be found in people who believe like me, live like me and worship like me, then we will spend our time searching for the 144,000 in 6,500,000,000 or the .002% of people who satisfy our criteria. If we believe we can find the risen Jesus in all people, we will spend our lives rejoicing as we find this our faith confirmed again and again, day after day, in everyone we meet. There are no prizes for guessing which outlook is likely to produce a happier existence!
And God wants our happiness, it is God's gift to us!
This is our Easter faith that other people are God's gifts to us. The risen Christ could not be contained within a tomb, a religious orthodoxy or whatever, and praise the Lord that this is so. One has only to consider what the world might be like if people didn't believe that their 'god' demanded that they compete and fight against others. It might just possibly be a place of peace, and surely God would have it so.
Our Easter faith is no idle tale if we dare!
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