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

s159g13   Easter Day  31/4/2013

'they did not believe them ..'   Luke 24.11

The disciples did not believe.   Jesus regularly addressed his followers as 'ye of little faith' (1) and commended 'the poor in spirit'. (2)

Today we read that the risen Jesus came to those who did not believe. 

Sometimes the church and the world and all their trials and tribulations cause real people to lose heart.   The crucifixion of Jesus was surely a prime example of this.   Here was a good person, obviously gifted and inspired by God, cruelly dismissed by those who ostensibly loved God with all their hearts and minds and strength and sent to be killed by others, thus preserving their dignity.   It is no wonder that they did not believe.

Recently I have been reflecting that for all the church 'believes' - the person in the pew actually believes in quite different terms.   There are those Anglicans who cross their fingers behind their backs when they recite the Nicene Creed :-)   The vast majority of Roman Catholics in the western world approve of and use contraception and frankly wonder that RC priests can't marry and that women are inherently unable to be ordained.

As we have come through two years of earthquakes in Christchurch, where many churches have been damaged and are demolished or unusable, I have been reflecting on what causes people to come to a particular church.   Part of the reason is the familiarity of the building, part will be the community of the congregation, another will be the ministry of the pastor, another part will be the theology and worship, and all add up to a feeling that here is a place I can be comfortable.   What happens when the building, organ and choir are gone, the community is scattered and ministers have moved on?

In Huff Post Religion, responding to the election of Pope Francis, Joseph Amodeo writes: 'Today, as a Roman Catholic and a gay man, I look to Rome with newfound hope as I see a man who sheds the luxuries of life .. and ..  will take this opportunity to extend a loving embrace to his LGBT brothers and sisters around the world.' (3)

This sentiment perhaps echoes the desires of many people in the pews of many churches and denominations: that they might really feel comfortable in church, that they might be accepted for themselves, with their faith as well as their doubts.   For all the ‘evangelism’ practiced by the church, people still find themselves uneasy in worship.   They have to be on their best behaviour, dressed in their 'Sunday-best', and be subjected to often unthinking and uninspiring dissertations about the faith they have no option but to agree to, on pain of eternal damnation.   The ‘church’ is not a safe place to be oneself.   All this is based on the premise that the Lord will be found when they believe enough, when they accept orthodoxy, when they are compliant ..

Will the church 'extend a loving embrace to' our LGBT brothers and sisters, our brothers and sisters of different faiths, our brothers and sisters of no particular faith who are called to engage in science, medicine, teaching, social service, and etc, rather than the minutiae of religion and faith?  

The risen Jesus came to those who did not believe, and this is the good news.

The church that commends orthodoxy and compliance keeps the risen Lord from people.   The church where people have to suppress who they really are and what they really believe, has no good news for anyone whatsoever.

Jesus comes to us in the church who believe that orthodoxy and compliance is what the faith is really about, just as Jesus comes to those outside the church with blessing and peace, even as they don't believe in the divine because the church has kept this hidden behind orthodoxy and compliance.  The risen Jesus comes to us in the church to open our eyes to the sanctity of all people.

I often reflect on Paul on that road to Damascus, and most recently that he had to accept healing from those he was going to persecute .. just as the orthodox Jew who fell among thieves had to accept help from the heretical Samaritan.   We who are ‘christian’ are led to accept help from people of other faiths and of no faith.   We are given no option but to accept our common essential humanity with all others.   If this is not our faith, then it is essentially divisive and demonic.

The Easter message is that Jesus comes to all and continues to come to all, to affirm and to include.

I have oft found the Easter blessing excessively religious and other-worldly: 'The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you PERFECT in every good work to do his will, working in you what is pleasing in his sight, and the blessing of God ..'

But I have realised that if what I say is true, it really ought to say: 'The God of peace .. make you INCLUSIVE AND AFFIRMING in every good work to do his will, working in you what is pleasing in his sight, and the blessing of God ..'

Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the failure of the devout and the orthodox to keep the divine to their own ritual and spiritual hierarchies, and the success of God to continue to be found in all sorts and conditions of people.   For today this affirms our own sanctity, as we are, with our doubts as well as our (albeit provisional expression of) faith, along with the sanctity of all other people, as they are, with their doubts and their (albeit provisional expression of) faith.   For it is only this that offers hope and peace, not just for us, but for the whole of society.   Amen.

(1)  Matt 6.37, 8.26, 14.31, 16.8, 17.20,  Luke 12.28

(2) Matt 5.3