The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r160.htm
s160e04 Lockleys Second Sunday of Easter 18/4/2004
"to him .. who freed us from our sins by his blood .. be glory" Rev 1.5
Today we begin a six week long cook's tour of the book of the Revelation to St John the Divine, finishing on the Sunday before Pentecost.
Also being post Easter, we have, in celebration, readings from the Acts of the Apostles rather than from the Old Testament as first readings. This is appropriate as this enables us to immediately see the continuity of the resurrection and the events of the early church. Again, we hear a reference to the blood of Jesus - in terms of responsibility for the death of Jesus. We should not overlook the nucleus of anti-semitism contained within this verse. Gee, I hope that someone later on doesn't pick up on some unguarded comment I make in my sermons and use it to hurt or exclude others!
Our gospel reading, which we hear every Easter, is the account of the appearances of the risen Jesus to the frightened disciples. There is an emphasis on physicality. It is all about the reality of the crucifixion - focussing on Jesus' hands and side - where the wounds would be most obvious.
I want to begin by making two observations about the book of Revelation. The first observation is that for all the cataclysmic events and battles described in the book, it is all very much only "virtual reality" - no actual fighting is described - no real blood is spilled. It's a bit like the first of the creation stories, God speaks and creation happens - no assembly is described. The second observation is that the reference to Jesus on the Cross as the "Lamb" occurs most frequently in this book. I count the number as 30 times. So the cataclysmic events, battles and victory are as much likely to be a meditation on the effects of the Cross and resurrection already accomplished - as they are about a possible scenario for the end of the world. Or, to put it the other way around, the Cross and resurrection of Jesus marks the end of the world. The only blood that is spilled in Jesus'.
So for me, it is when we come to the altar rail to receive the sacrament of the Holy Communion with other people and want this Holy Communion to be extended to everyone else, we are closest to the kingdom of God. For if we really believe that the Lamb of God has taken away the sins of the world, there can be no reason to exclude anyone at all at the altar rail.
And again this is a corporate and religious matter not especially a personal one. I might indeed have personal difficulties if Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosovich came to the altar rail, but not because of their religion. I would have difficulties if a child molester came to the altar rail, but again not because of his or her religion, but because I realise that child molesters mostly find it difficult to stop and I couldn't condone any continuance of that sort of behaviour.
The difficulty with all of us is that it is so easy to latch onto sin. Each of us knows only too well the times when we have done the wrong thing. For some it might have been as simple as Ian Thorpe overbalancing on the starter's block. What a remarkable person he is, and a bl..dy good swimmer as well! For others we know that we have been more culpable. It is easy to get hooked into regret and other negative behaviours.
We can read the words of Psalm 90: "You have brought our iniquities before you: and our secret sins to the light of your countenance" and think that god is the heavenly "Big Brother" from which no one can escape. It was at our recent parish picnic that I had cause to say that if god was really like this he or she would be the worst voyeur!
Before Easter I happened to be visiting in hospital and I chanced to meet someone who had just had a double by-pass. He spoke to me saying he was the luckiest person in the world - he was alive. He had a loving wife and two lovely girls. He had lived much of his life at the beck and call of others, and his recent scare had made him realise that he wanted to live the rest of his life being happy. Nothing else mattered. This had come as a real revelation to him, an epiphany. And I reflected afterwards - how easy it is to slip into negative behaviours, slowly, like taking up smoking or succumbing to depression. Sometimes it takes a wake up call to bring us to ourselves. Sometimes it needs an event to distance ourselves from that which has been dragging us down - to say to ourselves I don't care how others choose to live - I am not going to spend the rest of my life unhappy.
Like all addictions that have slowly inveigled themselves into our psyche unawares, these require a degree of determination as well as to be attacked on a number of fronts to be defeated. Just going to a doctor and being prescribed some drugs to take will not be enough. If a person believes that they are unworthy to be happy - this misguided belief will work against the good medication. Few of us can tackle these things alone, so having positive people around us will help enormously. Even someone who can make us laugh and forget ourselves will be a real boon. Sometimes it is good to take on something to distract us, like Yoga or bungee jumping. I would never be game enough to even consider having another cigarette - I know how easy it would be to take up smoking again. Sometimes we need to make a conscious decision not to place ourselves in danger.
We often look at taking medication or having therapy sessions essentially as "quick fixes", when the reality is that we will find much help if we take on some lifestyle changes too.
Another "quick fix" is to look for "spiritual" healing and I have no doubt that anointing and prayer are useful, but like the medication a doctor may prescribe, they will be ineffective if one continues to have a belief that one has no right to be happy, or if the person doesn't cultivate kind actions towards oneself and others.
An emphasis on sin is also one of these negative behaviours than can cause us unhappiness. This can be compounded by an emphasis on our unworthiness, and that somehow we are not supposed to be happy. I wouldn't worship a god who declared that no single human individual who ever lived was worthy enough to be happy - but one could justifiably conclude that this is what some in the church believe.
We are sinners, yes, but all this means is that we have this in common with everyone else. Forget about the relative merits of your sin and my sin and get on with living together in peace. We are not worthy, true, and nor is anyone else, so we all come together in equal standing. Let us enjoy one another's company.
Christ's death and resurrection has either dealt with our sin or it hasn't. Jesus didn't die on the Cross to bring home to us the despicable effects of our own personal misdemeanours. That would not be good news at all, and I doubt whether many people at all really need to be reminded of the consequences of the times when they have missed the mark.
The people who do need to reminded of their sinfulness and unworthiness are those who dismiss others in the name of their god - but sadly these are the last to acknowledge the realities of life and the gospel - the last to recognise the harm they are doing to others and to succeeding generations.
I believe that the Cross and resurrection actually has achieved something. If we think that something is that the sin of the world has been taken away, then we ought to be able to live our lives and relate to others as if this is true. It means I no longer have to worry about my sins or anyone else's sins - even if they aren't anglicans, christians, people of faith or whatever. Sin is done away with and we can get on living with others amicably. If we think that something that the cross and resurrection has achieved is that we are now worthy, worthy enough for Jesus to die and rise again for us as well as for everyone else, then we might as well live as if this is a reality and relate to others in the light of this truth.
God has actually done everything necessary to remove all barriers between us and other people but if we are silly enough to want to live life on our own God can't stop us. But the easter faith is we can't do so in the name of our Almighty.
However you care to see the Cross and resurrection, in this event God has dealt with all the negativeness. We can clutch on to negativeness or choose to be happy. But for me, I will echo the words of my text: "to him .. who freed us from our sins by his blood .. be glory".
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