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

s160g16  Second Sunday of Easter 3/4/16

‘the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear ..’  John 20:19

I am lead to wonder how often our church’s doors are locked through fear.   They are certainly locked against people of other faiths, for fear that they might relativise our perception of the divine, fear that our monopoly on the divine might be dented.   They are certainly locked against atheists and agnostics; we only allow those who do not question, people who recite creeds without their fingers crossed behind their backs.  They are locked against those who want to express their own perceptions of faith - parishioners are to be seen and not heard.   Historically they have been locked against scientists who have found their discoveries have eclipsed the world view expressed in the bible.  Often, of course, they are locked against LGBTI people.   Actually I think that they are locked against anyone who wants to do anything except admire and perpetuate what is, even if (or especially if) it happens to be the new minister - after all it is we the congregation who provide his or her stipend - that whippersnapper!  

And Jesus comes and says: ‘peace be with you!’.   But this is not a peace which says ‘there, there, I understand your anxiety and fear; here let me kiss it better’.   No, Jesus shows them his hands and his side.   He is all too aware of pain and suffering.   What are they afraid of?   Jesus continues: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’  

They are sent, not to confront orthodoxy and devotion to experience rejection and crucifixion like he did; but to the real world where they will be welcomed as messengers of salvation from religious demeaning, as agents of affirmation and inclusion. 

But the risen Jesus actually wasn’t all that persuasive.   There they were again a week later, still huddled together; the doors were shut, though perhaps not locked this time.   It didn’t seem to matter, the risen Jesus still came.   And Thomas has his doubts resolved.

In recent sermons I have been talking about meeting Jesus in real life rather than in the inner sanctum of whatever religious persuasion, and it occurs to me that as we go out into the real world we will continue to be confronted with religious people asserting their status to the diminishment of others and secular humanists working strenuously for a more just and equitable society for all.   And we will be called to choose where we see the risen Jesus - in the one asserting their privilege or in the one working for others.

There are of course a multitude of religious people asserting their particular privilege over others and inevitably each will demand that we choose them over the rest.  On the other hand we will also meet a whole lot of people who as individuals are working in their different fields for the betterment of society, and we are able to choose whom we might support according to our particular gifts and the particular needs called for.  

The first will seek to constrain our individuality, the second will seek to utilise our individual gifts.   The first will promise ‘pie in the sky when you die’ (1); the second a modest gratitude that we might have made the life of perhaps just one other person a little less fraught. 

What is righteousness?   Following blindly someone who promises life beyond the grave or working that the lives of others might be a little less fraught?   Do we not see the inherent self interest in the first?  It seems to me that sanctified selfishness was the state in which Saul found himself prior to his meeting the risen Lord on that road to Damascus; diametrically opposed to God’s righteousness, the affirmation and inclusion of all people.

When we go out we will see the risen Lord, still with those wounds in his hands and his side, in individuals, so often inflicted by those who continue to assert their privilege in the name of some god or other.

The real church of God is remarkable because it is ruled not by fear for personal safety because there will always be a welcome for us amongst people of good will precisely because of our concern for the affirmation and inclusion of all.

It happened this morning (being Good Friday) that I took the part of Jesus in the reading of the Passion narrative from John.   And I was struck how everyone except Jesus was afraid.   Peter was afraid to be associated with Jesus.  (2)  The Jews were afraid to enter Pilate’s headquarters for fear of ritual defilement. (3)  The Jews were afraid to crucify Jesus themselves even when Pilate gave them permission.  (4)  Pilate was afraid when he learned that Jesus was charged with claiming to be the Son of God.  (5)

It is when we want to marginalise women, alienate others, condemn heretics, behead infidels, blow up heathen, or simply keep to ourselves and just hope others won’t trespass on our sacred patch; that we will deserve the distain of the secular humanist and rightly so.

And those words of James come to me: ‘Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith.’  (6)  I, and many others, some of whom attend church, but many who do not, will by their affirmation and inclusion of all others, show the fearful church locked away in their upper rooms, their very real faith.  

2.  John 18:17,25,27
3.  18:28
4.  19:6
5.  19:8
6.  James 2:18