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

s163e13   Fifth Sunday of Easter  (Anzac Day)   28/4/2013

'Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.'  Revelation 21.4

Surely this is the prayer we all have for the world and everyone in it.   As we in Australia and New Zealand observed our Anzac Day (1) last Thursday (25th April) we remembered the sacrifices made by so many to achieve precisely this sort of peace.   Sadly those who returned have found their efforts to be in vain, as conflict has soon resumed.   Why has not the world learned?   The 'war to end all wars'  (1914 - 1918) was followed so soon after by World War II (1939 - 1945).  The Vietnam War (1959 - 1975) - the first televised war spawned a global peace movement amongst ordinary people symbolised by Hair (1967) and Woodstock (1969).  These would have been unthinkable in society without an affluence enabling protest, communication which facilitated the advertisement of dissent and the sexual revolution which again empowered people.  

I can but quote the song (it is hard not to sing it :-) 'The Age of Aquarius': 'When the moon is in the seventh house / And Jupiter aligns with Mars / Then peace will guide the planets / And love will steer the stars / This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius / The age of Aquarius, Aquarius, Aquarius / Harmony and understanding / Sympathy and trust abounding / No more falsehoods or derisions / Golden living dreams of visions / Mystic crystal revelation / And the minds true liberation Aquarius, Aquarius.' (2)

So it is not just the church who strives for peace.

And then we have the bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  And we ask ourselves why?  

But then I thought about the church and how we often portray ourselves as the champions of peace and prayer.  We are certainly in a position of influence and authority and we demand everyone play by our rules on pain of excommunication, and I suddenly thought - why on earth would anyone want to join such a club?   One might fear a church like this and a god like this, but the last thing would be that we love a church or a god like this.   We, the church, cannot expect intimacy from others we really want to control - even if we are certain that we know what's best for them.  

Can we actually expect the indigenous people of any country to love Pakeha / european invaders?

I have observed that the biblical exegetes who love the words of scripture are not those who proclaim the bible as the word of God.    No, it is the liberal theologians who love the bible.   In my experience those who proclaim the bible as the word of God use it as a weapon to challenge others, a word used by them far more frequently than the word 'love'.   'Challenge' is used only once in the bible I use and it is in the context of conflict.  (3)

If we, as the church, want to be the instruments of a new age of tenderness and love, we as the church have to give up trying to control others - for who else can we expect to do this?   Why else would the gift of the Holy Spirit be given, why are we assured that we do not need to be afraid, if not because not being in control can be a scary place?

If we in the church are afraid to give up our efforts to manipulate others and manipulate society - why should we expect anyone else to, and criticise others when they commit atrocities?

If we quote Jesus' words: ‘I give you a new commandment .. that you love one another .. as I have loved you, you also should love one another’ (4) as if everything would be sweetness and light if those who don't come to church loved like this, we are seriously deluded.   In my experience in the church and as a chaplain at a psychiatric hospital, the mentally ill patients were far, far easier to get on with than the power brokers and gatekeepers in the church.

And this is real delusion.  Those with mental illness usually only hurt themselves and a few of those around them.   Those who manipulate others in the name of God hurt whole congregations, whole dioceses, whole denominations and society in general.

As someone on Facebook said following the bombings in Boston, echoing the sentiments many of us feel: 'why can't we all just be world citizens every day!'   Well, being world citizens is not the aim of many in the church - we are the chief offenders!   And when we as the church don't even have this as our clearly stated and chief aim, it is no wonder that others try to use destructive power to make their mark, for they are competing with us.   And we have no excuse for this not being our chief aim when the foundation of our faith, supposedly, the incarnation, is where God became a 'world citizen' and bids us do likewise.

So if we in the church want peace in the world, where 'mourning and crying and pain will be no more', we've got to get up off our knees and forget about asking God to bring this.   If we as the church want a world where intimacy rather than violence prevails then we as the church have to stop trying to coerce others into our way of life, submission to our doctrines and use of our forms of worship, no matter how right and god-given we may think they are.   For as long as we do not do this we are complicit in the violence in the world and each and every tragedy that happens.   For as long as we do not do this the world and individuals are denied the affirmation and inclusion that might just turn their life around.

St John tells us that 'love casts out fear' (5), but the church has utilised fear - fear of God, fear of condemnation, fear of being different to coerce others into our way of life, submission to our doctrines and use of our forms of worship.   We know what's good for the world and what's good for others, and we are going to tell them, whether they like it or not!   Well, guess what?    We ourselves have resurrected 'the first things' and 'mourning and crying and pain will' continue unabated.   We in the church, who believe that we hold all the spiritual cards, have got to throw them all away if we actually want intimacy and love.

It is the incarnation and the Cross which shows us that God relinquishes power and instigates the possibility of intimacy, with the divine, and between humanity.

The incarnation and the Cross shows us the certainty that God wants a world where intimacy and love reign rather than violence and death.   So the real question is: 'Do we?'

(1)   Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli during World War I.   It now more broadly commemorates all those who served and died in military operations for their countries.

(2)  1967 musical Hair by James Rado & Gerome Ragni (lyrics), and Galt MacDermot (music), released as a single by The 5th Dimension. 

(3)  'You set a snare for yourself and you were caught, O Babylon, but you did not know it; you were discovered and seized, because you challenged the Lord'.  Jeremiah 50.24

(4)  John 13:34

(5)  1 John 4.18