Saturday, 14 April 2012

Sermon for Sunday 15th April - Easter 2 2012

Sermon for Easter 2 Sunday 15th April 2012

This Extraordinary Life

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul,
and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions,
but everything they owned was held in common. And with Great power the Apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus’

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead defies all categories - it makes no sense in our world - it is totally Other. And the evidence for it is not to be found in anyway like the evidence for anything else in all of Creation. Despite the plethora of books arguing ‘from the evidence’ either for or against and both with Compelling certainty - it cannot be Proven. But that is Not to say that there is no evidence. Rather there is evidence which fits the Extraordinary nature of that to which it attests. As the Resurrection of Jesus is an event Like Nothing ever encountered, it produces communities of people who live in a way that defies any explanation, Except that Christ is Risen and his Life is flowing out into the world.

The idea of a group of people living together in such freedom as the Acts church, not grasping onto things but freely sharing all they had with one another is beyond our categories our understanding of how the world is supposed to work. We hear it and Have to dismiss it. What we as Christians have come to call stewardship is nothing of the kind in the light of God’s Light and life. The Acts church are true stewards of their possessions - they do not understand them as their own - they only exist for the benefit of others. No economic model will account for  this - no theory of life together - only the resurrection of Christ - the one who does not grasp but lays down His life.
The one who does not hold on but lets go

And if we truly believe in the Resurrection then we too should be set free to live likewise, in such a way that people have no choice but to consider the Extraordinary Truth which they see enacted. It is This Visible lif of the church which lends the preaching of the Apostles its ‘Great Power’

So we come to the second Sunday in Easter - as I said last week -it takes time for this Easter message to sink in - it seems just too vast for us to grasp and comprehend and in a sense that is Important. For it is not to be grasped - it is to be received! And lived out. Even He in his great humility does not grasp at equality with God - If we try to grasp, if we wait until we grasp this Resurrection of Jesus - we will Never Live in its light. Mary Magdalene in the garden wanted to grasp - to take hold of him, but He wouldn’t allow her. ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” there would come a time shortly when she would be Given this life as a gift but for now she had to learn not to grasp.
    I remember as a teenager talking long into the early hours with a friend about God and at some point came up with an utterly cast iron ‘Proof’ of his existence. We were utterly thrilled - we’d Got it! We’d Grasped it. The following morning we arose excitedly to tell all we could meet - but when asked, ‘What is your proof?’ - we couldn’t remember :) It had slipped through our fingers
    The Life of God is not a set of rational propositions which we can master, He is Light and Love and Life. Like the daily bread for which we pray - it is His Life which is Given and we are to receive and live out of it, not grasp it. The Israelites in the Wilderness were taught this lesson early on in the Manna - they were told ‘collect only that which you need for the day’ - which is freely provided, but they tried to grasp more and it turned to maggots in their hands. Not grasping.
    Strangely enough it is Thomas of all people shows us the way of faith - the so called doubter - yet the only one who believed far better the way of Christ than his companions - ‘Let us also go that we may die with him’. Thomas Knew that to follow Christ meant Death - unlike those who hoped it wouldn’t and like Peter were prepared to gamble on it not being the case and so promise never to leave him. Not Thomas. But Thomas Knowing where it must go. And thus Knowing Jesus was going to his death he is all the more to be surprised by Joy. ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ For Thomas it was not enough that one should come back from the dead - no. After all in the days following his resurrection there had been tales of tombs opening and the dead walking around - no for Thomas he had to Know that it was Jesus - I need to Know it is the Crucified one - I must see - I must touch and then Jesus appears to him - and it is Enough. He knows he doesn’t have to grasp him.

And that perhaps is why faith at the end of the day is expressed in obedience to him and not in a set of beliefs - for we cannot grasp what this resurrection life means except through the obedience of faith we live into it. In a sense there is no other way to discover the truth of the Christian faith than to live it. As I said all through Lent - the more we live into it - the more we discover it is true, the More we want to enter deeper and deeper in.
    We have to live the Resurrection life - the Life that Jesus sets free and gives to us - we have to live His Life. And unless we understand that we don’t begin to get off first base in this Christian Life - for the Resurrection teaches us that the Christian life is the life of the Risen Lord. The Christian Life Is the Life of the Risen Lord - there is No other Life.

And Christ begins to share that life with his disciples in these weeks following the Resurrection. Do not cling onto Me, Mary. I have given my Life for you and so now you may receive it ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

Some years ago - when I was just starting out in my first parishes - I led a course on the Lord’s prayer. I began one session by paralleling what we might call the old words - with its ‘thee’s and temptations and trespasses, with a more modern form, with its ‘you’s and trials and sins. One member of the group, a good man and very devout, said he could not agree with the new form - he said ‘As human’s we can forgive trespasses, but only God can forgive sins’. We then began a very interesting discussion as to what if anything was the difference. But it struck me that this in a sense was precisely how the Scribes criticised Jesus when he healed the paralysed man “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Who Can forgive sins but God alone??     Actually it is a Very good question if we properly understand the nature of Sin, that it is a breaking of the bonds of the Love of God that sustain the world - Sin is Always against God - we are in a sense Never sinned against - Sin is Always a rejection of the Love of God, if often we find ourselves on the receiving end of it, ultimately it s God’s Love that is Rejected. As David said after his murder of Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba - Against You, You only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight’ When we are sinned against we always lose sight of God - We are afronted, but in the end all sin is only ever against God, against Life and Love. Who CAN forgive sins but God alone?? Only God truly Can forgive - which brings us to the next step in this extraordinary Resurrection account. We are already left breathless by the fact of the Resurrection  - our hearts and minds racing and struggling to catch up with the reality of the Crucified AND Risen Lord and then ‘Jesus came and stood amongst his disciples and breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

He breathed on them the Very life of God - and what work did he give them to do?? It is odd how we do not think this so very odd - ‘Receive the Holy Spirit and . . .Love people?’, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit and . . . heal people?’  But no. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit and - forgive’ Everything else is secondary - the first need is forgiveness. The first work of the cross is Forgiveness - Restoration. Because Only when one is Forgiven and knows it can we be Restored and so set free to Love and Heal. God Creates his New Heaven and New Earth by forgiving Sins - by reweaving the broken tapestry of Creation, as it were remaking all the delicate connections through which Love and life can flow.

As anyone who has ever been forgiven much will tell you, it makes All the difference in the world. As Jesus said of the woman ‘She who has been forgiven much loves much’ Forgiveness precedes Love. Without Forgiveness Love cannot flow. We need First to forgive and we say - Ah this is so hard, but the point is this - it s not Our life - it is His life in Us - He forgives Through us. Receive the HOly Spirit - He gives us his life as a gift and it is like the manna to be freely used and spent on the undeserving, in unmerited acts of forgiveness like the prodigal Father does to the errant son. Does he ask forgiveness? Does he come crawling back in sorrowful repentance? No!! - He comes to the Father, that is all - he is forgiven. This is what God does. So he enters into the joy of his father.

You see we gasp at the extraordinary nature of the Resurrection - mocking our careful sense of decency and order and ‘how the world works’, as if we Knew. He is risen from the dead??
But wonder of wonders - this Resurrection Life is then poured out on all who will be open to receive - on all who will become themselves forgivers, on all who would be children of their heavenly father. Who like their heavenly father do not hold on even to their own son. Even God does not seek to possess - He is the Great Giver. And so the early church Lived - not grasping or hoarding - just letting it flow through their fingers, out into the world.

The Christian Life is Pure Gift. We can never grasp it - we can only receive it and Live it.


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