Benediction Online

Sunday, April 22, 2007

No New Messages

There seems to be a short-circuit in the church answering machine. I was sitting at my desk yesterday wondering what to say this Easter, and how to make it different from every other Easter. Every few minutes the machine beeped and announced, No New Messages. No New Messages.

And that is a little how I felt. There are No New Messages about Easter. It is the old, old story, as old as creation, the seed falls into the earth, apparently dead but then springs up again with new growth. The Christian gospel is as old as the church. And yet it is new every day because it is a living truth. It is not a factual statement to be learned, memorized and repeated. It is not a thought system that requires us to suspend our better judgment and believe the impossible. The gospel is a living reality today.

But it only becomes real to us when we act as if it’s real. Physicists tell us that matter is not really solid, but is composed of minute atoms in constant motion yet we go on acting as if it’s solid. When you sat down on the pew this morning you didn’t wonder whether it would actually be there. You acted as if it were solid, and indeed it is.

We have to act into the resurrection. Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”. She was probably in a state of shock. She probably couldn’t believe her eyes or her ears, but she acted as if it were true, she acted into the resurrection.

This morning we have the honor and the joy of baptizing Molly. It is an opportunity for us all to re-member the fact that we are baptized and that in our baptism we were joined to Christ in his death and resurrection. That is a done deal. A sacrament is an outward sign of something that God does inwardly and invisibly. Through our baptism each one of us has been brought into new life…but since it is something that God does, people who are not baptized may also be living in the new creation. It’s not up to us. This is a free gift of God.

Baptism changes us ontologically. That is, it changes the core of who we are. But that change will lie dormant inside us unless we choose to act into it in our daily lives. Which is why we have the baptismal covenant. In a few minutes we will once again be renewing our vows. We will once again be agreeing to turn away from evil and to return to God whenever we find ourselves straying.

The resurrection is utterly amazing and our participation in it means that we never again need to be afraid. We have been reconciled with God and when it comes down to it, that removes the one great fear that underlies all other fears. There is no longer an end. We have eternal life now and tomorrow and when we die and after our mortal bodies are gone. Whatever happens we will come through it.

But all relationships have their ups and their downs, and reconciliation with God, although it’s a free gift on God’s side is something WE have to work at. Evil is all around us. But in our society it is very subtle, we can easily overlook it. We can find that we have wandered a long way from God without ever noticing. Evil is such a big word for the things that get in the way. Our spiritual work is to constantly confront the behavior in ourselves which is less than Christ-like. That is sin, the behavior that is caused by evil. Most of us are very pleasant, polite people. We don’t usually do the things that are included in typical lists of sins. Our sins are the sins of holding judgments against people; failing to forgive; saying negative things and not looking for the positive ones; of being bad-tempered or resentful; of thinking that we are the only ones who’re doing anything around here; of being anxious and failing to trust; of putting things before people; things before God; of forgetting to worship; of forgetting that our first responsibility is to love God.

Easter opens to us the possibility of becoming like Christ. Easter opens to us the possibility of living differently, of being made holy. Easter means that we are no longer on our own with our shortcomings but that the Holy Spirit is beside us to help us transform. But we have to do our bit. We have to act into the resurrection. We have to take responsibility.

But when we do, when we turn to God and admit that we can’t do it alone, God is there waiting to be active in our lives… We don’t always feel God’s presence in the way we’d like to. Many preachers make it sound as though a relationship with Jesus is a warm buddy buddy thing which makes you always feel good. That is not the experience of many of the saints and mystics. Which is why we promise to keep faith – we promise to continue in the apostles teaching, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers. These are the very basic disciplines of our resurrection life. These are the habits which will support us in living into the resurrection.

Many people say, “I can be spiritual on my own, I don’t need a faith community’. There are in deed those who are called to the life of a solitary, but they are rare. If you take one piece of wood out of a fire it will smolder for a while and then gradually stop burning. If you put a piece of wood next to a fire that’s going well, after a while it too will start to burn. That’s how we are too. The interaction with other people of resurrection is what keeps our faith strong.

So this morning we welcome Molly into this part of the Body of Christ and we are going to be promising to support her in her growth as a Christian. As we do so, let us make this promise to each other too because we are a faith community and we need each other to help keep us burning with the hope and joy of Easter.

There are No New Messages about Easter. Just the one you heard last year and you will hear again next year. God loved you and me so much God became a human being in Jesus, with all the difficulties and limitations humans have. Jesus lived a life of love and preached a new way to God, then he was killed by the authorities because he was dangerous to the vested interests in his society. But God took his death and made something new out of it, something never seen before. God brought new life and its available to us today, tomorrow and every day.

There are no New Messages about Easter. Just the same one that’s eternally true.
Alleluia, the Lord is Risen!


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