As the days pass, and Easter falls further and further behind; and the newspapers and television fill our minds with all the things that happen in the world, we begin to forget what happen at Easter time. The details blur, and we find it harder to remember exactly what it is all about. We know that Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus and that God raised Jesus from the dead. We know that it has got something to do with our faith and with the way we live our lives, but what identifying that something is not easy.
Of course, if we stop and think about it, we can give a good account of our faith to anyone who asks, and we can understand better when the rising sun brings another beautiful day into being. But how about standing in a queue for the supermarket checkout, or making sure the children are ready for school, or trying to sort out the bills and accounts.
In these situations, the reality of the resurrected Christ seems far away - the spiritual journey doesn’t seem to fit with the hard realities of life.
St Paul struggled all his life to understand how the resurrection reshaped the world - and every Christian that was ever baptised must make the connection between faith and reality. If we don't make the connections, then we are half Christians, Christians by name only.
Each of the Gospel writers has tried, in writing about the resurrection, to make those connections and to show us a way forward. Last week John described Thomas, who had to discover for himself that the Jesus Christ who stood before him a week after Easter was the same Jesus Christ who had died on the cross on Good Friday - he had to touch the wounds and see the scars. Today Luke describes the same problem. Jesus asks the disciples to look at his hands and feet. “Touch me and see, see that I have flesh and bones. It is really me.” And then he asked for something to eat. And they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. Now I think there are few things more ordinary than broiled fish - it as if Jesus had surprised the disciples while they were eating fish and chips over at Watson’s Bay. Can it possibly be that the risen Christ, the triumphant Lord of Life, the Holy and Righteous One, is to be seen eating fast food?
It might seem a little strange to see Luke’s gospel in this light, a little disrespectful, but the point is that the risen Christ has an impact on every part of the world, and that Christ’s impact is real, just as his body was real; and his eating the fish was real. Luke is telling us that the faith of the disciples was grounded in reality and that our faith must be intimately connected with the real world as well.
Very well, let us put this to the test. We can ask big questions like: What does our faith tell us about the world recession, or the war in Afghanistan? But these are too far away and too big. How are we going to stop the recession? How are we going to stop the war in Afghanistan?
Let’s bring the story closer to home. Here’s a joke that Richard Hagen told me. He shared it with the Wednesday congregation but it is worth repeating.
Mrs Eliza Snodgrass was a Christian and she was proud of it. She had stickers on her bumper bars to prove it. There was a fish symbol and one that said, “God loves you.” Well, one day she was late to work and in a hurry. She drove along Stanmore Road and saw that the lights up by the Warren View were green. She could just make it. The lights turned orange – she put her foot down – she could still make it! And then the person in front of her slowed down and stopped at the amber light. Eliza was furious! Real road rage! She tooted her horn and shouted. The driver turned round to look at her so she shook her fist and made rude gestures with her fingers.
Immediately a policeman from the car behind her came running up, clipped the handcuffs on her and took her to the police station where he put her in a cell. In a few moments the policeman came back, very apologetic. “I’m sorry Mrs Snodgrass, I’ve made a mistake. I saw the Christian symbols on the back of the car, but when I saw the behaviour, I assumed that the car had been stolen.”
Poor Mrs Snodgrass, she was only a half Christian, just like many Christians whose journey of faith is private and limited. Such people are content to read their bibles and attend church on Sundays and say, “I believe in God” and who, during the week, ignore God and ignore the trouble in the world around them. St James in his letter to the churches is very scathing about such people. “My brothers and sisters,” he says, “What good is it for you to say, “I have faith,” if your actions do not prove it? Can such a faith save you? If faith exists alone and has no actions to prove it, then it is dead.”
No Christian is perfect, of course, we have all fallen short of the glory of God, as St Paul says, but that’s no excuse for being a half-Christian.
After church today we are going to meet for a parish forum. We were going to call it, Thinking and Planning, but then we said, “No. In the filing cabinets we have boxes and boxes of thoughts and plans – all of them good, and some very good indeed. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Faith is great, and so is thinking and planning, but they are useless unless actions follow. So we’re going to call our forum today, Thinking, Planning and Doing. I invite you to join in.
These are not big plans to change the world tomorrow, they may not even change the parish tomorrow, but I hope they will be things we can do so that people will say, “Ah. Here are Christians whose faith really means something.”