Sermon preached on Easter Day (8 April 2012) by The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley

Worship
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Temporary closure of Stone and Golden Galleries
7:30am Morning Prayer
8:00am Eucharist
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Choral Evensong

Sermon preached on Easter Day (8 April 2012) by The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley

The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley looks at the modern gods of Gloss, Obese, Instantaneous and Punch, and how Christians should speak out for their faith and their belief in the true God.

Some of you will know the story of the holy rabbi who went to the barber’s for a haircut. At the end, he went to pay but the barber wouldn’t accept his money. "No, rabbi”, he said, "I never take money from the clergy”. And the following morning when the barber got to work there on the steps of his shop was a bag of delicious newly baked bagels. The following day a Catholic priest went for a haircut. At the end the barber wouldn’t accept any money. "No father”, said the barber "I never take money from the clergy”. And the following morning, there on the steps the barber found a large bottle of whisky. The following day an Anglican vicar went to have his haircut. At the end the barber refused his money. "No reverend” he said "I never take money from the clergy” and the following morning there on the steps the barber found an enormous queue of Anglican vicars.

Well, it would be easy to think at the moment, if you believe all that you read, that Christianity is a religion that is in it for itself, a religion that only speaks to itself in a language understood only by itself, argues about things people aren’t concerned about, and then doesn’t talk much about the things that people are concerned about. There are messages around that if you take the Christian faith seriously you must either be intellectually very limited or an emotional wreck. If you refer to the past you belong there; if you refer to the Bible you must be a fundamentalist; if you wear a cross you must be litigious or have a martyr complex. I don’t know how or when we became so spiritually illiterate, this mental contagion so doubtful that Christian spirituality might inform the mind, might deepen the human heart, might have civic resources to contribute - but the sound-bite world seems to be pretty sure that the world would be a better place without God and certainly without anyone referring to him in public. Keep him to yourself if you must. 

Those who advocate this view are missing something. I understand many of their arguments against religion, and Christian religion, of course I do, where it goes wrong it goes very wrong and has a tendency to get controlling, repressive, paralysed by self-absorption. And we know serious thought needs to be given as to the shape, purpose and priorities of the Church of England for this and the next generations, it is a time of decision and such an opportunity should never go to waste. But what the cultured despisers of religion are missing is that, whilst berating religion’s shadow rather than its light, other gods have moved into our world unnoticed and they are so strong that we are blind to their power. There are many of these gods but let me mention quickly just four.

The first is called Gloss, the goddess of beauty and surfaces – a fickle being, incarnated in paper and adverts, a god so big she makes us all feel small and ugly. We are drawn by her siren voice but her perfection is impossible even for those who anoint themselves with her many sensuous creams and labels. She is cunning too – she makes humans confuse their wants for their needs and this leads to many tears. She teaches that life is survival of the fittest. Fit for what she never reveals. She makes objects into people and people into objects so in her adverts you can never work out if the man is having an affair with the woman or with the car. Gloss desecrates human beings and this quickly leads to them doing the same.

Obese is the god of gathering, of acquiring, who is never satisfied: happiness for him is having what you want not wanting what you have. And he always wants more even when bloated. Although people say he is seen on earth at the moment in the form of bankers, in fact he is found in most hearts that have forgotten that the best things in life are not things. He is related to that great god who makes us buy things we don´t need called Ikea (mainly worshipped on a Saturday).Together they magic us into spending money we don´t have on things we don´t want in order to impress people we don´t like. It is a great price we pay when everything is up for sale. And because customers and consumers are always right, everything touched by his commercialism is changed in character and the values that have governed the meaning and purpose of goods are eroded all in the hope that storing up is the path to happiness. How Obese laughs.

Instantaneous is the goddess of now. She cannot wait. She must have fast cars, fast food, fast money, fast death. She is blind, never having the time to stop and see anything. She often gets into a mess too because she never has the patience to listen to anyone either. She beckons people to live full lives but strangely leaves them feeling empty. She is afraid of people meeting face to face in case they discover the joys of wasting time together, and so she invents screens and devices that trick us into thinking we are communicating but which actually add to our loneliness. She seduces with quick clarity and easy answers, and hates ambiguity, relationship, poetry, faith.

And finally there is Punch, the god of violence and division. If hate can be escalated he´ll have a go – if they don´t agree with you, lash out. If they´re different, slap them down. If they´re not in the majority, don´t invite them. When in doubt, just punch them. Now obviously Punch is the creator of some computer games, street gangs, film directors and state leaders. Religious leaders are often drawn to his clarifying power too. But also, Punch can be a subtle god and can hide in the consensus of the middle classes, and his punch can be made, not of a fist but of plausible, respectable, articulate words. Punch can be very charming as he drives around in his bandwagon. He can make you feel better even as society fragments around you. And he loves to play a little trick – he likes to make people yawn whenever the conversation turns to human responsibilities, refugees, the poor and marginalised, the environment and an endangered creation, equality, the danger of the market being its own morality – in fact, anything that Christians believe are very close to God´s heart.

Let’s not pretend, then, that we live in a God-free world. The question will always be which god you have chosen to follow or maybe which god has taken hold of you.

Central to our Christian celebration today is the large Easter candle. On this one here there is painted one of the most famous depictions of the risen Christ found in the icons of the Eastern church. Jesus stands on a precarious looking bridge. He stands in the middle, beneath his feet are shattered gates, broken chains and padlocks scattered about, all the keys to life we thought we owned but which imprisoned us lie on the floor, and down in a dark cave you see an ancient Adam and Eve. Christ is offering his hands to them, lifting them out of the hole they are in, out of their hell. This is resurrection as liberation but Christ is not only pulling Adam and Eve up but - towards each other. You´ll remember that one of the first things Adam does after the fall is blame Eve and Eve then blames the snake. Here Jesus frees and freshens them by re-introducing them to each other. He dissolves their loneliness by showing us how we are compulsive dividers, unreflective grumblers, but by offering a bridge back to life. Resurrection here is not just a moment of seeing the faithfulness of God´s love that searches us out and won´t give up on us, it is a moment when human beings are reintroduced to each other across the gulfs they have constructed. This is resurrection as defrosting, morally serious yet having the same belief in relationship you see at the airport arrivals hall or at a hospice bed. Now, of course, Adam and Eve stand for wherever in the human story fear and refusal of God began. This is a story about the Adam and Eve in each of us, where it was we began to forget God. New life, speaks the icon, is generated by the truth that God always works for our reconnection to God and our neighbour so that we can spiritually evolve in tune with the rest of ourselves. So, this means if you want to celebrate Easter truly there are reconnecting consequences at a very personal, local level: so you might need to go home and phone that person you have grown distant from, you might need to write to the person you had a row with, you may need to say sorry to someone, or tell them you love them, you may need to see where winter has taken over your heart and how you have grown prickly, how unhappiness may be spreading through you, how you’ve stopped thinking about the moral consequences of how you spend money, trash things easily, forget the unseen, how you may confuse generosity for justice. A wintered life turns to Spring by such seemingly small movements of resurrected will.

This icon reminds us that Christian faith is not about itself, never has been, never will be. It is about the world, all of us, the ways we breathe and interact, the ways we relate, about life that animates and brings to fruition, about turning the full stops of life into commas, transforming me into us, about leaving the voices of the gods that belittle and simmer us down and listening to that word translated by God in the risen Christ that you are unique, cherished and called to help serve and save this world from itself and its many abuses of freedom.

The Gospel of Mark’s account of the resurrection is bizarre. Those who love Christ run away, saying nothing because they were afraid. But they learned to speak up and in doing so God eastered in them. If Mark’s story ends abruptly it is because how things worked out was up to those women and is now up to us. All of us here are brothers and sisters in Christ, we know that the gods lead us to ruin, and that the way of life, of love, of hope is to be found in him who exposes all our illusions without disillusionment, for he today and all days is the faithful one. Last night here in this cathedral 26 people were baptized and 74 confirmed, saying they were ready to speak up for their faith and to reconnect for God. Friends, it is time for all of us to speak again of what we know and to celebrate our Christian faith without shame or embarrassment and to ensure it is focused on Christ’s reckless generosity and preaching of justice. This cathedral dares to sit on a hill only, please God, to witness in a city we love to what happens when we consumers become citizens, citizens of the kingdom of God and that lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter. Christ is risen, you are his witnesses and the Church and world are hungry for resurrection. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!