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Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Easter (27 April 2014) by the Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor
The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at the difficulty we face in proving God's existence and concludes 'I have received too much evidence that Jesus is the Messiah to have the luxury now to deny it'.
Exodus 12: 1-17 1 Corinthians 5: 6b-8
I remember talking to a priest shortly before he retired who had spent most of his ministry in hospital chaplaincy where he met with triumph and disaster on an hourly basis. He told me that he had received too much evidence of God’s existence to have the luxury now to deny it.
If you think about it, this was quite a clever way of answering the question: does God exist?
Rather than setting out a neat mathematical equation with a QED resolution, he suggested that God had spent most of his ministry tapping him on the shoulder and making it more and more difficult for him — sceptic as he was — to give it all up as lost cause. In other words, he was no God botherer but God had certainly been bothering him.
In the season of Easter, with our cries of ‘Alleluia’ or, at least, the more muted Anglican version of those cries, we do rather set ourselves up for the inevitable challenges from the sceptical, cynical and apathetic types: why the certainty, where is the evidence, and what is the interpretation?
Well, here are three different ways of tackling those questions: why the certainty, where is the evidence, and what is the interpretation?
And I go back to my own encounter with that hospital chaplain when I say to you: that I am not encouraging you to be God botherers but rather to tell people that you are bothered by God and glad to be so.
But: to my three different ways of tackling the questions: why the certainty, where is the evidence, and what is the interpretation?
First of all: why the certainty?
I have said on several occasions that I am not certain about anything but that I am hopeful about everything. Tell people that and they will find it much easier to talk to you about God.
Secondly, where is the evidence?
Well, you have to provide the answer to that question. But it’s only a good answer if you see your life of faith in the context of a ministry in which you undertake tasks that imitate Jesus’s own ministry. Imitation, so we are told, is the highest form of flattery. "Be ye therefore imitators of God, beloved children” is the charge in the letter to the Ephesians.
And, thirdly: what is the interpretation?
When people ask me what do I think about superstitions, I quote a priest who once talked to me about the supernatural of which he had experience in his parish and who said that experience should always be treated as sacred but that the interpretation of it was up for grabs. Experience is sacred: interpretation is free.
And that takes us back, once again, to my hospital chaplain who had received too much evidence of God’s existence to have the luxury now to deny it. That was his experience: other people could interpret it as they wished.
I want us to talk about hope rather than certainty, about imitation rather than evidence, and about experience rather than interpretation.
I don’t want us to be God botherers but I do want us not to be afraid to tell people that we are bothered by God.
Now, all of this places great responsibility upon each member of any Christian community to take a share in the ministry and mission of that community.
But we can do that in a warm, engaging and soft-edged kind of way by expressing our hope about God and Christ, finding opportunities to imitate God and Christ, and being prepared to share our experience of God and Christ. And, don’t forget, according to our second lesson this morning: a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough.
If Jesus is the Messiah, tell us plainly.
I have received too much evidence that Jesus is the Messiah to have the luxury now to deny it.
Let us pray:
A prayer of Christina Rossetti:
O Lord, in whom is our hope, remove far from us, we pray thee, empty hopes and presumptuous confidence. Make our hearts so right with thy most holy and loving heart, that hoping in thee we may do good; until that day when faith and hope shall be abolished by sight and possession, and love shall be all in all.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.