4th Sunday of Easter
29 April 2007
St. Peter-ad-Vincula, Coggeshall
[As mentioned by Father Philip] This sermon is being assessed as part of my ordination training by David Hilborn, my Director of Studies. It should now be clear why we spent all of last week’s service practicing all those spontaneous cheers and applause – just remember your cues and we can’t go wrong!
I have a terrible confession to make this morning: I have Sky television at home. You can’t tell from the front of our house as the satellite dish is tucked away tastefully out of sight at the back. Actually there is probably a whole sermon series to be had out of tucking our guilty secrets away from the public gaze but that is not where I am going this morning.
Deep down in the depths of Sky television, way down past channel five, BBC Four and even the National Geographic channel and lurking between channels xxx and xxx there is a range of Christian channels. Now, I don’t want either myself or St Peters to be sued for libel so let me say clearly that the majority of those channels do a very good job of transmitting the genuine gospel message to a wide audience for the majority of the time. HOWEVER – some of those channels for some of the time put out a very different gospel which goes something like this: if you believe hard enough, if you pray hard enough and, most importantly, if you donate enough to the preacher’s ministry then God will give you whatever you want: wealth, happiness, a good marriage and robust health. It is often called the Prosperity Gospel.
At this point a credit card donation number should be flashing before your eyes but we appear to have a technical hitch.
The problem with the Prosperity Gospel, quite apart from the fact that it is based on a highly selective not to say unbalanced view of scripture, is this: if you are sick or if you are poor or if you ever experience despair, loss or bereavement then it must mean that you have failed to believe hard enough, failed to pray hard enough or failed to donate enough to the preacher OR it must mean that God has failed to live up to expectations: either way, when life gets tough the Prosperity Gospel can only result in a loss of faith, either in yourself or in God.
Now, you may be wondering why I am talking about a message that is preached in the depths of Sky television and which no sensible Church of England attending person would ever take seriously anyway? The reason is this: whilst most Christians do not consciously accept the teachings of the Prosperity Gospel I believe that it is very easy even, dare I say it, for Anglicans to fall into the trap of subconsciously thinking that as Christians God will always make life good for us and then being both surprised and disappointed with God when hardship strikes. I know that I have certainly been there:– following being made redundant and, especially, following the loss of loved ones that I have prayed for I came to realise that God is simply not about granting my wishes and giving me a pain free life. Actually that view of God diminishes him to little more than a Good-Luck Genie and letting go of that image, as painful as it may be, is a vital first step to recognising that both God and the promises of God are much grander and more exciting than that.
The season of Easter, in which this is the 4th Sunday, lies at the heart of God’s real promise for us and a moment’s reflection should make it clear that Easter had nothing to do with making life easy or avoiding pain and death: on Good Friday Jesus hung on the cross; he suffered, he felt abandoned by God and he died. As followers of Christ therefore we should not be surprised by suffering and pain: we are called to pick up our own cross and follow him and that does not suggest to me that the way is always going to be easy.
But of course we also know that there is much more to the Easter story than suffering and death: on the other side of the cross is the resurrection and, if there were not, there would be no Christian faith. The true promise of God is not that we can avoid pain and death by being followers of Christ but, rather, that by joining ourselves to Christ we can join in his resurrection and overcome pain and death. The promise of God therefore is not an easy life but it is eternal life
They cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb”
Song of the Angels: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen!”