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Easter 2, Yr 3, 7.04.2013
Acts 5.27-32: Peter & apostles: we must obey God, we are witnesses to these things
Ps 118.14-29: this is day Lord has made; open for me the gates of righteousness; this is the Lord’s doing & it is marvellous in our eyes (Hallel, entering temple)
Or Ps 150: praise God in his holy temple

Rev 1.4-8: John to 7 churches: grace to you & peace from [God] & from JC the faithful witness.
John 20.19-31: reversal of Gen 3; doubting Thomas (1269)

Risen Christ, for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred: open the doors of our hearts, that we may seek the good of others and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace, to the praise of God the Father.

(Basically, Christian prayer is primarily centred on the Father, not Jesus or the Spirit.)

          I have preached on the readings for today at some length on this Sunday in this year of the lectionary twice before, in 2004 and 2010.  So I won’t do that again today.

          Although we are in Eastertide, to begin with I am going to talk about a little phrase that St Paul uses twice, ‘the things that are not’, and then eventually about Christian prayer.

          So, here we go.  You have heard me several times on the wise, powerful, well-born pattern that is used in the OT and then is used in the NT to undergird the witness to the humanity seen in Jesus and to which we are called. 

          If you open your Bible and turn to Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1, you will find this pattern in its clearest form, and Paul is using it to admonish the Corinthians against becoming too uppity.  Here it is in chapter 1, verses 26 to 29:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters, not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

          It is the phrase ‘the things that are not’, τα μη οντα in Greek, that I want to speak about.

          Paul repeats the phrase, ‘the things that are not’ in his letter to the Romans (4.17) when he speaks of ‘God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist’.   It is God our Father who does this, and in both 1 Cor and Romans what Paul is supremely referring to is the Father raising Jesus from the dead.

          As you have heard me stress many times, Jesus did not rise from the dead, rather, he was raised by God our Father, as our reading from Acts specifies.  It is the sovereign act of God that brings about the resurrection event that we celebrate at Easter.

          There are two other passages in 1 Cor that I want to set before you.  The first of these is 1 Cor 8.6.  You all know what a palindrome is, as in the saying about Napoleon, ‘Able was I ere I saw Elba ’.  As you know, a palindrome can be read either forwards or backwards. Well, when Paul writes a letter he carefully leads up to his main point at the centre and then backs off again to the end, in such a way that each half of the letter is like a mirror to the other half. 

          One of the problems at Corinth is that there were people claiming to have special knowledge unknown to the lesser folk. Paul’s answer to this comes at the very centre of the letter, 8.6, where he presents the true knowledge, available to all:

... for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord

Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

          So the Father is the source of everything and our ultimate goal, and Jesus, the Lord and Messiah, as Wisdom is the Father’s agent through whom we and all things exist.

          Notice that Jesus is not our ultimate goal, he is rather the way to that goal, and that goal is the Father.   Paul spells this out very carefully in the final passage from 1 Cor which I want to share with you.  This is in chapter 15, a chapter largely concerned with the resurrection and the consummation of all things.  Here is the passage; it is rather lengthy (15:19-28):

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

         But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.  For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being, for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.  But each in his own order: Christ, the first fruits, then at his coming, those who belong to Christ.  Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.  But when it says ‘All things are put in subjection’ [Ps 8.6b], it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him.  When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

          So what Paul is saying is that Christ will reign only until the final consummation, and it is the Father who empowers his reign, that is, it is the Father who does the subjecting.

          Now for the question that started me on this sermon, namely, What is Christian prayer?

          Basically, Christian prayer is primarily centred on the Father, not Jesus or the Spirit. 

          Properly Christian prayer is addressed to the Father through the Son in the power of the Spirit.  Thus it is quite right that all of the Church of England’s Eucharistic prayers for the Great Thanksgiving are indeed addressed to the Father, but today’s prayer for the day is addressed to the risen Christ. 

          In expressing our worship we sometimes go overboard and go into what we might call flights of fancy, hyperbolic language, poetic language, language which won’t bear the light of logical scrutiny.  I think today’s prayer is of that type.

            It says, ‘No door is locked, no entrance barred’ – but you and I know that we can lock the door and bar the entrance.  I rather think of Holman Hunt’s painting of Jesus with lantern in hand standing at the door and knocking.  We have only to let him in.

          Our reading from Revelation speaks of Jesus as the ‘faithful witness’, and we look to Jesus as our ‘faithful witness’ to lead us to the Father.  Jesus as the Son, the totally obedient and dependent one, shows us the Father, whose very essence is love.  This is the life of loving service to which we have been raised in baptism.  We are in the year of the lectionary devoted to Luke, and it is Luke above all who repeatedly specifies that Jesus is begotten, guided and empowered by the Spirit, God’s powerful presence.  Jesus is the truly wise, powerful and well-born one in and through whom we find our true humanity.

          At the Passover supper Jesus and his disciples sang the Hallel psalms, that is, the Praise psalms, which include today’s Psalm 118, so we, too, echo that praise today and every time we sing the Benedictus and welcome Jesus as the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  Our gladsome Eastertide ‘Alleluias’ do the same, for the Hebrew hallel-lu-ya, simply means ‘praise to the LORD’.

So in this season of the resurrection, in praise and thanksgiving to our Father, let us end with an alleluia: Alleluia! Christ is risen!