Friday, 6 April 2012

Easter Sermon 2012: Rediscovering Renewed Confidence in Christ


In the early 1920s Communist leader Nikolai Bukharin was sent from Moscow to Kiev to address an anti-God rally. For an hour he abused and ridiculed the Christian faith until it seemed as if the whole structure of belief was in ruins. Then questions were invited. An Orthodox church priest rose and asked to speak. He turned, faced the people, and gave the Easter greeting, "He is risen!" Instantly the assembly rose to its feet and the reply came back loud and clear, "He is risen indeed!" 

Today that great acclamation of faith, ‘Christ is risen’, echoes around the world, as Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the greatest event in the history of the world.

Queen Adelaide Hill - Windermere

When I lived in Windermere, we held a sun rise service on Easter Sunday, on one of the local hills overlooking the lake.  As the sun rose over the horizon we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  It was a powerful reminder that the message of Easter is one of incredible hope.  It is about light overcoming darkness, the defeat of death and the breaking of the power of sin, all because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and his resurrection.   

In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the day after Easter is devoted to telling jokes, because they are imitating the cosmic joke that God pulled on Satan in the Resurrection. Satan thought he had won, and was smug in his victory, smiling to himself, having the last word. But then God raised Jesus from the dead, and life and salvation became the last words.

On Good Friday I was out in Walsall town centre with the Street Pastors.  Very often as we chat to people, they start asking us questions about our faith.  There are some who have clearly already made up their minds about God and the Church, and can be quite hostile towards our beliefs.  But there are others who are much more open, and want to know why we believe in God.  When I am asked that question, the answer for me is very simple - it is because He is alive, and I have experienced first-hand the power and reality of his love. 

An African man who was a Muslim became a Christian, and was asked by his friends 'Why have you become a Christian?' He answered, 'Well, it’s like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn't know which way to go, and there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and one alive--which one would you ask which way to go?'" That for me is why I am a Christian.
Bruce Larson said, "The events of Easter cannot be reduced to a creed or philosophy. We are not asked to believe the doctrine of the resurrection. We are asked to meet this person raised from the dead. In faith, we move from belief in a doctrine to the knowledge of a person. Ultimate truth is a person. We met him. He is alive." 

Dawkins & Hitchens 
But whilst we celebrate Easter, Christianity is facing a threat of becoming increasingly marginalised in our society.  We have seen the rise of a much more militant secularist agenda, driven in part by the ‘New Atheists’, led by their commander in chief Professor Richard Dawkins.  In an interview in the New Statesman between Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, Dawkins revealed his true attitude to Christianity when he said 'Do you ever worry that if we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would be filled by Islam?' 
You may say Dawkins is just one man, and we shouldn’t be too worried about what he thinks, but the trouble is that many people do listen to him, his book ‘The God Delusion’ has sold well over 2 million books. 
Councillor Clive Bone said Christian prayers at Bideford council breached his human right to freedom of belief
But there are other signs of the increasing marginalisation of Christianity in our nation.  In February a case brought by the National Secular Society and an atheist councillor won a legal ruling against Bideford town council in Devon from having religious prayers as part of the meetings agenda.  Fortunately following a big outcry this ruling was quickly over turned by the Government, but it is just one of many cases to try and remove Christianity from the heart of our national life.
Dr Drew - sacked for sending a prayer by email to his colleagues at Walsall Manor Hospital
Here in Walsall a Doctor at Manor Hospital was sacked after he emailed a prayer of St Ignatius Loyola to his colleagues.  And the Government has been criticised for upholding employers’ rights to sack any employee for wearing a visible cross or crucifix. And then there is the Government’s plans to redefine marriage, and legalise same sex marriage – a plan which has been strongly criticised by both the Archbishop of York and Canterbury.
What is clear is that there are attempts to relegate Christianity to the border of irrelevance.  Christian beliefs, instead of promoting the values underlying our society, are now simply regarded as a private life-style choice which should have no significant place in determining any aspect of social policy.  Canon Alan Nugent, sub dean at Lincoln Cathedral said that there are many who seek to exclude Christian belief from social debate because for them belief is synonymous with irrationality, prejudice and extremism. 
So there is a challenge facing us as Christians.  But just as the Orthodox priest did in Russia, when he stood up to Bukharin, so we as Christians need to have a renewed confidence in our faith.  We need to be prepared to stand up and make our voices heard.  We need to show to people that Christianity, far from being a spent force, is alive and well in our society, and that faith rather than being a bad thing, is something that should be nurtured and valued.
When the disciples discovered that Jesus had risen from the dead, they discovered a renewed hope and confidence, and went out to change the world.  As God’s people we need to do the same.  Paul in his letter to the Romans said ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.’ (Romans 1:16)  As the church we need to rediscover a confidence that is based in the risen Jesus.  The world needs Jesus, and we as God’s people are the ones who need to take that message out into the world, through a bold proclamation of the gospel, and through loving service, following the example of our risen Lord and Saviour. 
We need to heed the words of the writer of Hebrews who called us to ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’  (Hebrews 12:1-2)  So let us declare, with renewed hope and confidence, that Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.  Alleluia!


  1. Simon - if anything has been done to make Christianity irrelevant, it has been the church's doing, not society's.

    In constantly looking inwards on whether women can be given a place in the church, let alone in the clergy, in wondering which minority group it can decide are second-class citizens at that time - your constant references to how same-sex marriage are a bad thing are undermined by this:

    and the video I posted to facebook recently ( You also didn't respond publicly to Alison Saunders, who said this: "I'm really grateful for the legal rights I have through my civil partnership, but my relationship is not rooted in legal rights, but in something bigger - to do with faith, love, trust, commitment - the only word that really can describe this, for me, is marriage. Imagine the pastoral implications if, every time you blessed a marriage where one of the partners had been divorced, you spent 50% of the time explaining why they were undermining marriage, and 45% of the time explaining to them why they weren't really married at all, and had misunderstood the true nature of marriage by imagining that they might be. And the last 5% explaining that they can't have the prayers they want because they suggest that God looks favourably on their commitment to each other. That's kind of what it feels like being a gay member of the C of E at the moment."

    The same things that were said 150 years ago about Catholics marrying non-Catholics were brought out 50 years ago for interracial marriage and now again for same-sex marriage. People see this and wonder what the fuss is all about.

  2. People don't choose to be gay - it happens, in just the same way as you can't choose your ethnicity and family. Being around gay people doesn't make you, in the same way that being around straight people doesn't make you straight.

    At the same time, people see the Catholic church hushing up paedophilia in the clergy and all other churches not condemning them outright - what are people meant to think from that?! I would love the Church of England to condemn the actions of those clergy in destroying childhood for some people - but there's nothing, which makes the church look complicit. How loving is that?!

    The Church in the past has been guilty of many things that Jesus would not like - it has been pro-slavery, anti-suffrage and racist until forced to change by society. It has been - and remains, in certain areas - very exclusivist, only for People Like Us. If The Church was doing everything Jesus had wanted, why should people feel like they couldn't attend because God 'hates them'? It's because either they've been told that they aren't welcome, or that the far-rights have shouted louder than The Church. If The Church wanted to spread a gospel of love, it has to decry those - like the Westboro Baptists - who seek to promote a straight, white Club devoid of love for our fellows. Instead of hearing Church leaders at every turn promoting social justice, we hear them wringing their hands over whether women are able to think for themselves enough to be bishops, and whether gays are human enough to be allowed into The Church. That's the problem. Jesus sent a powerful message that Grace was for everyone, that God is love and to know Him is to know Love. He welcomed everyone and made sure everyone knew that. Jesus would not have stayed silent while paedophile priests abused children in their care. The Church has, and the Catholics still try to cover it over. That's the image that people have of The Church. A patriarchal, self-serving club; just as fallible as the human beings that run it.

    And besides, if we wanted a 'traditional' view of marriage, women still wouldn't have a say, or we'd be marrying at age 10, or having several wives, and only to make sure family allegiances were maintained. Don't think that marriage hasn't changed through the centuries, Simon.

    As Jesus himself said, a bad tree cannot bear good fruit, and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. In the church I can see some good things, but on the whole I see people being marginalised, straight white men deciding on birth control for women and what can be defined as 'love' for others. The Church has become rotten, even if the central message can never be. That's why Christianity is being marginalised in society - and it's The Church's fault.

  3. Simon,

    Keep the faith, brother! Great message!

    Wes from U.S.A.