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Starting Again (sermon)

April 25, 2014

Easter 2 – John 20: 19-31NOAH
I’m curious to know how many of you have been to see the movie Noah by Darren Aronofsky yet.

It’s certainly creating a bit of a discussion around the world and sending people, at least some people, back to their bibles to revisit that iconic childhood story to notice things they didn’t notice before.

I really like the movie. One of the things I like is that it sees the story with fresh eyes and reminds us that it really belongs in that strange mythological world of the first few chapters of Genesis. One obvious sign of this is the monsters, the giant creatures that Genesis 6 calls Nephilim.

Aside from that, what has struck me this week as I reflect on the story of the resurrection in todays text… is how this and the Noah story address the same theme – is there a new beginning for humanity?

Let’s start with the Noah movie. Aronofsky’s twist on the story concerns whether God’s promised covenant with Noah would actually result in the survival of any human beings at all, or just the innocent animals. It’s clear that Noah and his family will survive, but will they have offspring or just die out? Will there be a new beginning? In the Aronofsky version only one of Noah’s son’s has a wife before the rains begin to fall and she is barren. Suffice to say this is not how things remain. However, Noah is convinced that his vision of God’s will, of destruction by flooding means that God is determined to visit vengeance on humanity and that even if he and his family survive the flood, humanity will only die out. For Aronofsky’s Noah it is the will of the creator that matters above all else. Creation is God’s treasure and humans are destroying it. Violence fills the earth, violence against fellow human beings and violence against creation itself. God gives Noah a vision of a flood and for him it is a vision of justice. God’s justice requires the destruction of humanity. The question for Noah is whether there is any place for mercy in this divine justice.

For Noah there seems to be no alternative… but the movie pushes against this… It might make some sense if those outside the ark were all totally bad those inside the ark were all good, however, as in all good stories, this is not the case. Noah’s second son Ham knows that there is goodness outside the Ark, in the person of the girl he nearly took to be his wife – a girl who died in the flood. Ham is angry and is tempted to channel his anger in the way of Cain and to take revenge on his Father Noah and on Noah’s God. Will the violence of God perpetuate itself in the violence of Ham? What choice will Noah the purist make? And if Ham survives will the new beginning really be a new beginning?

This ancient story leaves us with this dilemma. Is there another way? Is genocide one of God’s tools of justice? And if it’s not, what does God do about a world filled with violence where creation is being destroyed.

This is not just an ancient story. It remains contemporary for us who have lived through two world wars and are currently complicit in the destruction of species and people groups through processes of environmental degradation and incredible economic inequality – same world!
Noah flips on its head the question we sometimes ask, and asks, Is there room for a God who loves not just the non-human creation, but the human creation as well? What will God do?

In our Easter reading from John 20 I wonder if, at a very personal level, this is precisely the question those disciples were asking themselves as they sat in the locked room, their hearts thumping, worrying about the Jewish authorities… but more importantly worrying about the news that they had heard from Mary Magdalene that God had raised Jesus from death.

If he was the Messiah, if he is God’s solution to a violent and violated world … albeit completely unlike any Messiah they had imagined … then the resurrection is the time of the justice of God’s Messiah… what will the justice of God look like? So when Mary tells them Jesus is risen they are frightened in that room. Is this the God of floods and genocide? What will God do? They wonder… as they sit together and remembered the way they deserted Jesus in his hour of need.

Jesus basically does 3 things to those frightened disciples. He greets them, he shows them his hands, feet and side and he commissions them with the breath of God (God’s Spirit)

Shalom says Jesus… It’s a big word.. Shalom – the harmonious welfare of all creation is what it means. It’s a big word and yet its also a very small word. It’s the Jewish word for hello. From a translaters point of view it should probably be translated. ‘Hello how are you’. An everyday greeting between friends. But John mentions it three times in this chapter. He knows that hidden in this small word is the big word… Peace… Peace be with you. I am reminded of St Therese of Lisieux’s writings about what she called ‘The Little Way’. The great thing about Therese is that there is nothing heroic or ostentatious in her life. She has this profound sense of how the most important things are hidden in the little things… the greatest saint might be the person on the checkout at Pak N Save. She looks at the detail of her life in the monastery and notices for example that some people are much admired and others in the monastery she finds irritating, crabby ill-mannered, lacking in respect, touchy about things… and she decides that for her Christian way this simply means making a decision to seek out these people in her recreation and spend time with them. A little thing perhaps. But enormous. Hidden in that little word Shalom (hello how are you) is all the bigness of God’s shalom – a new beginning for the human race. Jesus makes friends with those who deserted him and betrayed him.
The Second thing he does is show them his hands and his feet. Why the focus on his wounds? It’s not about proving his identity. Sure it works like that for Thomas later on. But here there is no question of doubt, just fear. And here we see the depth of the friendship Jesus is creating. He is not saying, ok so you deserted me and left me to be killed but lets forget about that now. Jesus places the signs of what went wrong at the centre of their new relationship. This is my body. Not just a piece of bread, but a wounded body. They took his body from him. He gives it back to them. And at the centre of this new friendship are these signs which remind them of what they have done – hands and sides – sign of what went wrong. Signs of the destruction of creation – God’s most glorious creation, the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Interestingly in the Noah story there is a talisman, a snakeskin, passed down from Adam through Seth to Noah. And you could think of it similarly, a sign of what went wrong. When one of God’s good creatures, a snake, became a vehicle of temptation.

Finally, Jesus breathes the breathe of God into them and commissions them to forgive sin. Why? Because this is how the new world begins… not through a flood of vengeance… not through a mercy that simply forgets what went wrong… but through a costly work of building friendship, in the full acknowledgement of what went wrong and continues to go wrong. The disciples are called to imitate precisely what Jesus is doing to them on resurrection morning. We sometimes say that only God can forgive sin, but clearly Jesus calls his people to act exactly as he did. To do this they will need all the power that God can give them. They will need the breath, the Spirit of God.

The new beginning is friendship, it’s living together (not necessarily in the same house or bed) but in the same depth of relationship that Therese calls the Little Way. The unity of church is ‘community’ – it doesn’t begin with the Pope in Rome or decisions of the General Assembly, but with the annoying person in the other pew, the irritating person who shares bread and wine with me (this is my body, my wounds), the person who’s upsetting my plans for the church. After ANZAC day when we have talked about and remembered the brutality of wars upon wars (as it was in the days of Noah) today we remember not wars but the arrival of Shalom. Peace be with you. The big thing is right there in the Little Way.

 

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