There’s the story of the little boy who went into a drug store. He goes over to the phone, puts in his coins and dials a number. The store owner observed and couldn’t help hearing the conversation.
Boy: ‘Lady, can you give me a job mowing your lawn?’
Woman: (at the other end of the phone) “I already have someone to mow my lawn.’
Boy: ‘Lady, I will mow your lawn for half the price of the person who mows your lawn now.’
Woman: ‘I’m very satisfied with the person who is presently mowing my lawn.’

With a smile on his face, the boy replaced the receiver. The store owner, who was listening to all this, walked over to the boy. ‘Son, I like your attitude. I like that positive spirit and would like to offer you a job.’

The boy said, ‘No thanks.’ ‘But you were really pleading for one,’ said the store owner. The boy replied, ‘No, sir, I was just checking my performance at the job I already have. I am the one who is working for that lady I was talking to!’

That is called self-appraisal. Easter is a time for self-appraisal of our faith. Where am I in this story? And as we ponder on our personal spiritual journey, we inevitably ponder on the issue of where our church, our religion is in today’s world. An interesting question, because there is no doubt that in terms of the role of our religion in today’s world, we live in difficult times. Is religion still relevant? Is our church still relevant?

Let’s start by looking at tragic events that occur. I am thinking of tragedies such as the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, major earthquakes that have resulted in massive destruction and huge loss of life, terrorist attacks such as those carried out by ISIS in France and Belgium recently. The first response of so many is, ‘If God exists, how could he allow such loss of life and destruction to happen?’ Well, quite simply, God has no option. He cannot suspend our natural laws when lives are threatened. Nor can he interfere with the freedom of choice that some misguided people might make just because lives are at stake.

So where is God in all of this? God is in the response of people. And one of the first things we see in the aftermath of loss of life is people gathering together and prayer is inevitably part of that gathering. Interesting. We also see people responding with care, help, making sacrifices in order to help. In other words, responding with love. And that is God at work, because that is just what God is – the spirit of love working through people.

I think the model of our church has to evolve with our changing society. Gone are the days when we could sit in our churches and wait for the people to walk through the doors. The church has to move out into the community and engage out there. If we are to be relevant, that has got to happen. And you know, in many cases it is. I will give you an example.

When I was first ordained, you had to seek permission from the bishop if you wanted to conduct a wedding outside of a church. Today that is not the case. Over the summer I conduct many weddings, most weekends. Many of those are here in this chapel, but many are in places such as vineyards, occasionally on a beach, next week on a farm. And these are very spiritual occasions. The words of the service do not change one bit, only the setting. There is no question of God not being present in those services.

So I am filled with hope. Everything goes in cycles. Religion, the church, have had their ups and downs throughout the ages. We evolve and meet those challenges. For us Christians it begins with the empty tomb, the risen Christ, who through that act proved to us that he is indeed the Son of God. That is part of our history, part of who we are. We cannot escape from that, and that is what gives us hope. Our new beginnings, new life are born out of the empty tomb.

Let me finish with the story of a nine-year old boy named Philip who suffered from Down’s Syndrome. In Sunday School the kids sometimes made fun of him because he was different. The Sunday before Easter, the teacher gave each of the children a plastic egg and asked them to look for symbols of new life, like seeds, and leaves, and then place them inside the egg. The idea was to open them on Easter Sunday and discuss what they had found. When the children gathered, they had collected all sorts of things like flowers, butterflies and stones. But when the teacher opened Philip’s egg it was empty. One child said, ‘That’s not fair. He didn’t do it right.’

But Philip tugged at the teacher’s sleeve and said, ‘I did do it right. It’s empty because the tomb was empty. That’s why we have new life.’ From then on Philip rose to a new level of respect and became very much part of the group.

Philip had it absolutely right. I believe God is alive and well, but I believe we need to view him through perhaps a different lens than what we have been used to. However, one thing doesn’t change, and that is the empty tomb. That is our starting point and our reference point.

With a smile on his face, the boy replaced the receiver. The store owner, who was listening to all this, walked over to the boy. ‘Son, I like your attitude. I like that positive spirit and would like to offer you a job.’

The boy said, ‘No thanks.’ ‘But you were really pleading for one,’ said the store owner. The boy replied, ‘No, sir, I was just checking my performance at the job I already have. I am the one who is working for that lady I was talking to!’

That is called self-appraisal. Easter is a time for self-appraisal of our faith. Where am I in this story? And as we ponder on our personal spiritual journey, we inevitably ponder on the issue of where our church, our religion is in today’s world. An interesting question, because there is no doubt that in terms of the role of our religion in today’s world, we live in difficult times. Is religion still relevant? Is our church still relevant?

Let’s start by looking at tragic events that occur. I am thinking of tragedies such as the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, major earthquakes that have resulted in massive destruction and huge loss of life, terrorist attacks such as those carried out by ISIS in France and Belgium recently. The first response of so many is, ‘If God exists, how could he allow such loss of life and destruction to happen?’ Well, quite simply, God has no option. He cannot suspend our natural laws when lives are threatened. Nor can he interfere with the freedom of choice that some misguided people might make just because lives are at stake.

So where is God in all of this? God is in the response of people. And one of the first things we see in the aftermath of loss of life is people gathering together and prayer is inevitably part of that gathering. Interesting. We also see people responding with care, help, making sacrifices in order to help. In other words, responding with love. And that is God at work, because that is just what God is – the spirit of love working through people.

I think the model of our church has to evolve with our changing society. Gone are the days when we could sit in our churches and wait for the people to walk through the doors. The church has to move out into the community and engage out there. If we are to be relevant, that has got to happen. And you know, in many cases it is. I will give you an example.

When I was first ordained, you had to seek permission from the bishop if you wanted to conduct a wedding outside of a church. Today that is not the case. Over the summer I conduct many weddings, most weekends. Many of those are here in this chapel, but many are in places such as vineyards, occasionally on a beach, next week on a farm. And these are very spiritual occasions. The words of the service do not change one bit, only the setting. There is no question of God not being present in those services.

So I am filled with hope. Everything goes in cycles. Religion, the church, have had their ups and downs throughout the ages. We evolve and meet those challenges. For us Christians it begins with the empty tomb, the risen Christ, who through that act proved to us that he is indeed the Son of God. That is part of our history, part of who we are. We cannot escape from that, and that is what gives us hope. Our new beginnings, new life are born out of the empty tomb.

Let me finish with the story of a nine-year old boy named Philip who suffered from Down’s Syndrome. In Sunday School the kids sometimes made fun of him because he was different. The Sunday before Easter, the teacher gave each of the children a plastic egg and asked them to look for symbols of new life, like seeds, and leaves, and then place them inside the egg. The idea was to open them on Easter Sunday and discuss what they had found. When the children gathered, they had collected all sorts of things like flowers, butterflies and stones. But when the teacher opened Philip’s egg it was empty. One child said, ‘That’s not fair. He didn’t do it right.’

But Philip tugged at the teacher’s sleeve and said, ‘I did do it right. It’s empty because the tomb was empty. That’s why we have new life.’ From then on Philip rose to a new level of respect and became very much part of the group.

Philip had it absolutely right. I believe God is alive and well, but I believe we need to view him through perhaps a different lens than what we have been used to. However, one thing doesn’t change, and that is the empty tomb. That is our starting point and our reference point.