Saturday, November 17, 2012

There may be trouble ahead

2nd before Advent

As the song puts it “There may be trouble ahead”
Wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines...
That could be a summary of last night's news, really – though as you'll have spotted, it's actually taken from this morning's Gospel – and I rather think that every generation, reading that passage has thought
We must be living in the end times now...Our world looks exactly like the one that Jesus is speaking of”

In liturgical terms, we're currently in the “Kingdom Season” - those weeks before Advent when the lectionary is focussed very much on the end times – so we've heard today not one but two passages of apocalyptic – a very particular kind of writing that looks forward to the future as it tries to make sense of the present.
It's not written in good times about some anticipated catastrophe in the future, but about challenges -- serious, "where is God amidst this suffering?" challenges -- in the life of a community. It's written to help those struggling. Daniel's readers were dealing with the exile to Babylon, Mark's with the destruction of the Temple by the Roman army in 70AD...
Both communities badly needed a sense that God was with them in their trials.

"Apocalyptic" is a term that means literally "taking the cover from"; it takes present events and lifts the veil so we can see what's really going on and where it fits in the story of God's redeeming the world.
In other words, it's not about dwelling on the terrors to come – but about so living in the present that we are attentive to the signs of the Kingdom breaking in.

Of course, the disciples were being confronted daily with signs of the Kingdom...but, like the rest of us, they didn't always recognise them.
They were as easily seduced and distracted as the next man.....
Look – what large stones and what large buildings”
I'm sure, too, that they were more than a little shaken when instead of joining them in cries of admiration, Jesus told them a few home truths.
He's so awkward like that – so unwilling to fit into our world-view, or to lend us resources to bolster it.
Quite the reverse (and you'll remember that the Jewish authorities heard his words as very much fighting talk – further ammunition as they built their case against him)

But, of course, he is right.

Whether it's the Temple in Jerusalem or our beloved St Matthew's Church – the building is ultimately unimportant and will, despite our best efforts, one day crumble to dust.
And all the other structures that we build to protect ourselves will also, ultimately, prove to be futile...governments, class structures, nations, - even, I'd dare to suggest, the institutional church.
Walls and boundaries have no place in God's radically inclusive Kingdom...
Human endeavours, however splendid, don't last.
They can't last – their destruction is written into their DNA from the very beginning, for though at their best they MAY help to point us to something greater – they can never replace it.

There's a hymn I love dearly that puts it very well
All my hope on God is founded;
He doth still my trust renew,
Me through change and chance He guideth,
Only good and only true.
God unknown, He alone
Calls my heart to be His own.

Pride of man and earthly glory,
Sword and crown betray His trust;
What with care and toil He buildeth,
Tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
Is my temple and my tower.

Just like Herod's Great Temple, our churches provide a sacred space – somewhere for a community to meet with God, somewhere to house our memories -but it's up to us to be the living stones from which the true Church is built.

It's tempting, when reading apocalpytic, to waste time on speculating about where we are in the great time-line of the ask ourselves “Is this it? Will it all be over by Christmas?”
But that's futile too – and a distraction from our real task.

You see, whatever the trials and tribulations that life presents, we have another agenda.

We need to be alert to the signs of God's Kingdom breaking through – and poised to join in the work of that Kingdom wherever we see those green shoots .
We need to be ready.
Ready to meet God and ready to welcome in his Kingdom.

Think for a moment or two about those things you might need to put right so that you are ready
Then ask God to show you how you can work with Him to bring in the Kingdom in this time and this place.


clairealcock said...

Good one. Encouraging to read someone else's take on it.
Hope it goes well:)

Still Breathing said...

One of my favourite hymns as well - preferably sung to Meine Hoffnung.

Kathryn said...

As I'm sure you noticed, I was grateful to have read yours first. SUCH a tricky Sunday to engage with...

Kathryn said...

I'm sorry, Hugh...For me it has to be "Michael" :)