Saturday, 17 November 2012

Don’t panic, don’t panic!!

        (1 Samuel 2: 1-10, Mark 13: 1-8)
Just when we need Corporal Jones most, news came to us the week before last that Clive Dunn, the actor who delivered those memorable lines, is dead.
It seems our world is full of bad news – whether it’s the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, renewed violence between Israel & Palestine, or the fact that there’s just over 5 weeks to Christmas… it’s enough to make us panic.

This is nothing new – Jesus lived in times of great uncertainty. Sickness and death were far commoner than they are for us, the land of Israel was permanently ruled by the Roman foreign power, and Jesus’ whole ministry is punctuated with questions and resistance.

No wonder Jesus’ followers wanted to find something solid and reliable in their lives – and they turned to the temple. “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”.

But Jesus wants them to understand true solidity and reliability. First they need to understand time.
If Jesus has known Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Our God our help in ages past’ he might have sung ‘time like an ever-rolling stream, bears all our years away’. Instead he says "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.".

But then Jesus refuses to be drawn into a game of predicting or guessing when this will happen. ‘Not a stone will remain’ is a true observation not an attempt to make people panic. Things don’t last; time moves on; life is fleeting.

So what is Jesus' answer to this sense of time trickling through our fingers? ‘These are but the birth pangs’. God’s rule will come in the end. Jesus’ followers need to get a perspective on time to give them the hope and faith they need to face the future. That hope & faith will be far more solid than any temple,

I have recently been reading a book by Stephen Cherry about what he calls ‘time wisdom’ rather than time management: one of his ideas is that we should see time as a gift, not a commodity which is in short supply, so that we ask ‘what can I do?’ rather than panicking about what cannot be done. In his own way, I think Jesus suggests a kind of time wisdom – to see time as God’s time.
In fact, whatever we are panicking about – the swiftness of the passage of time, the state of the world, the fate of the church – we can help ourselves if we have the wisdom to remember they belong to God.

This is God's time, God's world, God's church.
Do not worry – this all belongs to God - God is here.
And the fact that this is God’s time is not just a soothing thought – it makes a real difference, because it is God’s constant habit to break into this time of his, this world of his.

We hear this in the ‘Song of Hannah’. Her years of misery, hoping and praying and yearning for a child, are over. God has broken into her misery, and she has given birth to a son, Samuel. The name Samuel means ‘God heard’ – God heard Hannah’s plea and answered it – this is God’s reply – Samuel.

She is so sure that this is God’s blessing to her, that Hannah gives her son back to God – she sings this song after presenting the young Samuel to the old priest Eli in the temple, where he will be brought up.
Hannah thanks God for his gift of new hope. There are echoes in her song of the song of Mary, the Magnificat.
Once again God will break into time into his world, and offer a child - God's gift of himself to the world -  as a sign of hope.

So don’t panic – this is God’s world and God’s time.
 Christmas is coming – but more importantly Christ is coming into this world, into hearts & minds & lives.
God has a habit of breaking into his time and his world – into our time and our world – into our lives.

So with Advent starting in just 2 weeks, expectation can build – even among those of us who are secretly looking forward to the time after Christmas when we can catch up on sleep!
The wisdom of the ages teaches us  that God has come, is coming and will come into the world.

Our own lives reflect this truth for the whole world – that Jesus comes to us again & again &  promises ‘I will take you to myself, so that where I am there you will be’.
God’s breaking into the world bridges earth & heaven – so that he can come down to us & so that we will ascend to him. Don’t panic, but trust in God’s truth.

Lord, when we panic, grant us wisdom, hope and joy . Help us to know your presence and to serve you faithfully, giving you all that we are to be used in your kingdom.
Inspire us with your spirit that we may be your servants and live as the body of Christ to your ends in your world. And bring us at the last to be one with you, Father Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.

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