Friday, 30 November 2012

The days are surely coming…

Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Luke 21: 25-36 



Today is Advent Sunday. Christmas really is coming. Four more Sundays to go…23 more days…love it or loathe it, Christmas is coming and it will soon be time to celebrate the coming of Jesus. So it’s time to get ready to celebrate.

But what are we celebrating? An event of 2000 years ago, that still has some attraction to us? A chance to meet up with family & friends and have a holiday?

Or dare we actually hope for something new to happen – for God to act here and now?

Jeremiah prophecies that the day will come – the day will surely come when God will cause a branch of David to spring up : “and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety”.

God does not just promise a king, he promises a king whose kingdom, whose rule, will mean peace and justice and a new world order. God’s people have to wait and hope that in all the mess of their lives – as other world powers battle around them and invade them, and oppress them, God will come and sort it out.

And so they wait. And hope. And trust in God. 

And when Jesus is born, the angels will sing about peace on earth, goodwill to all people – and everything will change forever.

Or will it? Jesus is born and after a flurry of birth stories & one story of going missing in childhood, everything will go quiet for 20 years or so until Jesus begins his ministry.

Then, perhaps God will act, will overthrow the Romans, will bring peace and stability and God’s reign will surely come.

But those 3 years of Jesus’ ministry will end not in peace & justice, but in injustice and crucifixion and death. Except that even that will not be the end, but will be the gateway to resurrection and new life and the promise of a new creation. So now will God bring in the kingdom for his battered creation? Or must God’s people continue to wait?

Advent serves to remind us that in Jesus our hope is set alight – we are given a glimpse of what God’s rule will look like – the lame shall dance, the deaf shall hear, love and peace & justice will overflow like wine at a wedding… and yet the kingdom is still to be hoped for in its entirety.

The coming of Jesus 2000 years ago was the start of what God promises, but still we wait in hope.
I’m reminded of the words of Churchill after the battle of El Alamein “this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.

So this Advent, we need to hear the prophet’s message – God will come, in Jesus. And we can celebrate in this bread and wine the presence of the risen Lord with us, strengthening and feeding our hope.

But we also need to be sure, this Advent, that God has not finished coming – that our world is not yet the kingdom of God.

We hardly need reminding that our world is not God’s kingdom – wars, disasters, misery, fear…
Jesus is clear that his coming has not swept all this away at a stroke. 

So in Like’s gospel we heard him warn his followers “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”.

This sounds a bit like our world, doesn’t it? A mess, if we’re honest, not much like God’s rule at all. But we remain hopeful because Jesus makes it clear that these terrible things don’t mean that God isn’t with us, or that Jesus wasn’t God’s son, it is a sign to us that God’s kingdom has not finished coming – it is not here fully yet, but it will surely come,

Advent tells us of the coming of God and renews our hope that one day God will come and finish making all things new.

He may come to us individually and lift us to be with him – as we are perfected in death – or we may be among those who are living when God will finally fold up this earth of ours and bring the end of all things we know. But he will come, he will surely come, and when the end comes there will be the perfect peace and justice and eternal life for which we long and we hope.

This is the Advent hope, and this is what we celebrate in the coming of Jesus Christ.

So celebrate God with us – in Jesus, in bread & wine & in the glorious end which will surely come. Amen.

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.


PRAYER
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.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Remembrance Sunday


Mark 12:38-44

As he taught, Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’
I love this reading – Jesus says “beware of those who like to walk around in long robes.. and have the best seats….” (I will at this point sit in my large armed chair in the church, in my cassock alb!).
Well, that only seems to apply to one person here, (me) so what does the warning mean for all of us – and particularly on Remembrance Sunday?
Beware.. what exactly? Beware posturing, beware the scramble for honour or glory, beware an attitude to faith or religion or occasion which says ‘look at me!’.
So on Remembrance Sunday, beware the sort of pomp that becomes more about who’s there, who’s seen, who’s important enough to have a front row seat. Beware turning this day into a glorification of people’s position in society or importance or even, God forbid, the glorification of war.
And having warned his followers about those who will posture and glorify only themselves, and grab power and influence, Jesus turns their attention to …an insignificant widow.
Widows in Jesus’ times had little power, little influence, often little money. That’s why he criticizes the scribes for fleecing widows.
A widow, a poor woman, the opposite of the scribes with their position and their power, puts her tiny gift into the temple treasury. It is tiny compared to the other gifts, but Jesus says it is all she has to live on – she gives everything she’s got – she sacrifices her own livelihood in order to respond to God with thanks.
Jesus invites us to contrast the pompous and the self-serving with the humble and the self-sacrificing. Jesus invites us to think about how we use our lives – to glorify ourselves or to serve other people? And Jesus invites us to celebrate those who lives are lived for others rather than those who seek recognition.
Today is about remembering. Remembering the sacrifice, remembering the loss, remembering those who still today offer their all to protect the rights and peace of others.
As we remember and celebrate we also dedicate ourselves to the cause of peace and justice. Let us pray for the strength to give our all to be used by God in his wisdom for the good of others.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Saints


Revelation 21: 1-6a
John 11: 32-44

It was All Saints' Day on Thursday and I heard on the radio a short piece by The Rev Richard Coles, who is a broadcaster and who has written a book called the Lives of the Improbable Saints. In the broadcast he outlined the roles of some of the less famous saints and described how to pray to the patron saint of car parking, Mother Cabrini: "Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini, please find a space for my parking machinery."

I can see you’re not a bit convinced. So what is the point of saints?

I love the description from the US theologian and writer, Frederick Buechner “In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.”.
The image Buechner is conjouring up is of the young woman, trying to catch the eye of the young man, who ‘accidently’ drops a handkerchief so that he can pick it up and engage her in conversation.
God wants us to know that his love and concern are here in the world, and so he drops handkerchiefs – the saints.

I think this applies to all God’s saints, not just the official ones. Each life lived walking in God’s way becomes a sign to the rest of us that God is there. So part of what we do to celebrate All Saints Day is to give thanks to God for all those people who have acted as “God’s handerchiefs” for us – who have allowed us a glimpse of God’s will and God’s love for God’s world.

We might also, today, ask God to help us to be more like “God’s handerchiefs” for others: more loving, more caring, more holy in our lives, so that when others see us they are given a glimpse of God’s love in action.

The problem with this sort of exhortation to be more loving is that there are times in our lives when we just can’t – when we’re bruised, broken or just plain exhausted. Times when the last thing we feel able to do is be a sign of Good News to anybody.

On Tuesday evening we held the annual memorial service at Whittlesford: when we invite the families of all those for whom we’ve conducted funerals in all 3 villages, in the last year. We deliberately do this at this time of year – near to All Saints’ Day, and near to Remembrance Sunday. People come to remember their loved ones and I hope they find a place where there is comfort and peace: the service tries to give a sense of assurance that in all our weeping, God is present to help us, and that as it says in the Wisdom of Solomon “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God”.

What strikes me is the way in which at that service, having heard God’s word and reflected on God’s strength, the families there seem able to support one another – there is a sense of real fellowship and care.

So where does this ability to care, even when we are at the end of our resources, come from?

Our readings each make it clear that it is God who dries our tears.
In the book of Revelation the promise is given that at the end of time God will fold all things back to himself – “Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more”

God himself will be with them and he will wipe all tears from their eyes. 
This is the sort of promise that gives us hope – for our loved ones and for ourselves. God never abandons us to our pain, but will care for us himself.

In our gospel reading, Jesus is moved by the tears of those who have loved and lost Lazarus. Mary is weeping, those with her are weeping, and Jesus himself is deeply moved by their pain. In Jesus we see God alongside us, not aloof from us, sharing in the human misery that is grief and loss.
And Jesus doesn’t just tell Mary & Martha to cope with their pain and to try harder to be signs of God’s presence to those around them. Jesus reaches out to them and shows them that God’s power will bring Lazarus back to life.

To demonstrate God’s power, Jesus does it there and then, but there is strength here for each one of us, that God’s love will not allow death to have the last word – not in the life of Lazarus, not in the life of Jesus, and not in the lives of all those we know.
Death will end, Tears will end. God will vanquish death and care for us forever.

Perhaps we feel to have come a long way from the Saints as God’s handkerchiefs. But our Bible readings remind us that important though the saints might be in helping us to glimpse God’s love in the world, they are nothing without the power of God.

In the end it is God’s love which is revealed in the lives of the saints, it is through God's power that they can be the signs of Good News that they are.
And it is God’s love which comes to us today, to heal our brokenness, to dry our tears, to feed us in this bread & wine & to enable us to be signs of God’s love in the world.
To God’s praise and glory.
Amen.