Advent 1, 1.12.19
Text: Matthew 24.36 – 44.
Rev Paul Cannon
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
And did we listen? No!
Millions of dollars have been spent on predicting the times. And not just a few prophecies offered for an end of the world scenario.
Ellen G. White, one of founders of Seventh-Day Adventists, wasn’t the first nor, sadly, the last, when she gathered with followers to await the return of Jesus in 1844, only to be disappointed when he didn’t show up.
Hal Lindsay made a small fortune writing books about the end of the world, his most famous is sadly still in print “The Late Great Planet Earth” he’d pinned it on the declining culture of the 60s and 70s which he believed warranted the return of Jesus to restore godly living. Lindsay was of course wrong both theologically and I his predictions.
Those who believed that the Mayan calendar pointed to the end of the world in 2012 were equally disappointed.
But none more bitter than the followers of Harold Camping. Camping made a prediction that God would end the world on September 6, 1994, when that failed he recalibrated it to be May 21, 2011, and when that failed he said it was to be October 21. Camping was a fraud and received millions in donations from gullible people, that he retained until his death in 2013.
There are hundreds of predictions of the end of the world from earliest times, and for many it is a business.
Are we any different? Look at those over the years have panicked when a war has started and hoarded food and provisions, exactly the reaction of many Christians when the US bombed Libya in the 90s. Or the numerous books written to schematise an end of the world and the return of Jesus that have sadly misinformed many.
But in making all these predictions, said to be theologically true in some cases, we can see that Jesus’ words are ignored. “No one knows.”
So, if no one knows, then why agonise over trying to work it out.
It seems to me that we cannot let go and let God be God. There’s a saying the mystics had – impatient patience – it means that you are outwardly talking patience but inwardly living impatiently.
When Jesus says believe in me, he’s really asking for us to fully trust, to stop trying to do God’s work for God, and to step back.
The core of this story is in the keeping awake.
Not to be anxious, but rather being aware.
Jesus makes it clear that we are to wait and be awake. This is not about making things happen, or running around trying to make sense of when or how, it is to be awake to the work of the kingdom while everything is going on around us.
If we don’t know when these things will happen what’s the point of sitting down and giving up and just waiting for something to happen? Jesus means for us to wait in a different way.
The reading immediately after this – Matthew 25 – is all about the call of Jesus to attend to real matters: Hunger, nakedness, imprisonment, oppressed people, the blind and sick. In Matthew 25 Jesus fleshes out what he claims from Isaiah 61.1 as found in Luke 4.18 when he reads from the scroll of Isaiah and claims for himself the work of “… proclaiming good news to the poor … release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind … to let the oppressed go free” All shorthand for John 13.34 ff that we are called to serve, to wash feet, to proclaim the good news , to heal, to set people free, to live a social justice, a restorative justice in the world.
The waiting Jesus refers to is about discerning our call and then acting on it. This is the cry of Richard Rohr and Contemplative Action – that our meditation, contemplation, reading and praying should lead automatically to action for the kingdom. But first it is in the discerning of that action.
Action for Jesus is never reactive, that’s partly the point of John 11 where he delays going to see his dying friend Lazarus. Jesus never assumes or presumes, nor does he do anything that is just for the sake of his reputation in a venal way.
Jesus responds, having noticed, having become aware: “Who touched me” he says to the woman who had bled for twelve years; The one you are with is not your husband he says to the woman at the well … Jesus is always feeling his way rather than just thinking his way.
As John says in 1 John 4.1 – test the spirits, do not trust every spirit, but make sure that the path you seek is the path of Jesus. Ignatian spirituality has that same message, test the spirits invites Ignatius, discern which way to go, weigh up the pros and the cons, weigh up if it is of benefit to God or just self. He also says do not make decisions when in desolation because that set of emotions will force wrong decisions.
The type of waiting that we invite for Advent is not a sitting and adoring process, though there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, it is that we mimic the waiting for something to happen just as Israel did all those thousands of years ago. The difference is we are not waiting for a child. And really, we are not waiting for Jesus, he came at Pentecost in his Spirit and dwells with us now. No, we are actively waiting, being aware, discerning what new thing might happen for and through us for the sake of the kingdom.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit, but we have to let the Spirit work in us.
Otherwise we remain in what is called an echo chamber, we never grow and develop because we keep thinking the same and we only read what we agree with, nor do we step out of the vacuum, all we get is the same message reverberating around in our heads.
The model of Jesus is that in engaging we learn more, we are challenged in our views. To rub shoulders with criminals, tax collectors, lepers, the sick, Samaritans, Roman soldiers, Pharisees and Scribes, women, children, demoniacs, is to open ourselves to change in form relationships. Jesus gave his followers opportunity for engagement and change, deep inner change.
What is the hope you hold, what is the thing you want most of all?
What discernment are you making? What is your call?
Christ the King, 24/11/19
Text: Luke 23:33 - 43
Revd Paul Cannon
Stories about unselfish actions always appeal to me, partly because I admire the resilience of
ordinary people, but also because those who appear fearless in the face of death dare to do so for
the sake of other people.
I remember reading a news article a few years ago, about a major ferry disaster in Europe.
The ferry had begun to capsize, but had almost made it to the dock. In order that people could make
it to safety, one young passenger gave his body to be the bridge that others could walk over to the safety of the dock. He was in the water for a considerable time. Despite below zero temperatures and concern for his own safety, this young man gave his whole self for the sake of others.
I’d like to be like that. I would like to think that if, for instance, I saw someone trapped in icy waters I’d dive in and drag them out. Or if I saw anyone caught in a burning house I’d rush in and rescue them. Mind you, it’s easy to think it now but would I be so brave if I was faced with the real thing!
There have numerous occasions throughout history where people have risked their lives for others.
Do you remember the pictures of the young Chinese student who stood in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, facing a column of tanks as they converged upon the Square.
He was protesting against the lack of freedom in China. He was risking his life for an ideal.
In this case, the young Chinese student was not called upon to react to an emergency, he chose his actions carefully, he chose to face the might of the army all by himself.
It is one thing to react to a situation that suddenly happens, but quite another think about a situation and then in the cold light of day take action. It is much more difficult to choose to put yourself at risk than it is to respond to a sudden and urgent need.
I suspect most people would hesitate to act as that student acted. Indeed, none of the other students in Tiananmen Square that day faced the tanks in quite the same way. There were many protesters, but they protested together, and many fled when the tanks came.
What is it that makes someone risk their own life for others, or for an idea? There must be something deep inside which motivates such people.
Many of us are concerned about particular issues, but few of us are so concerned that we would risk our lives.
Those who risk their lives are full of love, deep passionate love, which is the only emotion that seems to overcome our natural survival instinct. Those whose lives are not full of love – well they risk other people’s lives, not their own, or they become risk averse and play safe at every turn.
Jesus was consumed by deep passionate love for all humanity, he risked death to heal, to help, to teach, and to change, and bring hope.
Today we celebrate that unselfish love and honour in Jesus.
The kingship of Jesus is vastly different to that of worldly kingship. In fact the word king is not a helpful word by today’s standards. No one really feels in awe of kings, they are part of an era that has passed by. The fantasy of royalty no longer has currency.
The kingship of Jesus is not about worldly power and prestige, it is about wholeness, inclusion, compassion, servant hood, and reconciliation. It is a model of life that he calls us to follow. It is a model of life that reconciles us to God. In that sense Jesus is an anti-king, not an earthly king or a king as we know them. Jesus is the complete opposite as John 13 shows us when Jesus washes his disciple’s feet as a demonstration of how to behave as his disciples.
And we celebrate this kingship with the story of the crucifixion, doesn’t that seem strange?
It would indeed be strange if the crucifixion were the end of the story, but it was’t.
The crucifixion leads to resurrection and to the great hope of resurrection - eternal life.
In Jesus we see not only an alternative king who suffers and dies to reconcile us to God, we also see a king who rises again, and not only that, but who calls us to share in his kingdom. What greater love is there?
So the cross, bleak and black as the story is, is the end and yet is also the beginning. It is the beginning of our own journey to wholeness in God.
Jesus in death becomes the bridge between our sinking lives of sin and the dock of hope, he is the lone figure who powerfully stands as a witness of integrity before the powers of the world and offers a new and different way to live now and in the future.
In celebrating the kingship of Jesus we don’t celebrate magnificent mansions, loads of money and property, military power, or geographical dominion, or the sophistication of silver tongued speeches.
No, in Jesus Christ we celebrate the absolute unselfishness and the all consuming love that he gave even in death, that we might have life now and always.
Unlike earthly kings and rulers, Jesus doesn’t compel us to join his kingdom or to serve him, rather he invites us to join him. That’s the invitation we receive to at our baptism, and which we respond to and affirm as ours when we are confirmed, it is our pledge of allegiance to his kingdom, it is our acknowledgment of faith.
The price of the kingdom is the cross. As an old gospel chorus says, “if you can’t bear the cross, then you can’t wear the crown.” The good news is that Jesus has already borne that cross for us and invites us to share in his kingdom by virtue of it.
The risk to us is simply to live forgiveness and love. Jesus invites us to be that type of community, that type of kingdom.
He invites us to live in such a way that world will know who he is by our very actions.
The question we are left with is, dare we fulfill that invitation?
And, what are we prepared to risk in order to respond to his love?