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Sunday fast approaches with its “Apocalyptic” theme – Mark 13- help!

I guess there will be several clergy preparing for sunday’s readings who will wish that they has invited someone else to preach…. apocalyptic material isnt the easiest to commend to an early morning congregation!

Here is my effort – and I must again emphasise as I did with the Remembrance themed sermon that it is a reworking of  a previous years sermon which itself drew on other sources which i can’t now identify. I must apologise therefore to anyone who might spot their material. Obviosuly, much of it is personal to me and very much of the moment. If I help any readers to prepare for sunday, I am very pleased to do so.

Daniel 12:1-3, Hebrews 10:11-18, Mark 13:24-32 ( Mark 13 v 1-8)

Time –  how does that word feel?

Time – how many sayings/phrases can you think of with the word “ time” in that we regularly use?

I’m running out of time

I haven’t got time

The number of times Ive…

Time to go

I’m short of time

I’m behind time

It’s a race against time

Must keep my eye on the time

And the number of times I have thought lately of my very poorly mother “Her time isn’t up just yet”

I don’t suppose I’m the only one who, from time to time, experiences pressure through the sense of not having enough time to do the things I feel I ought to be doing.

The hands on our clocks and watches so relentlessly round and we can often feel we are racing against time to get things done.

“ Time is a circus, always packing up and moving away” – Ben  Hecht.

Some time ago someone seemed bent on defacing every public clock in Shrewsbury. One incident involved breaking the minute hand off a clock 50 feet up a factory tower; on another occasion the culprit climbed 100 feet to wrench a minute hand from a public clock. But he could not stop the time. As Thomas Carlyle said in 1840  “ The silent, never resting thing called time, rolling, rushing on, swift,  like an all embracing ocean tide…….”

We live in a time conscious society where clock time governs our movements- and the strictures of time even pervade our worship in church. In our church of England services we invariably insist on one hours worship in sharp contrast to the way Hindu people come together. When I was training for ministry many years ago, I visited a Hindu temple in Birmingham and saw how people  weave in and out of the large worship  area for several hours, sharing food afterwards and their community life.

One day this week I did a baptism visit and held a  6 week old baby girl called Emily – a tiny, fresh new little bundle of life. She is probably oblivious to the passing of time – just aware of her safe and secure environment and having her needs met as she cant do much for herself at the moment. A few minutes after I left I was with my mother – 86 years on from Emily. She too isn’t very aware of the time of day, having to have all her needs met as she can’t do anything for herself either, having come through all the stages of human life and moved back to being a baby. Time  you might say has taken its toll. Or you might equally say depending on your take on life and death  and faith that she has slipped into the natural state of decay which all life is subject to in preparation for something far greater and beyond our mortal knowledge.

I wonder, do you ever look at yourself  in the mirror and we wonder where your life has gone?

I know Im a bit younger than some of you, but I often think now Im 55 – if  I live to be old as mother – Ive got 31 years left – shall I stay in good health all those years, what shall I do with that time? Where have all those adult years gone?

All those plans we have, all those things we want to do, while we still can, the ones we keep putting off, we better do them because we’re running out of time. But our maths could be wrong. Sometimes we don’t measure up to the actuarial tables and life comes to an abrupt and unexpected end. We don’t always get the time we think is coming to us. Most of us never anticipate the hour or the day, but sooner or later we all come face-to-face with the reality that our world and our life—as we know them—will come to an end.

The scene of today’s Gospel finds Jesus teaching four of his closest disciples. It would be the last time he would teach before the end of his life. They’re sitting on the Mount of Olives looking out toward the city of Jerusalem and Herod’s magnificent temple.

Jerusalem - Temple mount - From Mt of Olives

The disciples were in awe of the temple’s beauty, but Jesus changes the whole direction of the conversation. He tells them that the temple will be destroyed, never to be rebuilt, and that they shouldn’t be concerned about the passing things of this life. Rather they should pay attention to the things that will endure and last into eternity. And his language brings them right down to earth in short order: a darkened sun and moon, wars, earthquakes, famines, the entire world in unsurpassed distress, the collapse of the universe, and the end of life as we know it. This is oftentimes referred to as the  Apocalypse. As the world began, in utter chaos, so it will end.

While these Old Testament images and language for the end time were familiar to the disciples, they can be very hard for us to fathom.  Isn’t the Gospel supposed to be good news?  This seems just the opposite—in fact, it sounds like the bad news we see and hear every day from the media. “Where’s the grace? Where’s the hope? Where’s the invitation to God being faithful?”

It would be so easy to take Jesus’ words literally; to look around at international state of affairs and convince ourselves that the end of the world he predicted is ripe for happening very soon.  Look at the mess we’re in—everything seems to be collapsing whether it’s financial intitutions,  the threat of terrorism and its real outworkings; the breakdown of what many see as traditional ways of living. The huge imbalances in living standards across the world.  The threat of nuclear weapons and the wars that are being fought that don’t seem to have an end in sight.

For many of us, this may  seem a very dark time in the story of the human race  and for those with a particularly gloomy pessimistic disposition   it can look and feel very much like the end time that Jesus predicted.

Jesus reminded his disciples in very clear words: “I assure you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” The early suffering Christians couldn’t wait for everything to end, and for the Son of Man to come in the clouds, for good to finally triumph over evil, and for their misery to stop. It was a message they needed to hear and it was something they expected to happen soon. But how many generations have passed since Jesus said those words? Countless generations and here we are two thousand years later, and we’re still waiting. But Jesus didn’t give a date when all of this would happen. In fact, he refused to give a date; he couldn’t give one and admitted that these things were in God’s hands, not his.

So where does that leave us? Maybe one answer is to allow Jesus’ teaching to speak to us, to our generations, and our time. The truth is that the world as it is now, and our lives as we are now living them, are passing away. Everything in this life, everything we attach ourselves to, those we love so dearly, our possessions, our very lives, are aging and deteriorating, and will eventually come to an end.  And even if the world is not coming to an end any time soon, our own personal worlds do cease, and we suffer our own apocalypse—an irreversible illness, a disability that stops us from working in our professions, an injury that prevents us from doing the things we love to do, failure in our life’s work, death of a loved one , rejection by someone we love, abandonment by a friend, or the loss of a life’s savings.

These drastic changes and these tragedies, can seem very much like the end of our lives, the end of our worlds, and make us anxious for Christ’s return and  security in his presence.

But until then we cling to the hope that Our Lord’s teaching is not so much a stern warning about the end of the world, but a lesson on living in it.  A lesson  about how to live life now to the full. And while we should do everything we possibly can to prepare for Jesus’ coming, we should not miss his presence already in our lives. Cherish the past, learn from our mistakes, grieve our losses, live today as good as we can live it as if it was the last day of our lives, and hold onto a hope-filled vision that Jesus never forgets us, never leaves us alone, and will someday return to gather all of his faithful together and make all things right.

“ All shall be well – and all manner of things shall be well” words of Julian of Norwich 600 years ago, born at a time of plague, poverty  and religious tolerance in England and European war. Yet she had a great faith that despite all the darkness, God’s love would win through in individual lives and in the story of mankind.

May Jesus’ words recorded in Mark’s gospel not frighten us but stir us on to live each day as a precious gift from God and live each day as if Christ is truly beside us.

Jesus_098_small

November 13, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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