Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 29 November 2020.
• First Reading: Isaiah 64: 1-9 (Yet You, Lord are our Father. We are the clay, You are the potter, we are the work of Your hand)
• Psalm 80: 1-7, 16-18
• Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9 (God is faithful who has called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ)
• Gospel: Mark 13: 24-37 (Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back. If he comes suddenly, do not let Him find you sleeping)
There are times when we yearn for the great event, that supreme demonstration of power by the Almighty when we will be vindicated and our enemies crushed.
And yes, we have all known that sense of schadenfreude when watching the results of polls coming in after an election or referendum.
A certain exultation at the result and satisfaction at the dismay of our opponents. Unless of course we were supporting the losing side.
But then there is that sense of reality which kicks in – we have the result and now we have to make it work. We have to answer those questions that were carefully and skillfully avoided during the campaign. They come back and demand answers, because they were relevant all the time even if they were inconvenient.
And this sense is there in our lesson from Isaiah:
‘Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.’ Let the mountains shake and the nations quake before You. This is the Lord who acts on behalf of those who wait upon Him, and who comes to the help of those who gladly do right.
But then there is that reality check. We are not all like that and when we do right it is more for fear of being caught out than a readiness in the heart to serve God and to serve others before ourselves.
Now is that recognition that we also are compromised and need help in that personal and moral sphere of life. Even all our righteous acts are as filthy rags in the sight of God and when evaluated in the light of His utter and total holiness.
Even our best intentions are touched with self-interest and the plans for good that we imagine in the morning are soon compromised by the stresses of dealing with other people and with their perspectives and priorities.
Not everyone thinks and sees things as we do so even our best intentions are soon tested by the reality of contact with the world beyond ourselves – and that is on a good day when we actually desire to do what is right.
So maybe the rending of the heavens should be allowed to wait a little longer? Perhaps our enthusiasm is a little premature?
In writing to the church in Corinth St Paul looks at it differently. It is a large and successful congregation in a busy port city, but more than a little unruly. One of the reasons that his letters to the Corinthians are so valuable to us is that they keep dealing with problems in the church and this church had plenty that needed correcting.
But for all that, Paul was proud of them. He was thanking the Lord for them, because perhaps they were showing the stresses of growth and enthusiasm.
And yet they were being enriched in every way with all kinds of speech and all kinds of knowledge, bestowed in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. All the Spiritual Gifts were there, even if the people had to be instructed in their proper use.
The very exuberance of the people was itself an encouragement and God who had called them would indeed keep them through their trials and testing to the very end.
Then there are Jesus’ solemn words of counsel and warning. Speaking of the end times when there would be global events and phenomena, when there would be great nations and massive forces in nature and in the movement of peoples, and the disciples were to be alert.
Yes, the Lord would intervene mightily in the affairs of the world.
Yes, at the right time He would gather His people from the ends of the earth, and nobody would be able to argue with Him or the facts.
At that time there would be no place for confusion or for ambivalence about what was the truth, for Jesus is the Truth.
But until then there would still be times of open persecution or subtle oppression, when the disciples of Jesus would be expected to give an account of themselves in their lives and faith, to a skeptical world that find them rather quaint if not primitive and even naïve in their faith.
Even when bombs were not dropping and when people were not being shot, or arrested there would still be those subtle insinuations about their faith and lives.
And yet this is the time when Jesus’ instructions to stay awake are so important, at a time when believers are being lulled into false understandings and expectations by sophisticated arguments and persuasive presenters.
It is a time to reassert our personal faith in Jesus Christ and none other, for the forgiveness of our sins and our hope of everlasting life.
It is a time to review our priorities and relationships, and when fears and anxieties undermine that sense of abiding, and when events threaten to overwhelm us, then this is also the time to reassert our place in the providence of God and our call to be His disciples and witnesses in our time.