Sermon delivered by Rev Sydney Maitland on Sunday 29 November, 2015.
Jeremiah 33:14 – 16
I will fulfil the promise I made to Israel and Judah – will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David, He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.
1 Thessalonians 3: 9 – 13
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all – may He so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus will all His saints.
Luke 21: 25 – 36
There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars – distress among the nations – people fainting from fear and foreboding. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Look at the fig tree – see the signs of the times: so guard that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life. Be alert at all times.
I think that most of us like to know where things are – the proper places for our clothes, our crockery, the vacuum cleaner, tool box and of course the husband/wife/children/pets.
It’s when things get misplaced that we get upset. Equally we like to keep our dramas in the proper place: in our reading or on television or in the cinema.
But put things in the wrong place and we begin to get irritated, even worried or confused. This is how things get lost.
And what is true of the way we organize our homes also applies to our values. Normally personal matters are the province of the church, the civil courts and our personal relations.
And the state deals with the safety of the nation from external enemies, internal disorder and the proper and efficient government of the land.
The problems and the confusion start when the state wants to get into religion and when the faith communities are more interested in politics than in the spiritual lives of their members. And so clergy become frustrated politicians and politicians see themselves as guardians of the cult of the state.
And yes it’s all rather confusing.
Yet in the gospel Jesus has made a series of comments on the signs of the times and on the states of the nations in order to reassure the church, for even in the midst of momentous times the church is instructed to keep its nerve and to keep its faith.
And more to the point the church has to keep its head as it were when in Kipling’s words all around it are losing theirs and blaming it on the church.
And that is roughly where we are.
For Jesus does not play down the hazards of national affairs, and His instruction has been sound in all times of trial from the Jewish revolt of 65-70 AD to the present age.
And He warned about dramatic events in the heavens and indeed in the environment, and in the affairs of nations with the instruction not to be deceived or dismayed.
This would be the time to hold to the faith and to continue in the tasks we were already engaged in without being distracted.
Indeed, the city set on a hill will be even more prominent in the night when its lights are on and when they are needed to give direction to the lost.
In writing to the church in Salonica, Paul commends them and reassures them of his prayers for them, especially that whatever is lacking in their faith may be restored to them.
He does not however expect them to be static, but rather that they may grow: that they may put forth branches and foliage in the expectation what the branches and the foliage may also yield a glorious crop of fruit and indeed nuts.
Paul’s prayer for them is that God would make them to increase and abound in love for one another and for all, that their hearts may be strengthened in holiness, and that they may be blameless in the sight of God.
To achieve this kind of growth, the church must also put down deep and strong roots, so that it might be able to stand when high winds blow.
These might strip it of its fruit, even of branches, but if deeply rooted it may sway and bend but it will not break or be uprooted.
And this is the kind of strength in the church that the Lord looks to see.
Advent is therefore a good time to reassess our faith and to deepen our prayers. It is a good time to meditate on the things we believe and to develop and renew our relations with one another and with our fellow Christians in other churches and fellowships.
It may be a time to take up further reading or to restore relationships that have become strained.
It may be a time to ask the Lord to help us to take a new view of our lives, or to have another look at our finances and our priorities at home.
It may lead us into new areas of Christian serving, whether in the church or outside it.
But in all these areas of life and in many more besides, the Lord is reassuring us that He holds us in the palm of His hand and the prayers that we make in His name are the prayers that He takes up and makes personal in the presence of the Father.
Where we fear, He will reassure us.
Where we are confused, He will clarify and confirm us.
Where we find areas of life that do not glorify His then He will guide us to restore and remedy what is amiss, what is misguided or is indeed disobedient – always lovingly and gently.
But He looks to us to maintain that light in the darkness, that truth in the confusion that love in the midst of hatred and of self-will.
In short, He is looking for us to show in our generation that devotion to the things of God that He showed in His.