Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 27 November 2022.
• First Reading: Isaiah 2: 1-5 (Nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war any more)
• Psalm 122
• Epistle: Romans 13: 11-14 (Wake up from your slumber because our salvation is nearer than when we first believed)
• Gospel: Matthew 24: 36-44 (No one knows the day or the hour – therefore keep watch)
It is strange how the more bossy a governing regime is, the more it has to make itself into a religion.
The Nazis and the Communists demanded total compliance and any other religious loyalty was essentially banned. Nationalists seem to make the same demands on their followers, as if their project and its claims were revealed religious truth.
Hence perhaps the reluctance to get down to details of just how their project would work out.
And the more a regime abandons the religious traditions of their older generations then the more they seem to drift both morally and intellectually.
Perhaps that is why our lessons draw together matters of global governance, which is political, and the matter of faith in God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
For to believe and trust in Jesus is first of all a personal and spiritual relationship which leads to changes in how we live and how we think.
It is certainly about what be believe and trust in and how that belief is founded.
And so in the Old Testament lesson there is the vision of God’s rule on earth, in which He has no need for political parties or interests and yet in which He promises peace and justice for all.
And that means God’s peace and God’s justice – not perhaps the kind of peace or justice that some of our more aggressive rulers would like to offer – or enforce onto their people.
This in one based on the person and rule of God, through the man Jesus Christ, and through the people who follow Him. It means His agenda, His methods and priorities.
And this vision is based on the willing acceptance of His rule and His wisdom in resolving disputes, the principles of His kind of law, by the nations of the world.
They are shown as willingly going up to the Mountain of the Lord in order to hear His words and learn His ways.
There is the vision of swords being beaten into ploughshares, and spears into pruninghooks.
Perhaps we can see this as guns being melted down to make syringes and scalpels, tanks being used for all-terrain supplies and drones for surveys. Explosives, now dedicated to construction projects.
Land cleared of mines and farmed, water supplies secured and purified, bridges, water plant and hospitals built or rebuilt.
All of this and more is part of the vision of Isaiah for the rule of God upon the earth, and centred on Jerusalem.
Meanwhile as a church we still look for the coming again of Jesus and we sing with great power and enthusiasm hymns like ‘Lo! He comes with clouds descending’.
We are still in that interval between the ascension of Jesus and His coming again, an interval when the gospel is to be proclaimed in all corners of the world and to all nations, tribes and languages.
It is a time when we are still entrusted with the project not just of being the church but of proclaiming what it is as what it stands for.
But it is also a time of opposition, for the powers of the world have no desire to be supplanted by the message of the Lord. Why allow forgiveness to be proclaimed when it is easier to keep the people feeling guilty and inadequate?
Why welcome freedom in the things of God when a morbid fear and constraint are far more useful and expedient?
Surely it is far more useful to keep the people dependent on the state, even when the state cannot run its own affairs let alone offer peace with God and forgiveness of sins, or life everlasting.
So no, we should not be surprised that there is real opposition to the gospel of forgiveness, to the way in which the Body of Christ offers equality of salvation and equal access in prayer to God for all, even when people are so different in their interests and abilities, their aptitudes and skills.
When all are sinners and come short of the glory of God and for all of whom God has come to us in Jesus Christ and has offered us His own self.
In our day the task is still not to lose heart. It is to continue before the Lord and to serve Him. It is to continue in prayer and worship, bringing our needs and the needs of others before Him while trusting Him for those needs.
This means staying alert, not allowing ourselves to be discouraged or despondent. The world still aches to see God and in the church it should be able to see Jesus. We have to make sure that it does.
And that means keeping our focus, not being distracted by ever more entertaining fashions or opinions.
It means continuing to love one another with the same commitment and determination that Jesus showed to His disciples.
For the time will come when all doubts are resolved. And we wait eagerly for that day.