Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 17 November 2019.
Old Testament: Isaiah 65: 17-25 (Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight)
Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13 (Anyone unwilling to work should not eat)
Gospel: Luke 21: 5-19 (Jesus’ warning of the end times)
In Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ stories about the Lake District, one is set in winter and they decide to mount an expedition to the North Pole. And so off they go, bound for a summerhouse at northern end of the lake.
It may not have been geographically precise but its symbolism was enough.
Similarly, in AE Milne’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ stories, they also go on an expedition to the north pole and yes, they find it conveniently located in a northern woodland.
Pooh however then goes on to wonder if, since there is known to be south pole, whether there might be an east and west pole as well. OK, he might have been a bear of very little brain, but as an exercise in lateral thinking, I could not fault him.
For my money, the east pole may be found in Jerusalem and perhaps the west pole in Las Vegas. You will of course have your own candidates.
But then other places symbolize other things. London and New York stand for money and commerce; Florence and Venice speak of painting and sculpture; San Francisco and perhaps Paris point to a certain freedom of restraint in relationships, and so on. Think of gay Paris, and perhaps a different kind of gay San Francisco.
So what of Jerusalem?
This was the centre of worship ordained by God in the Old Testament and was the city taken by King David, not being one of the tribal possessions. It was the place of the temple, and thither the tribes of the Lord would go up.
It became however corrupt and gained the criticism of the prophets. Jesus wept over it and its coming rejection of Him and then its coming destruction by the Romans.
The great city would be reduced to rubble and death.
And yet 50 years after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Jerusalem was reunited in the Six Day War of 1967. Its waste places could be brought out of the dereliction of border defenses and into the public realm.
Jerusalem is again the focus of a restored state of Israel, still awaiting its king. This does not mean that I have to endorse every act by its politicians and administrators, or the conduct of its policies on land or housing, water supply or migration.
But even with its faults and problems Jerusalem still stands for something restored and a city at least partly renewed.
A new thing was being done in our own lifetimes.
But then there is another aspect as Jesus wept over the future that awaited it following its rejection of Him.
He had spoken of its coming destruction at the hands of the Romans but He also pointed to the end times when He would come back.
This time He would rule as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and this rule would last 1000 years. The promises of Isaiah would indeed be fulfilled and the world would enter a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity.
In our Nicene Creed we declare our confidence that He would come again to judge the living and the dead and this expectation is very much part of our Christian hope, even though many and perhaps all of us will die before it comes to be.
But then Jesus also points to a time of global upheaval before His coming again.
It would be a time of false hopes and false doctrines, of betrayal and persecution, of war and destruction.
Nevertheless, the gospel message would be preached to all nations, even if some rejected it early on.
For us the message is the same as in any time of national or international turmoil.
We are still called upon to maintain our personal faith and when called on, to give an account of our faith. Not all are called to be preachers but all can live their faith as if it mattered.
Next, we are called on not to be discouraged or to despair, even when major parts of our society reject the gospel message and prefer something more entertaining and perhaps more enticing.
That means encouraging one another without turning our backs on society. It means being engaged at every level: personal, in the family and wider community, as well as in the household of faith.
In Fiddler on the Roof, Treve stated that while it was not a shame to be poor, it was no great honour either.
For us there is an honour in being entrusted with the gospel message at a time when it is being routinely abused and trivialized.
This is the time to remember Jesus’ parting words as He ascended into heaven: ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28: 20)