Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
You might have noticed that nothing seems to happen unless it has been filmed and broadcast. Equally, it has not really happened unless the pictures are particularly dramatic or there has been a really good, public row.
Anything that is private is being suppressed and must therefore be a plot or worse (or is it better? I’m really not sure) a scandal. In other words, it is the drama that makes it real, and as media people have said “The image is the reality” so it does not really matter what happened so long as it makes good television.
But the truth is that we cannot live our lives at the height of emotional or dramatic tension.
We really do need to stop, to reflect, or as Neil Munro’s Para Handy put it, “To pause and to consider.”
Looking at Malachi, we get drama in spades, as the judgment of God is pronounced on the arrogant and the evil-doers of the land, while the peace of God is promised to those who revere His name.
A clear contrast is made between those who are movers and shakers, but who do so in their own interest before all else, while those who are quiet, patient, resolute and steadfast in the sight of God and who are to be blessed.
And the warning is of dislocation on a major scale, when those who are full of their own conceit are to be burned up like stubble leaving neither root not branch to recover. This is dramatic stuff indeed and is part of the expectation of the Day of the Lord, when God would indeed visit the earth and His people to deal with it according to His own justice and rightness.
And here, it is the works of the heart that would weigh far more than the publicly proclaimed good works of the glamorous and the famous.
Paul however steers us away from this rather histrionic approach. He does not invalidate or deny it but rather stresses that we can get too taken up with what we cannot control while neglecting the things that really are our responsibilities.
Speculations about the end of days, the Day of the Lord, the return of Jesus upon the earth or other distractions are firmly discouraged. His point is that instead of distracting one another about what we cannot control we should be striving to get to grips with what we can deal with.
That includes the expectation that the able-bodied should do a full day’s work and should not be a burden on or distraction to others. It may be boring and unglamorous, touched with large doses of tedium and irritation, but it is in getting on with our own occupations that we do more to glorify God than anything else.
That includes putting up with difficult colleagues, getting to grips with the awkward and exhausting tasks, dealing with the items that we would rather put off to another time, and making peace with the terms and conditions of our employment. None of this is exactly exciting but all of it is part of putting in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.
In the gospel, the interesting thing however about Jesus’ comments is that they are not so very different.
Having spoken of the drama of the overthrow of the temple, He also warns against getting carried away. Yes, there would be impostors proclaiming false doctrines and offering false visions. Yes, there would be the violence and hatred and destruction of wars, insurrections and riots, not to mention natural disasters. Yes, they would be pressed and may be persecuted for their faith, and yes they would indeed face betrayal even by those close to them who at the end of it all would reject the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
But His central message is again not to worry, or be distressed or distracted. When the time comes for them to proclaim their faith then they will know it. But meanwhile they were again to continue steadfastly in the business of daily life.
And there would be plenty to get on with. In this Jesus’ model prayer sets out our priorities: to worship God above all (Our Father who art in heaven) and to trust Him in all: (Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done). Only from this position of trust and service are we to ask for our daily needs, and this is followed directly by the plea to be forgiven as we also forgive. Yes, we do indeed pray that we may not be brought to the time of trial.
It all points to the need to calm down. The prophets remind us that “In stillness shall be your strength” and that “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”
Above all Jesus says “Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me.”
These are serious and solid promises for destructive times, and if we are troubled by the way they develop then we also need to take these promises to heart.