Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 18 November 2018.
I think that I am right in saying that the summer of 1939 was gloriously warm, and that despite the threats to the peace of Europe it was difficult to imagine or comprehend the darkness that was to come.
It is certainly difficult to imagine the anguish of others when we are installed in comfortable surroundings, in reasonable health and with plenty to eat. Even the pictures of starvation and war from far away have a slightly other-world quality, which may be believable in their own situations but are remote from our own.
And even the direness of the warnings of a crash-landing exit from the European Union make us think that yes, this could happen, but surely our own politicians would not be so rash as to bring it about – surely?
And yet there are then the warnings of war and starvation that lie within the scriptures and in our lessons for today – and we comfort ourselves by saying ‘We’re British or Scottish!’ so surely this could not come to us here?
But then it was the magnificence of the temple which so impressed Jesus’ disciples but which drew forth Jesus’ own warnings of coming tumult and dislocation.
Yet even in His warnings Jesus was telling them not to rely for their health or safety on the institutions of the time, no matter how well established they may seem.
Buildings and structures can be thrown down and institutions can be dissolved. None of the things that we take for granted in our society or economy can be taken for granted and all must be maintained, especially in times of threat or distress.
But Jesus was saying more than this for even if human structures and institutions can be overthrown, the gospel message really is forever.
It cannot be overthrown, even if it can be persecuted. You can imprison a person but not an idea, and when that idea is about the things of God then these are eternal and the reality of what Jesus has achieved for us is not going to be contained by censors or prison bars.
This is where we are being called to find security in what God has given us for and to us, and what is never going to be set aside by any human authority.
Writing in the time of the Persian Empire, Daniel lived in exile but at a time when empires could indeed come and go. The Assyrians had been overthrown by the Babylonians who in turn succumbed to the Persians.
The Greek and Roman Empires would come and go, followed by those of Europe. China could wax and wane, and even today’s global economy with its finances and trade does not look as secure as it might.
And so yes, institutions may not be as long-lasting as they might wish to appear.
But then there is the letter to the Hebrews in which Jewish believers were also pointed to the things that were eternal and away from their own times and institutions. The temple may have been lost – or, depending on when it was written, may be about to be lost.
Nevertheless, the eternal sacrifice of Jesus on the cross would obviate the need for future daily and weekly sacrifices, and what He had done really was once and for all.
It was valid for all times and all places, all peoples and all cultures that turn their lives and hopes to the things that God had done in Jesus.
For all the disturbance and dislocation, nothing was going to change the atonement that Jesus had wrought on the cross.
Nothing was going to undo or limit the love or mercy of God and what human leaders and institutions did, they would do on their own without undermining the grace that was always flowing out from the courts of heaven.
We have seen the collapse of the Communist empires in Europe and we are witnessing the undermining of institutions in our own land.
But we also know not only the power of the gospel within us but also its affects among us. We also know how relationships are redirected and how attitudes and priorities can be re-focused.
When one is discouraged then another is able to offer comfort and assistance.
So no, we do not have to be overawed by the signs and threats of our times even when they alarm us. Equally we do not need to take at face value the blandishments of new doctrines, especially when they would direct our energies against useful scapegoats who cannot answer for themselves.
Jesus might have been tempted to adopt simplistic solutions to the nature of human sin but He refused and continued to direct His steps towards the cross and His words to the things of God. It is an example for us in what may become trying times.
But He will never abandon us or forsake us.