The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:

s001g10  Advent 1  Hanmer Springs  28/11/2010

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

‘that day and hour no one knows’   Matthew 24.36

‘Timing is everything’ they say and it is true.   As someone who continues to struggle learning to play the ‘cello, one of my constant downfalls is timing.   I am getting to know the finger positions for the various notes, but I am sloppy with the length of notes.  It comes from years of leading congregations astray in singing ..  

But what would one do if we actually knew when the world as we know it was to end?   Well, I know that I probably forget about providing for myself and those dependent on me.   I might spend all my savings on an overseas holiday - but, of course, that assumes that I know something those who run the airlines or cruise ships don’t ..   They wouldn’t be interested in providing their services if they didn’t need to either.  I wouldn’t bother about saving up for a new Mac computer :-)   Likewise no one would be bothered growing the crops, tending the sheep, stocking and running the supermarkets.   Knowing is only useful if we know, and others don’t :-)

And we’d want to be pretty sure, for while I am not at all sure about the capitalist system, I do know that a lot of people would starve very quickly if we got it wrong, and they wouldn’t be in the third world - it would be me and my family.

And this all assumes that God wants the world as we know it to end, which is something I’m not at all sure is true.   The Bible tells me that the creation was created good and humanity very good.   It seems as if what has gone wrong in the interim has somehow been fixed by the Cross, so there seems no especial urgency for God to end the glorious experiment of creation.   I mean, what else will God do if he hasn’t got our endless whining to listen to?   An unemployed deity seems to me to be a contradiction in terms :-)   And despite the fact that increasing numbers of people are no longer coming to church these days, there are an awful lot of good people out there in the real world, trying to make the world a more loving place, even though we don’t read about them in the papers, see them on the TV or hear about them on the radio.

I remember a long time ago in another country an article in the local press caught my son’s attention.   It was about some (not so) young people doing something they shouldn’t.   The article described them as ‘students’ when they were clearly over 15 or whatever the leaving age for school attendance was.   My son was much perturbed.  He wrote off a letter to the editor saying that there were lots of school students who do the right thing.   Why should all students or young people be tarnished with the same brush?

For me the possible end of the world is a complete distraction.   It can distract us from what is important.

Mind you, many years ago I remember listening to the radio and an interview with a person who had early on been diagnosed with AIDS.  This person’s reaction was to decide to live what was he assumed to be the short time to the end of his life to the full, and he did, safely.   He took the opportunity to do things he would have never thought he would get around to.   He enjoyed his life.   As time went on, and he didn’t die, some of that enthusiasm for life dwindled too.  For him what he thought was his ‘death sentence’ became his ‘life sentence’.   He made the most of his life.   And this is what is important, making the most of life.

Of course, making the most of life can never be at the expense of others.   Of course it is life with others that makes life really full.

The ‘life sentence’ is a spur to clear out all those man made rules and regulations about who is in and who is out, what belongs to whom and who doesn’t belong anyway.  

It is interesting that Jesus describes the coming of the Son of Man like a ‘thief’ - someone who takes away things that are important to us.   And it is true ‘we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it’, so death means that we will be separated from those things that we have acquired.   But if there is actually an afterlife, we are taken into a place with other people, people who are important to us, and so the thief only takes the unimportant things away.   Now as I say, I’m not at all sure about this afterlife stuff, for we might as well live the afterlife here and now anyway.   Why wait until it might be too late to do what we know will make us happy and make the world happy?  If there are no distinctions between people in the afterlife, we might as well get used to it here and now - we’re a long time dead!

And when I see and hear some ‘christians’ talking, it seems that their faith and the status that that (supposedly) gives them, is the most important thing to them.   But the trouble is that Jesus gives us the parable of the marriage feast where everyone is invited, so much so that the streets are scoured to make sure no one misses out.   But when the king arrives he sees a person not wearing a wedding garment, the person is dressed and acts more like he is at a funeral of someone he didn’t like anyway.   This person didn’t want to be at the wedding feast, not because of the paucity of the fare or the inferior wine being served.  There is no doubt in my mind he didn’t want to be there because others were, the others, the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners with whom Jesus associated.   This parable tells us that in the kingdom, faith or lack thereof is immaterial, that status is irrelevant.

Jesus comes as a thief, to take our faith away (where that faith separates us from others) and the status our faith supposedly gives us in the sight of God.   There will be no ‘christians’ in the kingdom of God, only people.

And again, we might as well get used to this in this life, for we are a long time dead.  And if this is what the kingdom of the future is like then surely it is up to us to make this life as much like this now.

And I do want to say that there is little point praying for it.   God has done all that is necessary.   There is no point praying that god will make others live up to this.   God doesn’t make anyone do anything.   The most he or she can do is get in the way when people are persecuting others in his or her name, like Paul on that road to Damascus.  

And the problem is that much of these things are not done explicitly; more often discrimination happens subtly, often when the person doing the discriminating doesn’t even realise it - politically incorrect language for instance.   Statements like that most often recited and sung psalm: ‘the Lord is my shepherd’ as if God is not everyone else’s shepherd.   In my experience of the Anglican Church, everyone knows the church has to change to survive - the only problem is that by the church they mean - everyone else!   If everyone became like a member of this congregation, there wouldn’t be any problem.

And the Bible discourages us from knowing some things, besides a possible end to things, too.   In Genesis the forbidden fruit was from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  (Genesis 2.17).   I find it very sad that it is people of faith who are so very certain that they know what is good and what is evil - and how indeed this knowledge does bring death - death to so many.   How many people live lives of poverty, pain and premature death through fear of the evils of condoms!   And this by people purporting to be guarding the sanctity of life itself.   These are the real terrorists in our midst!

And this reminded me of that song "Walk A Mile In My Shoes" written by Joe South, in 1969.  ‘Cause I don’t think or wear my hair that same way you do .. well, I may be common people but I’m your brother and when you strike out you’re trying to hurt me it’s hurtin’ you .. walk a mile in my shoes .. before you abuse, criticise and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes.   And again Atticus the lawyer in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ didn’t go to church, but it was he who lived by this rule.

‘That day and hour no one knows’, for it is not up to God but us to us.   The day and the hour that we put our supposed superior status as ‘christians’ or whatever aside and treat ‘non-christians’ equally as ‘christians’ is the day we place ourselves as willing guests along with everyone else, enjoying the marriage feast of the Lamb in the here and now.

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