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

s092g14   Advent 1   30/11/2014

‘the powers in the heavens will be shaken’  Mark 13.25

I see that the distance, ‘as the crow flies’ from London to Baghdad is just over 4000kms, so about double the distance from Christchurch to Sydney.   I suspect that the average person in the Holy Land in biblical times would have thought that the universe was about this size.   The fear of ancient mariners was that they would come to the edge of the world and fall off.  I read somewhere that one of the reasons that there are so many regional dialects is that before the industrial revolution ‘ordinary’ people didn’t travel more than 5 miles from the village of their birth.  Their world view was extremely limited.  

On the 13th of November, Philae, touched down on .. Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko.   (We know it) was the climax of a 10-year, 6 billion-kilometer journey from Earth. (The mothership) Rosetta had to slingshot three times around Earth and once around Mars before it could work up enough speed to reach the comet, which it did in August. (1)   How awesome!

‘Once regarded by astronomers as a small and relatively insignificant star, the Sun is now thought to be brighter than about 85% of the stars in the Milky Way, most of which are red dwarfs.’  (2)
So perhaps our sun has already been darkened as we realise how average a star it actually is.   I suppose that for some the moon has been eclipsed by the beauty of the rings of Saturn - now that we see them more clearly.  (3)   The powers in the heavens are indeed shaken as humanity finds dignity in the exploration of both the microscopic and the telescopic world.   And the words of Jesus come back to me: ‘Is it not written in your law, 'I said, you are gods’?’ (4)

On the other hand I do not know if humanity will perish from the face of the earth because of global warming and we in our turn will go extinct like the multitude of other species before us.   Perhaps the balance between the planets will be upset by the multitude of space vehicles which have left the earth’s gravitational field, changing the mass of our planet and hence our orbit.   We might go hurtling out of the solar system - but even this would be hardly a glitch for the rest of the universe.   Our world view is lightyears larger.

‘The powers in the heavens’ are indeed being shaken by the advances of humanity, in literacy, in communication, in exploration.  In the 1960’s the oral history movement started using tape recorders, interviewing the elderly. (5)   I have begun scanning some of my old loose photos and putting some of the more interesting ones on my Facebook page.   For me, the internet and Facebook offer a democratic way of having one’s voice heard across humanity in a lasting way.   We all have our odysseys and now we can record our own, for the encouragement of others and for, I suppose, a limited form of posterity.  

Yet I for one don’t think of this as diminishing a divine, however we may perceive this.   For me, ‘power’ always seems inimical to love so I for one am glad that power is being overcome and the primacy of love is reestablished.   A world where all the questions had been answered would be terribly boring, just as another human being whose responses could always be predicted would be boring!

I don’t often look up words in Greek, again because mostly I only show my ignorance.  But the word for ‘keep awake’ in Greek has connotations of being alive, the same word being used in
1 Thessalonians 5:10 ‘who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.’ (6)

‘Keep awake’ is clearly a word important to Jesus - ‘last impressions last’ as they say - and this is his last public instruction before the passion narrative beginning in Mark 14, Luke 22 and Matthew 26 (putting aside the parables of judgement in Matthew 25).   In the context it is not just about not being asleep, it is about being engaged in the work that we have been given to do in the world.

These words remind us of the dignity of work, the dignity of existence, the dignity of being.   We are in this world to care for others and to be cared for by others - not to set ourselves apart from others, hoping by prayer, devotion, orthodoxy or morality, to be immune from (as Hamlet puts it) the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ (7), and so not needing anyone who doesn’t share our perceptions in life.   I was interested to hear that Malcolm X at the Oxford Union debate in 1964 used this quote to support activism. (8)

In this sense, we can’t do anything ‘religious’ to hasten the coming.   As I intimated above, it is already happening.   For those who are awake, alive, observant, it is already happening, as plain as the nose on one’s face, yet, like the nose, easily overlooked.   It is particularly easily overlooked by those buried in prayer book and bible.

Jesus bids us be alive, alive to love, alive to the world, confident that the purposes of the divine will not be thwarted by those who hide themselves away, compartmentalise the divine, and murder the God who cares for others.

The injunction to be awake, to be alert, to watch and to be alive is also an invitation to be reflective and to think.   Each time someone falls on their face when encountering the Almighty, he or she is lifted to their feet - the primal dignity of all of humanity is restored: to stand before God not grovel, and to think and reason rather than being forced to obey.

And I want to return to my statement I made last week - that I’m a bible believing christian. (9)   For me the Bible, for all it’s faults, shows me time and again the failure of any exercise of religion to guarantee the devotee a life of unfettered health, wealth and happiness.   The Bible shows time and again the propensity of religious people to marginalise, alienate and condemn others.   The central story of the new testament is the death of the Son of God, killed by those who loved the Lord their God ‘with all their hearts and minds and strength’. (10)   It is precisely this self-critical aspect of christianity that for me testifies to its truth.   It is not just a hymn-book of praise, prayers for help against the foe, wisdom to live a good life or rubrics about worship.   It is not an instruction manual conferring privilege, entitlement or superiority - a recipe for initiating and perpetuating divisions between people.

It is precisely this fact that opens us up to others and as such is an instrument for communion and community.

The powers of heaven are indeed being shaken as the sacredness of all life and love is proclaimed.  As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: ‘as we are all made in the image of God, we should be genuflecting to each other’. (11)

4  John 10.34
6.  γρηγορεῖτε
10.  Mark 12.30