The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s093e05 Lockleys Advent 2 4/12/05
"we wait for new heavens and a new earth" 2 Peter 3.13
This is a pretty dramatic reading.
As I read this passage carefully it is the heavens that will pass away -- the earth .. will be disclosed, which presumably means that it will survive, though not unchanged.
The conflagration of the elements is frightening; yet behind all this lies the truth that we alone will survive. Humanity, in all our fragility continues on, the disaster and the dissolution will leave us untouched.
If we list what we think is important: heaven, buildings, faith, sacraments, whatever; it is in fact us, we ourselves, who are so sacred that God will protect us to the end. "The Lord is ... not wanting any to perish."
When I look through scripture I find, time and again, evidence of this protection.
So Moses, when he meets God in the wilderness, the Lord appears to him in the burning bush, but the bush itself is not being consumed. In the words of the prophet Malachi, about the silver and the gold purified by fire, again, that which is precious is untouched by the heat. Only the impurities will be done away with. Jesus tells us even the hairs of our head are counted.
So whoever we are, however we conceive of ourselves to be, remains. That precious being created uniquely from our mother's womb and continually being recreated as we go through life, that which we regard as "self" will remain -- precious, untouched, sacred. Some of the frustrations and delusions hopefully will be taken away.
In our gospel reading for today we hear of John the Baptist making his proclamation of repentance in the wilderness. And people flock to him to be baptised. And I reflect how frequently we might flock to this or that, forever thinking that we are somehow deficient, that we need something else to be acceptable.
Often it is the church that fails to proclaim how precious we are, as we are. It is much more spectacular to run this or that program. We are not so much different from the world that knows how profitable it is to make us think we are less than perfect -- that we have to purchase this or that in a vain and unending effort to make us so. So the Church finds it expedient to offer forgiveness, week after week, hoping that this will induce people to come week after week. Both the world and the church can lead us into unhealthy dependencies.
So I wonder if the new heavens and the new earth that St Peter hopes and prays for is actually some relief from this "merry-go-round" of feeling inadequate and trying to assuage these feelings by "retail therapy" or confession and absolution. If it is anything less than this, then I wonder if it is actually worth waiting and praying for?
And so we have a part to play in our own salvation; seeing what makes us dependent and seeing what makes us free.
The Anglican Communion, indeed I suspect all people of faith, is wracked with uncertainty as it seems the accepted orthodoxies of the past are whittled away by the communication revolution. As with the reformation, which was precipitated by the communication revolution of that day -- the invention of printing -- so there are reactions and disputations that follow now as then.
Communication makes us free -- free of other people's interpretation -- we no longer need to be dependent on others.
How many of us just love reading books? We cannot conceive of a world where few if any could read and we were dependent on someone else to give us "their" version of what is truth. The forces of repression are as active now as they were then. It will not be an easy time. Yet I would remind you of my fundamental premise -- that you and I will remain, for it is we who are the most precious.
Since our gospel reading refers to John the Baptist and his call for repentance, I draw your attention to St Luke's reinterpretation of what "repentance" means. In the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal father, repentance is reinterpreted as "rejoice with me" for something or someone else has been found.
Again, this is the sort of repentance that I am much more comfortable with, for it brings us closer to other people, rather than keeping us obsessed with our own acceptability, or the acceptability of others.
If we are the most sacred of things, as we are, then it follows that the new earth will not be composed of a whole lot of people who now suddenly agree with me or follow my theology. If we are untouched, then so will everyone else be.
Our salvation is intimately linked to the salvation of everyone else. None of us will be dependent on others, but others will be there nevertheless.
So the most important thing for St Peter, recognising that we and all people are sacred, is summed up in the final sentence: "Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace."
When we are not at peace with someone else, we are viewing the other person as less sacred than ourselves. They are somehow irrelevant, insignificant, even disposable. You get the drift.
The new heavens and the new earth for which I wait and pray is where no one is less sacred than me, where all people have their relevance, their significance and where no one is "disposable".
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