The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s144e06 Sunday 32 12/11/2006
'appear a second time .. to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.' Hebrews 9.28
The epistle to the Hebrews is an unlikely place to find an expression of millenarianism much more closely associated with St Paul's early writings and the Revelation to St John. The Epistle to the Hebrews is all about the superiority of the sacrifice of Jesus over the Old Testament ones, and our appropriate response - to welcome this and eagerly await their fulfilment.
Over the centuries, this or that group have thought that the second coming was about to happen, and they made something of a public spectacle of their joyfully awaiting. When it seems that the date they have decided was incorrect, they quietly fade into obscurity. Nowadays with modern media, perhaps there will be less of this, as people will get to know about these repeated predictions and the resultant disappointments.
Indeed I began this sermon rather reluctantly, thinking that really no one really believes these things anyway. But then I read Tim Kroenert's review of 'Andrew Denton's very Christian anti-Christian film': 'God On My Side' http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=1868
"A poll earlier this year showed that 42 per cent of Americans believe we're in the End Times," says Denton. "The movie contains footage from a mainstream news story on CNN about End Times. All the major networks in America ran stories about Armageddon and End Times‹serious stories in prime time." (No doubt there is a similar percentage of Australians who have similar beliefs though there are a number of factors that skew Christian affiliation in the United States over Australia.)
"To be fair, God On My Side deliberately takes a very specific demographic as its focus group‹one that's not intended to be representative of Christianity in general. "Evangelical Christians make up 40 per cent of US President George W. Bush's vote‹they have the ear of the most powerful administration in the world," says Denton. "They're part of the jigsaw puzzle of the clash of civilisations." "I would never suggest, and nor does the film attempt to, that they're running US foreign policy, but it would also be disingenuous to suggest they don't have a voice at the table."
"I think the people interviewed embody and believe they embody the Christian ideals of love," he adds. "But one of the points of the film is that absolute faith can blind you to the consequences of the actions you allow. It can tell you it's okay to drop bombs on another country, or that it's okay to hate a group of people such as homosexuals."
"What I hope people will take away from the film is a clearer ear for the absolutes of faith," Denton concludes. "I think anyone, no matter what their faith, who says 'There's only one truth, I know what it is, and if you don't ascribe to it you've got it coming to you' .. anyone like that needs to be looked at carefully."
But countering such views can lead to the opposite theory, that there is nothing around the corner that we are locked in to this same existence, day after day and it will never change for all of eternity. Yet it is perhaps only the most cynical who believes this. Everyone I know sincerely believes that they are trying to make this world a bit better place, even if it is only by helping one other person.
In the language of the letter to the Hebrews, the sacrifice of Christ might have been more efficacious, but it seems to have made precious little difference to human existence. I suppose that there are more calves and goats around!
How life would be changed if we actually believed that Christ has dealt with the sin of the world, and the only criterion is that we eagerly await a fulfilment! If the sin of the world has been done away with, there is nothing that separates us from others. If we lived as if this were really true, our world will surely be a different place.
If we only need to eagerly await a fulfilment, this seems a lot more like good news than trying to convert everyone to our own version of 'christianity' or to get all the gay and lesbian people to stop loving their chosen partners and learn to love people of the opposite gender. It certainly might help lots of people in third world countries to escape the cycle of disease, poverty and early death by allowing the use of condoms and the contraceptive pill.
If there is nothing that separates us from others, then any doctrine of the subordination of women becomes entirely irrelevant, and what a difference that might make to women everywhere, still the targets of domestic violence.
Recently I was reflecting on the story of blind Bartimaeus, and Jesus telling the crowd who earlier had been trying to silence the blind beggar, to tell him to come to Jesus. (Mark 10.49) And I thought of that other curious story of Jesus: 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.' And the slave said, 'Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.' Then the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.' (Luke 11.21-23) God is all about quantity not quality, orthodoxy, or moral purity! How very different this attitude is to that of the Church that puts all sorts of barriers around which people must be able to negotiate before they are acceptable. The creed is the classic case in point we all assume we have to understand it, when the reality is that if we understand it we are assuredly heretical!
It is this sort of fulfilment that we are called to eagerly await, a gathering of the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame, and to be prepared to associate with these sorts of people. The only other option is that we demur, we don't want to be associated with 'riff-raff' like this and we find excuses to be somewhere else.
Well this is what the kingdom will be like, whether we like it or not! There is no point in arguing, for scripture tells us this, time and time again.
And the curious thing is of course that if the kingdom of heaven includes all sorts and conditions of people, then it really isn't much different from the people who make up our present existence. And perhaps as we live like this, as we accept that we are now having a foretaste of the kingdom, then we make this existence remarkably like the fulfilment that we might think is only in the future.
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