The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r148.htm
s148g03 Lockleys Advent 1 30/11/03
"this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place" Luke 21.32
As we look at these words of Jesus, and as those same words are reflected in the book, the Revelation to St John it may not have occurred to you, as it had not occurred to me until a while back - not one drop of blood is spilled, not one hair of anyone's head is lost. For all the dire happenings, no actual fighting is described. If you are looking for "blood and guts" here, you will have to see the "Matrix" - but, of course, even there it is virtual rather than real.
One of the things I found out when I went to theological college is how in the Book of Judges there is the repeated formula: "The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord ... therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled .. and he sold them ... But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer who delivered them - so the land had rest for forty years". (e.g. Judges 3:7-11) This period of 40 years was a generation, and so each and every generation was given a choice - to not turn to other gods. In other words no one escapes that choice - to not turn to another god.
And for us as Christians, who look at Jesus on the Cross and in the resurrection, we know that all other gods are gods of power. These gods are illusory, because we cannot invoke the divine to hurt others - well we can try to invoke all we like - but it will be to no avail.
I repeat those words of a couple of weeks ago - that it is the religious differences that are the sins of the fathers - having their effect - generation after generation. The first murder happened because one brother thought God accepted his brother's offering over his own. The sins of the fathers had their logical outcome in crucifying Jesus. The people who counted themselves as religious hated the God that Jesus portrayed, so much so that they had him killed. It has happened and we know why it happened - to attempt to preserve their positions of authority over others, to maintain religious divisions and differences. The resurrection is our guarantee that that attempt failed.
Why indeed would we look with any fondness for religious hierarchy? for we would have to be pretty certain it was our own version of the truth which was right, otherwise we would be hoisted by our own petard and all would be lost. If some are condemned, we have to be pretty certain it is not likely to be us!
The definitive action of God in Jesus did indeed happen in that generation, yet the very same possibility of turning to a god of power, or trying to turn the God whose mercies endure for ever into a god of power, remains a constant temptation and failing.
How easy it would be to suggest that god only likes people who know the correct divine name and how often do our scriptures show us God, again and again, avoiding revealing just that? Is a god who likes those privileged people who know the divine name really deserving of our worship? I don't think so personally. And this means that God isn't someone who only accepts my particular form of worship.
So those who worship a discriminating god will naturally fear the god they worship - because this implies that some will be condemned. The Son of Man "coming on a cloud with power and great glory" is the Cross which destroys the non-existent power of other gods.
We and all people can stand up and raise our heads.
The God who Jesus shows us is as familiar as the trees in bud.
I sometimes wonder whether John Lennon ever realised that his wish: "Imagine there's no heaven" actually echoes the promise of Jesus "Heaven and earth will pass away" - not just the earth, as we so often can assume.
There is no need to be downcast and "a little wine" does indeed gladden the human heart.
As I read through this gospel again, I am struck that it focusses for a while on the definite action of God - that which will happen before this generation will pass away - and then our response. We are to be alert so that we don't miss something.
It is important that we get the message not just that God has acted, acts, and continues to act, but that our response is not to be weighed down but to stand up in the presence of the Son of Man, with everyone else. In this sense the important thing is not the definitive action of God, but the strengthening that is meant for all people. God acts in Jesus in love for all of humanity.
God acts, not to form another set of people who worship the Almighty in a truer or more direct fashion, but to lift us and all people to their primal dignity, able to think, feel and act - not to spend our existence cowering like animals.
God has acted, but in such a way as to enable us to continue to choose, not to have choice taken away. And I might comment that this is a pretty neat trick.
Again and again, God bids us "Lift up your hearts". God bids us choose to be made whole, choose to be adult, choose to allow others this same dignity, and in doing so we stand to make a difference to our society. If we choose to remain less than human, choose to remain childish, and demand that others do the same (only more so) then nothing can be surer than the world will continue as it is, with all it's wars and strife.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, and in Advent we look to the "end times". Most choices we make in life come with blessings either way. If we choose to be married there will be blessings and difficulties. If we choose to be single there will be a different set of blessings and difficulties.
But the choice to perpetuate division amongst people in the name of god comes only with curses, for humanity - and eventually those curses will come home to roost to ourselves, sooner or later. In this sense we have to continually discern the way God would have us go, and continually choose that way. Otherwise the end time will be upon us, even as we think we are the most free and the most powerful.
But also as we do choose the way of acceptance of other people, God is faithful, and we will be blessed as we see, again, and again, and again, and again ... for as long as we care to look, the loving kindness of the Lord in all sorts of other people. Blessing, as well as curse, is put before us all. Each and every day, each and every moment, contains these possibilities. Our final destiny can be ours here and now, and like the man without the wedding garment amongst those who were rejoicing to be included in the celebration, we ourselves choose to rejoice or to weep and gnash our teeth. But if we choose to do the latter, God will most certainly oblige and let us go to be with the others who similarly want to weep and gnash their teeth because they have to share God with others.
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