1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (NLT)
3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
4 I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 5 Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. 6 This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. 7 Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 9 God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Mark 13: 24-end (NLT)
24 “At that time, after the anguish of those days,
the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.[g]
26 Then everyone will see the Son of Man[h] coming on the clouds with great power and glory.[i] 27 And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world[j]—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.
28 “Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that his return is very near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation[k] will not pass from the scene before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.
32 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. 33 And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert[l]!
34 “The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return. 35 You, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know when the master of the household will return—in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. 37 I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!”
Sermon by Colin Udall
I want to begin by looking back a bit, just before moving forward. Over the last few weeks the lectionary readings, the readings that are set for us to use in our services, have been from Matthew’s Gospel, looking at some of the teaching that Matthew places in the last week of Jesus’ earthly life as he taught in the Temple during the build-up to that fateful Passover festival and his arrest and crucifixion.
A couple of weeks ago, the reading was the parable of the Talents when the master gives his servants different amounts of money to make more money with and then last week it was the parable of the sheep and the goats, when Jesus talks about what will happen on Judgement Day as he sits on the throne as Christ the King.
Kate’s sermon for the parable of the talents, as I am sure you all well remember (!) talked about the 3rd servant, the one who was only given one talent, being “paralysed by fear of the master”. But as it was also the anniversary of the Coventry Blitz, having talked about the bombing, death and destruction that took place that night, she talked about the need to be driven by hope. We have seen that hope through the ministry of reconciliation that has arisen through Coventry Cathedral from the destruction of the old cathedral. I was lucky enough to be at the 50th anniversary commemoration service at the cathedral attended by the Queen Mother and the then Chancellor of Germany and the talk that day was about what we all had to celebrate that was common, not what was different.
I have been struck at different times by such services in different circumstances. Once, when I was visiting Kiel in Germany which was a great submarine building yard and harbour I saw a family gathered at the memorial of a submarine’s crew on the anniversary of its sinking during the 2nd world war. The second was at a gathering once when visiting Hungary and a man told me of a visit made to the UK of a twin city delegation to a town in the UK. It happened to fall over Remembrance Day. The Hungarian delegation were duly invited to lay a wreath and to say prayers for the people they knew that had been lost in the war. The leader of the Hungarian delegation was anxious and confused. “But we fought with the Germans against you”, he said. “And you lost men and women in that fight and you should remember them, for that is entirely the point of today”, replied the British Mayor.
Both of these incidents remind me that there is hope as we come together with our former enemies to celebrate the common good and live in peace together as we have mostly done in Europe for the past 70 years. That we can mourn together for those losses and we move forward in finding new ways to work together in the future.
About this time last year we were visiting Jane’s mum in Yorkshire and on the Sunday Morning we got a message that Nick Baines, the Bishop, was going to be preaching at the church we usually go to when we are up there. Many of you will have heard Nick on Pause for Thought on Radio 2 or Thought for the Day on Radio 4. I have known Nick for a number of years when I worked in Leicester Diocese and Nick was a rural dean and vicar just north of Leicester, and we have met on a number of occasions over the years, usually at Greenbelt Festival. So we decided to go along. Nick’s sermon that morning was largely about communication – how do we, as Christians communicate the message of Jesus Christ in today’s world. The central part of his sermon was a story he told of being invited to be a speaker at a conference to talk about using Social Media. He was challenged to describe being a Christian in 145 characters, then the limited size of a single tweet on the Twitter social media site. The tweet he came up with that pleased him and his followers the most was, [Quote] “Christians are not driven by fear but inspired by hope”. Well, at least you all understand why I remember Kate’s sermon so well.
And in this strange year that has been 2020, surely this is a message that we should be communicating about the birth of Jesus? We are inspired by hope, not driven by fear. I am sure it has been very hard for some of you since that original national lockdown was called in March. Many of you have not been able to visit families or friends, or even neighbours as you were able before March. A minister friend who has a church in the Glasgow area last week appealed to his congregation to get out and visit neighbours by knocking on the window or meeting them in the garden as Glasgow went into lockdown. We should be doing the same if we are able.
And this brings me neatly onto the parable of the sheep and goats, because the true message behind that story is that you will be asked on judgement day not what you think of God, or think of Jesus, or even if you believe in either, but the question you will be asked is “What did you do?” What did you do for your neighbour, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, homeless or the prisoner? What did you do for the least of these?
And this is what Advent is about. It’s about communicating that the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus is about hope. As we face an uncertain future economically, or health-wise, as many struggle financially or mentally from the factors surrounding the pandemic and the lockdown, we remember that Jesus gives us hope. He gives us a way forward, he gives us teaching and example that shows us how we should live our lives. Not paralysed by fear – hard that may seem for some at the moment – but driven by hope. Not just looking after ourselves but also our neighbours.
We can take an example from Isaiah, the prophet who is much quoted at this time of year, though I chose not to use the Isaiah reading set for this morning. Isaiah gave his message to people in very different but probably more difficult circumstances, for Isaiah preached to the Israelites in exile. Forced to move a long way from home and prevented from returning for at least a couple of generations, they longed for home and they longed for hope. Isaiah tried to give them this message of hope. When Isaiah confidently preaches that the “glory of the Lord shall be revealed” – still in the future – he is asking this depressed people to trust in something that looks impossible. It defies reality and all the evidence. The prophet is however, seeking to awaken hope. Not wishful thinking or mere optimism, but hope.
We have hope that is beyond a vaccine. A successful vaccine will allow us to return to life as it perhaps once was before March. Possibly even better. Perhaps some of that hope, optimism and community will still linger from those Thursday evenings clapping for the NHS and will enhance our lives in 2021 and beyond.
But what a time as we approach Christmas, approach a time perhaps beyond lockdowns and restrictive tiers to communicate our belief that Jesus gives us hope. Hope and a way of life.
Not paralysed by fear but driven by hope.
God of Salvation,
Wake us up Lord!
The night is nearly over.
Let us begin our Advent journey.
Move us from our lives
Of greed and selfishness,
From our globalised world
Of inequality and exploitation,
To your kingdom
Of righteousness and mercy.
To a transformed world,
Where peace is built on understanding not weapons,
The poor are empowered to live their lives to the full,
Businesses are built on need not greed
And your Creation is nurtured not abused.
Wake us up Lord!
Let us live as people of the light.