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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


16th November 2003

Fr David Shepherd

Second Sunday Before Advent

'As Jesus came out of the Temple, one of the disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings.' Mk. 13.1

All over the world large stones and large buildings attract admiration from tourists - the inevitable Japanese with cameras clicking away. The disciples at the time of Jesus were likewise impressed, hence that comment from one of them.

What is the draw? Scale and a sense of permanence must feature highly. We human beings when we feel frail and unsure look for the certainties that big buildings suggest From the Tower of Babel to the World Trade Centre such buildings have been outward and visible signs of mans' trust in his own ability and political, economic and military prowess. Hence the sense of shock and disorientation when such structures fail or are destroyed. The symbolic is as significant as the physicality.

Jesus warned his disciples not to be overly impressed by such 'great buildings'. The time would come when they would all be 'thrown down'. This is was to be the case when the Romans raised Jerusalem in AD 70, destroying the Temple that was never to be rebuilt.

Next we see another feature of human beings, a desire to know and predict the future. It has its roots in fear and uncertainty, stronger than now because life was nasty, brutal and short. The disciples wanted Jesus to tell them when the Temple would be destroyed and what signs they should look for.

Then follows a famous passage when Jesus talks of false prophets, wars, and rumours of wars, earthquakes and famines. Such things are bound to happen but they do not mark the end, only 'the beginning of the birth pangs'. The disciples were not to be alarmed, such things always happen.

St. Mark's Gospel presents the urgency of Jesus' proclaiming of the kingdom of God, something that is already and not yet, always breaking in. Much of Jesus' teaching as recorded by St. Mark is strongly apocalyptic, about the end. More excitable Christians have always seen disasters and wars as heralding the end of the world. Jesus did seem to believe himself that the end time was not far off, that he was part of its ushering in. From the earliest times the Church has had to adjust to the obvious fact that the end time is not yet, that Christ has not yet returned.

Despite that adjustment we are encouraged to seek that sense of urgent, active, watchful, waiting for the breaking in of the kingdom of God, the already and not yet, to repeat the scholarly phrase. All that we have been considering is taken up in the forthcoming season of Advent with its traditional focus on the four last things, death, judgement, heaven and hell.

Looking for security in physical, material things, built or otherwise and being fearful about the future is all too human and has its roots in our sinful human condition. Our own times are no different

The writer to the Hebrews encourages us to place our hope in God. He describes how the priestly work and sacrifice of Christ enables us to approach God 'with a true heart in full assurance of faith'. We are to 'hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering'. Fear for the future, fear in the face of the evils of the modern world, personal fear, is always isolating. Like a snail in its shell we withdraw in on ourselves. Like those Hebrew Christians we 'neglect to meet together'.

As Christians we are called to be the Church, to be a people who encourage one another. Hearing the Gospel of Christ we are enabled to share and face our fears, to place our hope in him. If we look to something concrete and physical to base our hope on the Post Communion reminds that we can find it in the Holy Sacrament, the outward and physical sign of an inner grace.

Gracious Lord, in this Holy Sacrament you give substance to our hope:
Bring us at the last to that fullness of life for which we long; through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Amen

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Last updated 08/11/2003 19:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd