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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon


14th November 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Second Sunday before Advent

If you've spent anytime with young boys you'll know they love playing builders and soldiers. Their games merge so that you can't always tell the building site from the battlefield. This is another way of saying that boys are drawn by construction and destruction. In this they reflect adult human behaviour or at least in its more masculine form.

Jesus refers to those two human qualities, the constructive and the destructive, in today's Gospel passage from St. Luke.

Then, as now people were impressed by the material, by the sheer physicality of construction. The Temple in Jerusalem was beautifully built, using the finest materials, dedicated to God. At a time and place when many lived a nomadic existence in tents and others lived in dwellings made from mud bricks in a rural society, the scale of the Temple would have seemed overwhelming. In our own culture, mediaeval cathedrals would have had a similar impact on the peasants. Today city skyscrapers impress, speaking as they do of wealth and power.

Jesus warned his hearers not to put their trust in such man-made edifices even when they seem to point to God. From the story of the tower of Babel through the debate about whether Israel should abandon its nomadic tradition for king and temple there was always a biblical ambivalence about the permanent and the built. Was God always on the move in his tent or static in his temple?

So much for the construction, next comes the destruction. Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple, 'when not one stone would be left upon another; all would be thrown down.' Many scholars attribute Jesus' description to St. Luke writing after the actual destruction of the temple by the Romans in AD 70.

Jesus then widens the scope of his prophecy by speaking of war and insurrection, of natural disaster in the form of earthquake, famine and plague and of cosmic catastrophe. Then as now there were those who were excited by the apocalyptic, who looked for signs of the end of the world. This was a particular characteristic of primitive Christianity. The early Christians believed that Jesus would return soon bringing about the new reign of God.

Jesus warns his hearers to be wary of false prophets. Through Jesus St. Luke was urging his Church to stand fast in the face of persecution and not to be sidetracked by such apocalyptic speculation.

In our own age we too are made fearful by the immediacy of television news with its stories of war and revolution and of natural disaster. Our faith tells us that it was ever thus and gives us the strength to stand firm in adversity.

All of this has something to say to us on Remembrance Sunday. As we remember the terrible cost of war, human construction and destruction come to mind once more. Just as with boys' games there is an overlap between the two. Much construction is also destructive. In its wealth creation it also has an impact on creation.

Despite its destructive and offensive nature war can also bring out good qualities in human beings, acts of self-sacrifice, altruism and courage. This is part of the paradox of humanity. We are curious mixture of good and evil. Destructive war can give way to constructive peace.

We will have this in mind as we remember those who gave their lives for our freedom in two world wars and those who continue to suffer as a result of war. We will be mindful of it as we pray for those serving in Iraq, that destruction will give way to constructive peace.

Our faith leads us to seek God's way through the tension between human construction and destruction. It is a way of penitence and thanksgiving, away of creativity and renewal. It leads from the earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly one, to the City of God built on the foundations of the apostles and saints with Christ as the corner stone.

Amen

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