Sermon St George’s Preshute, 28th October 2018, 10.00am
Second Sunday before Advent: Daniel 12.1-3 & Mark 13.1-8
I think that I have managed so far this year not to mention Brexit in a single sermon. Today, however, I will. Don’t worry, this won’t be a ten-minute long political manifesto, nor an analysis of what I think post-Brexit Britain will look like – or whether there will be a post-Brexit Britain.
What I would like to do is draw some parallels between the readings this morning, and our own current political situation. I won’t focus so much on the issues at stake as Britain renegotiates its position within Europe, but on the process, and what it tells us about ourselves and possibly our relationship with God.
You may think at this point that this may become a bit awkward, a bit uncomfortable, as I’m not just discussing faith, but also politics. So the first thing of which we need to remind ourselves is that the readings we heard this morning are uncomfortable. Not just for us, but also for those who heard them originally. Yes, words of hope, but not of optimism.
The second half of the Book of Daniel, from which our reading is taken, was probably written in about the second century BC and contains prophetic visions of Daniel. These visions were spoken in a time during which the Jews in Jerusalem experienced their worst time of persecution up to then: “There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred.” That was the day-to-day experience of those who heard these words. And so, the promise that “at that time your people shall be delivered” was something to hold on to.
Also Mark is referring to a time of oppression of God’s people, as the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70: again a time of oppression and violence in which the promise of a Messiah, this time Jesus himself at his second coming, is a message of hope, when all may seem lost.
Although today in Western Europe, we are not persecuted for our faith or our identity, many of us will agree that we too live in a time that feels pretty unstable. Although we don’t live under an oppressive regime, many of us have lost confidence in those in authority, those in office, whether it is in this country or overseas. So, maybe we too, may see the hope in these readings that truth and justice will prevail eventually.
However, they are readings of hope, not optimism. And the first uncomfortable realisation is that we are not told when these things will happen. The disciples, like us, want to know, so they ask Jesus “When will this be?” Jesus seems to ignore their question. Instead, he tells them what they should do: “Beware that no one leads you astray”. “Do not be alarmed”. It is not our right to know, but our responsibility to be faithful. That is, I would like to suggest, something we don’t really want to hear. It is uncomfortable, as it is hard to be faithful, let alone in the light of uncertainty. But that is precisely what our faith is about: we don’t know, so we have to trust, and the way to live out that trust is by being truthful, thankful and faithful.
If we translate this to our current political climate, I suggest it sounds something like this. We live in a time of uncertainty. The problems that we face are those of overpopulation: we are anxious that there may not be enough resources to share and that this will get even worse as the effects of climate change become more visible.
So, wondering when this may be and what it may look like, at the same time we try to protect ourselves, and we try to find someone or something to blame. And as in any time, political leaders and structures are a good scapegoat. We think that leaving the European Union will help us solve the problems we see: we take back control, so that we can make our own decisions.
Over the last two years or so, the question what Brexit may look like, has been a great distraction of our real problems. Our newspapers have written endlessly about what the Brexit deal may look like, and what it may mean for our day-to-day living. Will prices go up? Will the NHS get more money? Will we, will our children and grandchildren have access to education and jobs?
We continue to speculate and worry about what may be, whilst at the same time living our lives, waiting for things to change. That is precisely what it means to be lead astray, and it is precisely what Jesus warned us against. Because instead of continuing to live as we do and worry about the what and when of the future, what Jesus asks us to do is to change our lives now, and entrust the future to God.
In contrast to what it may sound like, entrusting the future to God is not abdicating our responsibility, but taking our responsibility serious, acknowledging what is ours and what is Gods. We do not know what will happen in the future, but we do know the effects of our own actions, and if we’re honest, the need to commit to a faithful and truthful life.
So, instead of worrying about our opportunities in the future, let us use what we have been given to the best of our abilities. Instead of worrying whether there will be enough to go around in the future, let us share what we have now: not always wanting more, but sharing with those who have less.
The belief that our actions matter and are judged by a just and loving God is crucial to our Christian faith. It is the acknowledgement that our actions have consequences, not just because of their outcome, but also because of their intention, as we come before God to whom all hearts are open and all desires known. But this belief does not mean that we do things so that we may be found favourable in God’s sight, but we do them trusting that we will. We do not try to love our neighbours because it pleases God, but we do it knowing that it will. It is the same dynamic all over again: our faith in the last things is a promise that gives us a perspective on the present, not a distraction to speculate about that which belongs to the future.
To sum up, I think that today’s readings summon us to doing our utmost to live a faithful life, to be the people God wants us to be, trusting in his promise of everlasting life. Paradoxically, whilst speaking about the things to come, they ask us to live in the present, as if every day could be our last.
You may well disagree with this, and in some ways I hope you do, at least in part, maybe not quite everything! Because part of living a Christlike life is wrestle with these things. Just like living in a society, we all need to engage with that, not just leave it to those we think may be experts. Any leader, whether religious, political or otherwise needs to be held to account, and we can only do that faithfully and truthfully if we engage with the issues ourselves.
So, unless you would like to avoid politics and religion altogether, this may have given you something to talk about over lunch today.