Summary: A short sermon preached as part of a broadcast on BBC Radio for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Today is one of those days. A day when you look at the gospel reading and wish that you weren’t preaching, or that you could roll over in bed and go back to sleep. The gospel for today is about the end times. It’s quite frightening stuff really with those images of nation against nation, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, fearful events, persecution.
There have always been prophets of doom. I well remember in the good old days when football was football, queuing at the Gallowgate end of St Jame’s Park in Newcastle to watch Newcastle United play, and laughing at the man who walked up and down wearing a sandwich board with phrases on it like ’prepare to meet your doom’ and ’the end is nigh.’ Sometimes I was never sure whether he meant that we were going to loose to Sunderland or that the end of the world was fast approaching.
There is nothing new in predictions of great catastrophe. From way before the time of Jesus right up to the present day predictions of the end of the world have come and gone and have often left people with egg on their faces. If I’m honest I have to say that these kind of predictions don’t get me excited at all – whether they are the prophecies of Isaiah about a new heaven and a new earth from our first reading; or the words of Jesus about the passing of the old earth in our gospel reading; or predicted dates of the end that come today.
To me perhaps what is more important to us today is not the end of the world as we know it, but endings in our own lives, times when our world collapses and seems to end, times when our world is shaken to its foundation and almost falls apart.
It may well be that your world has collapsed; it is you who is suffering and sees no hope for the future.
You may have lost a loved one – husband, wife, brother, sister, parent, child, friend. The well-loved voice is silent, the house empty, an aching heart and a hollowness within, your world seems to have ended.
You might be involved in the breakdown of a relationship, facing a divorce, going through a messy break up. What seemed like a great future suddenly disappeared as your world seems to fall apart.
Hardly a week goes by without news of job losses; it may be you that has been made redundant or unemployed, as some companies with long traditions and strong Welsh roots move their jobs elsewhere chasing after cheap labour but leaving behind broken lives and people with no job and seemingly little hope for the future. Your world seemingly collapsed.
You may have received bad news of an illness and be struggling to come to terms with it and to cope with what is happening and may happen in the future. The end it seems of your world.
Whenever these kind of things happen our world falls apart. Those people we have relied on; those things we have trusted; those events we have put faith in, have gone. These can be times of great testing – testing of our faith, testing of our belief in God, wondering whether there is a God. Times like this can shake our faith to its core.
In the reading from Luke’s gospel when Jesus was talking about the shaking and collapse that will take place at the end of the world he gave his listeners some hope. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. At the end of the passage Jesus told people to stand firm and not to give in. He said that not a hair on your head will perish. By standing firm you will receive life.
Stand firm, hold on. God has not deserted them. And the same is true for us. In the midst of the turmoil of our lives, when our world seems to have collapsed, God who has been with us is still there. God who has been faithful in the past remains faithful today. God who has lavished his love on us hasn’t deserted us now in the time of need.
The times when we feel our faith tested, the times when we feel we are crawling along the valley floor, crushed by life, are the very times when God is closest to us, even though we often don’t realise it. When our world seems to be collapsing around us God stands firmly in the midst of the rubble.
In Jesus God came into the world. He came to share in all the joys and sorrows of life, he came to know what life is like and to show us what God was like. And because he came, because he lived, because he died and rose again, he stands firmly and squarely with us in this life and reaches out to us, to you and to me when our world seems to be collapsing and falling apart. His love comes close where stands an open door, his peace comes to those caught in a storm; his joy comes where faith encounters fear; his grace comes to those whose grace is spent. Stand firm, don’t lose hope. God is with you. Amen