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29th November 2015 (Advent 1) - Hugh Perry

Date Given: 
27 November 2015

Readings

Jeremiah 33: 14-16

This passage from Jeremiah follows predictions of a new covenant and Jeremiah buying a field as an expression of hope in the future.  In this small section we read the covenant is seen as restoring the fortunes of both the Davidic rulers and the people.  Maurice Andrew puts this in our context by quoting Claudia Orange recording Hone Heke speaking of the treaty as the new covenant.  As Christ was the New Covenant and as the old Mosaic Law was put aside on conversion to Christianity, so the treaty, with its promise of a new relationship between the Crown and Maori chiefs, could be likened to the new covenant’ [1]

As Advent reminds us of our Christian covenant we need to look at what new promises are in front of us and what past promises are still relevant and need to be renewed in light of what the future offers.

Luke 21:25-36

This reading follows on from the prediction of the destruction of the temple and is part of Luke’s apocalyptic section which he took from Mark.  Luke did not simply copy but made addition and alterations to suit his purpose.  Apocalyptic writing uses symbols in dream sequences rather than relate real events and although this episode is not a dream sequence it has imagery from the book of Daniel which is the best known apocalyptic book from Hebrew Scripture. 

The book of Daniel deals with political issues of Israel under Greek domination and the dream sequence disguises that by setting the dream in the time of Babylonian domination and exile.  The images are surreal rather than real and the use of symbolism protects the author from charges of anti-government activity which is always life threatening under dominating empires. 

In these Gospel apocalypses the writers refer to the CE70 destruction of the temple and brings in Daniel’s judgement figure. ‘As I watched in the night visions I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven’ (Daniel 7:13).  The NRSV translates the Hebrew of Daniel as ‘one like a human being’ and the Greek of the Gospels as ‘son of man’ but the translations are interchangeable.  Therefore the Gospel writer has linked the destruction of the temple with Jesus death and introduced a judgment motive.  Not only does the ‘son of man’ make Jesus that judgment figure from Daniel’s dream but also suggests that the transformation suggested in Daniel’s dream has begun with Jesus’ mission.  Mark and Luke’s readers have witnessed the destruction of the temple and this episode tells them not to see this as we so often see disaster, as the end of life as we know it.’  Rather this is a sign of the beginning of something we are all called to be a part of—the kingdom of God.  Followers of Jesus, Luke wisely suggests, are to understand the destruction of the temple, or any other disaster, not as the end of everything, but part of the world.  A world where followers of Jesus are called to be in partnership with the Risen Christ in the transformation of humanity.

Sermon

On my first day door knocking last week we came across one old man who was probably the most pleased to see us.  He wasn’t particularly interested in our leaflets that told him about community services and help with earthquake repairs.  What excited him was that he was able to give us his brochure that quoted selected passages of the bible to prove that three angels were about to appear and bring the world as we know it to an end.

We were visiting as a Community Response Team because just over five years ago the world as we knew it ended.  At the time I didn’t see three angels in the sky which could have been because I was asleep.

If they wanted to see me I guess they would have rung the door bell.  Our door bell sometimes rings for no reason but it didn’t ring at 4.35 a.m. on Saturday 4 September 2010.  However I still recall a very noisy, angry sounding, flock of Canadian Geese flying overhead while our house rocked and the taps stopped working.  

Even without biblical text or visiting angels our experience and expectation of Christchurch radically changed.  Then just as we began to settle into the new world of Christchurch we had the massive earthquake at 12:51pm on 22 February 2011 when our world well and truly changed for ever.

But wait there is more.  At ten past eight last Wednesday, just as Lindsay, Jody and I prepared to add our person power to the Response Team campaign there was a 3.4 magnitude earthquake off Waimairi Beach. 

So with the blessing of such signs and wonders we went out into this neighbourhood in the proper biblical twos.  We knocked on doors and if we were not received we left our brochure in the letter box.  Apart from the man who looked to other worldly powers to build a world of his imagination most people were moving on, but certainly impressed that we would volunteer to call on them.  Some had issues of age and health and appreciated the extra helpful information we offered.  A few others were still working though repairs and arguments with their insurers. 

Then as I was writing this I learned that there was a bomb scare in central Wellington and my friend Simon Woolf and his sister were both confined to their workplaces.  Deborah’s comment on Facebook was ‘Bomb scare outside my work now.  Wellington's main street closed and police everywhere.  It occurs to me that I had to come home from Israel and Mexico for this nonsense’.

Perhaps someone with a fertile imagination and too much time to trawl through text could find that the bomb scare was connected to the fact that while in Israel Deborah hugged the tree she planted as a teenage volunteer.  The truth is that disaster and threats of disaster both natural and human orchestrated happen all the time. They happened in Old Testament times, they happened in the first century and they happen now. 

For for all of us in Christchurch the world changed at 4.35 a.m. on Saturday 4 September 2010 and continues to change, although much of the change is much less dramatic and much less scary.  The point to remember is that our Christian calling tells us that regardless of extreme natural events and human greed, violence and insanity our own life journey can transform a dysfunctional human society into the divine realm.

In verse eight of chapter twenty one Luke adds to the warning we have read previously from Mark’s Gospel about false prophets.  Both gospel writers also warn of predicting the future from extreme and terrifying events.  However in our passage Luke seems to be encouraging us to do just that by suggesting that people should read the signs of the times just as they do the seasons and he even appears to expect the end within a generation.  However the language he uses is not the language of accurate prediction and like the images of horror and hope the language of this passage fails the reality test.  Luke even revised Mark’s account to remove the impression that the destruction of the temple and the end of the world were all part of one event.  

Luke probably lived at least a decade since the destruction of the temple so he knows that life moves on past the horrors that seem to destroy all hope.  Luke therefore understands that the expectation of doom and danger of global proportions are not to be despised.  Luke also knows that a sense of potential transformation and liberation of global proportions belongs to the heart of the Christian faith.  Global catastrophes are real possibilities, whether through nuclear accidents, nuclear war, terrorism, environmental vandalism, local, or affecting the earth and its atmosphere as a whole.  We should watch out for the signs and do something to stop the disasters of human construction and care for the people affected by extreme natural events.

In interpreting texts such as our two readings this morning we must remember that apocalyptic writing is dream writing.  We must remember we are not living in Daniels dream where a judgement figure appears out of the clouds.  The frightening truth is that we are the human beings that judge and restore our world.  

In our gospels Jesus refers to himself as the son of man or ‘one like a human being’.  Both this piece of Luke’s apocalyptic writing and the dream sequence from Daniel it alludes to, reminds us that the way through disaster is always the same.  Hope for deliverance is not in angels, the frightening horses of the apocalypse or even Dr Who.   In the language of poetry Luke reminds us that liberation is not about the appearance of the Christ riding on the clouds of heaven.  Liberation comes through the Spirit of Christ inspiring each of us.  It is the Spirit of Christ that will bring renewal to individuals and through those individuals transformation our world.

The mostly older people that Lindsay, Jody and I have been door knocking with responded to the devastating disaster of the 4th of September 2010 and 22nd of February 2011 by going out in twos to ask people if they needed help.  More than five years later they are still knocking on doors and still finding people who need help. 

On the two mornings I visited most people were at work and those who were at home were OK.  A few had minor issues and we gave information.  The vast majority we spoke to were absolutely delighted that we had taken the time to ask—to know that people cared.    

That is all about Christ’s Spirit moving though cataclysmic disaster but there are also ongoing and unnoticed disasters that events like white ribbon week remind us of.  I recently heard some horrible things about the way our prisons take broken people and before releasing them change them into angry broken people. 

Then in the Christchurch Mail on Thursday I read about a woman who taught herself to read in prison.  She read Ray Avery’s autobiography Rebel with a Cause and asked if they could get extra copies for the prison book club.  What she actually got for the prison book club was Sir Ray Avery.  He came to lead the discussion on the way one person could transform a rebellious young boy with an appalling start in life into a visionary scientist, international aid-worker, knight of the realm and the first New Zealander of the year. 

Sir Ray Avery changes the world for a living, he is a truly amazing man.  But his real story is about the school teacher come social worker who transformed Ray Avery’s life.  That man gave a simple proposition that offered a way into an unknown future for a young boy headed towards disaster.  In doing so that teacher was very much the son of man riding on the clouds of heaven.  He simply offered hope to a boy who was losing his way. 

He would have had no idea that in doing so he was bringing industry to two third world communities, restoring sight to thousands and inventing incubators that save babies lives in extreme climates.  He would not have even thought that he was offering hope instead of anger to a bunch of broken women.

Very few of us are called to be the dragon slaying knights that do extraordinary world changing things.  Yet we can all open our souls to the transforming spirit of Christ and be inspired to offer an encouraging word to a stranger with absolutely no idea of the change we might make.  



[1] C Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi (Wellington: Allen & Unwin/Port Nicholson Press, 1987), pp90-91, 150 quoted in Maurice Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand  (Wellington: DEFT 1999), pp.231-232

 

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