EU e-Privacy Directive

This website uses cookies to manage authentication, navigation, and other functions. By using our website, you agree that we can place these types of cookies on your device.

View e-Privacy Directive Documents

View GDPR Documents

You have declined cookies. This decision can be reversed.
Sun, Dec 03, 2017

Advent Sunday

Interpreting apocalyptic symbolism. The Gospel reading today was St Mark 13: 24-37
Series:July - Dec 2017
Duration:18 mins 45 secs
Sermon       Sunday 3 December 2017          Advent Sunday
Lessons             Isaiah 64: 1 - 9              1 Corinthians 1: 3 – 9              St Mark 13: 24 - 39
Prayer of Illumination
May the energy of the Spirit, the essence of the Word, flow through us, filling us to overflowing, that we may be one with the Spirit present in all things.   In Jesus’ Name, we pray.   Amen.
These are dramatic, frightening and earth-shattering words from the lips of Jesus.   Seated with His disciples on the Mount of Olives, surrounded by fig trees, Jesus said, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes’.   The Son of Man, He said, will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.’   These are strange, strange words.   What are we to make of them?  
Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the day on which the Church traditionally looks forward not only to the Incarnation, to the first coming of Christ, the son of Mary born in the stable of Bethlehem, but to the Second Coming, to Christ’s return.   The Gospels promise that, with the call of a trumpet, the Jewish shofar, the Son of Man will come to us in a cloud with power and great glory.  
Jesus said, ‘Look at the fig trees….as soon as they sprout leaves you can see ….that summer is already near.   So…when you see these things taking place, you will know that the kingdom of God is near.’   The rabbi from Nazareth points to new birth, new life, and said, ‘This generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.’   What are we to make of this apocalyptic vision?   What might it have meant when Jesus first spoke these words and do these words have any meaning for us today?  
If we take ourselves back to the Mount of Olives, we take ourselves to place of historical and spiritual significance.   It was on the slopes of Mount Olivet that David, the king, wept, and, said the prophet Zechariah, it will be on the Mount of Olives, the sacred hill, on which YHWH, the God of Israel, will one day stand.   It is here, on this holy ground, that Jesus was sitting with His disciples.   Facing west, from their elevated vantage point, looking over Jerusalem’s walls, they had an uninterrupted view of the temple.   It is here that Jesus describes His apocalyptic vision.  
The language of wars, famines, earthquakes, clouds, trumpet calls and angels is metaphorical rather than literal, poetic rather than scientific.   In the Old Testament, in the Book of Isaiah, there is an almost identical picture painted of the fall of Babylon in the sixth century BC, the overthrow of the kingdom by the Persians.   As far as we know, the sun, moon and stars remained in their places despite all that the prophet said!   So, the language is metaphorical, but it does point to a dramatic turn of events.   In the case of Babylon, it was the fall of city and empire which led to the liberation of the Hebrew people by the Persian king, Cyrus.   The exile was over and the people returned to their home, to Zion, to Jerusalem.  
In the case of Jesus and the Gospel writers, the dramatic event was the sacking of the city of Jerusalem in 70AD by four Roman legions led by Titus, and the destruction of the temple.   One legion, the X Fretensis, made its assault from the very spot where Jesus and His disciples sat.   It is perfectly reasonable to argue that Jesus saw it coming.   When He told His disciples that, ‘This generation will not pass away until all things have taken place’, He meant that, within forty years, Jerusalem would fall.  
The story of Babylon, its fall at the hands of the Persians, is one of captivity and liberation, of death and resurrection, of the Hebrew people:  the dry bones living.   Pointing to the fig trees around Him, Jesus said that, after death; after the fall of Jerusalem, there will be resurrection, new life, after the winter comes the spring. He told His disciples:  be alert, be on guard, for when such trials come, the kingdom of heaven is near.   If we take these dramatic verses of Scripture literally, we may be waiting for the sun, moon and stars to fall from the sky, for the sound of a shofar and the Son of Man to appear riding on a cloud.   But, correctly understood, these verses convey the trauma of turmoil, the upheaval that accompanies revolution and change; the uncertainty, the fear and the danger.   Crucially, Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven is near.
Sitting on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat, Jesus could repeat those very words, that same apocalyptic poem.   He could again speak of wars, famines, earthquakes, clouds, trumpet calls and angels.   He would be referring to the enormous changes being forced upon religion in our time, in our society.   The sacking of Christendom by increasingly intolerant secularism is no less an assault than the destruction of the temple by the legions of Titus.   But, crucially, Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven was near.  
The Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Küng, describes five paradigm shifts in the history of Christianity.   Küng describes the apocalyptic paradigm, the Hellenistic period, the mediaeval Roman Catholic paradigm, the Protestant Reformation and, from the seventeenth century to the twenty century, the modern paradigm.   Through each paradigm, the Church has changed:  its theology has developed and, in order to be missional, its language has had to take account of changing worldviews.   In the twenty-first century, we are living through a paradigm shift.   In the language of Isaiah and Jesus, the trumpets, the shofars, are sounding.   Pope Francis said that, ‘We are not living through an era of change, but a change of era.’   To use the language of Küng, we are entering the sixth paradigm of Christianity.  
Reflecting on the secular assault on Christianity, the philosopher, Don Cupitt, has said:
            Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose
faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because
something they used to think existed does not after all exist,
but because the available language about God has been allowed
to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work
of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to
enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious
symbols and idioms.
Jesus points us to the fig tree, to signs of new life.   Where are they?   What will the Church in the sixth paradigm look like?   The change may be traumatic, if not unsettling and disturbing.  
Acknowledging that we are all different, for myself, I see the Church needing to become more spiritual, to learn again the language of spirituality, the inner life, and to sit more lightly than before with many of our doctrines.   Surely, we have learned the lesson that doctrinal dispute is little more counting angels on a pinhead and that our best philosophical arguments are, as Matthew Arnold said, a pyramid of eggs.   As the world shrinks, as trade and technology brings the world’s religions into ever-closer proximity, we have the chance to see for ourselves the Spirit of God burning in the beautiful eyes of our neighbours:  in the humanity of the Muslim, the Sikh, the Hindu, the Jew and the Buddhist.    If we are blind, if we are blinded by our own doctrine, if for a moment we consider our tradition as absolute, the outcome may be bloody.   Walking side by side in faith is essential for world peace and, perhaps, for human survival.
Pope Benedict said that, in its strictest sense, there can be no inter-religious dialogue.   We must avoid all syncretism, all dilution of Christian truth.   It may be that there are beliefs or practices in other world religions which I would find odd, distasteful or offensive but I sometimes think that of Christianity.   The distinguished historian, Philip Jenkins, points is to a time in our history when the Church was more spiritually open than it is today.   Jenkins says that for more than a thousand years, Christians in the east happily lived alongside their Buddhist neighbours.   Tracing their ancestry not back to Rome but to ancient Palestine, to the original Jesus movement, Christians bearing the name, the Nazarenes, moved across India, Central Asia and into China.   In South India and along the coast of China, dating from the early Middle Ages, there are stone carvings depicting a cross which is growing out of a lotus flower, the symbol of Buddhist enlightenment.  
Asian Christians, it seems, were comfortable in sitting alongside the great monastic and mystical traditions of Buddhism.   For them, the lotus and cross both carried messages of light and salvation.   The Nazarenes were followers of Yeshua, not Jesus.   In some of their texts, they replaced the phrase ‘angels and archangels and the hosts of heaven’ with the language of buddhas and devas.   There is also evidence of Christian and Buddhist scholars working together to translate volumes of Buddhist wisdom.   Jenkins goes so far as to say that the first books which form the foundation of Japanese Zen Buddhism were translated by a Christian bishop.  
Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’   We have nothing to fear.   The God who was uniquely present in Jesus is present in each of us, in every human being, working through every world faith.   In Genesis, God breathed life into all humanity, all humanity equally, not just Christians.   In Ephesians and Colossians, the apostle Paul wrote of the Cosmic Christ, the Christ of God in and through all things, through the whole of creation.   Jesus saw the Spirit of the Sacred in the midst of the Pharisees, in the eyes of a Samaritan woman and in the fragile frame of a child.   In the Gospel of John, all things came into being through the Word, through the essence of the Divine, the energy of the Eternal.   It should come as no surprise to us to find the Christ, the breath of God, in the followers of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.  
We have a home:  it is Christianity.   In our time, in a culture of science, as creatures of consciousness that have emerged through billions of years of evolution, as co-creators with God, I hope and pray that the sixth paradigm, the twenty-first century, will be a time of seeing our oneness, our unity, not only with our neighbours of all faiths and none, but with the Earth itself.   We are already one, if only we would take off our cultural and religious glasses.   If we wish to see Christ come on the clouds in power and great glory, we will.   We will see Christ come again when we see Christ in all.
Powered by: Preachitsuite


Mayfield Salisbury Church Memorials 1914-1918

  • Because God is both knowable and unknowable the tension of the symbol, the multilayers of the myth and the openness of the poetic are all vital to our desire to celebrate the Mystery to whom we relate and in whom we have our being.
    Mark Oakley

  • You must love him as he is: neither God, nor spirit, nor image; even more, the One without commingling, pure, luminous ...

    Meister Eckhart

  • The purpose of our life is God's glory. However lowly a life is, that is what makes it great.
    Oscar Romero

  • Faith may justify bigotry or fanaticism, as Church history tragically witnesses. It needs a safeguard. If it is not animated as it were by the greatest of the theological virtues (love), faith can become defective.
    Thomas Norris

  • Dry not, dry not, your tears of love eternal! Only to eyes that fail to weep does this world seem so dull and dead. Dry not, dry not, those long, sad tears of love.
    Johann von Goette

  • The post modern paradigm manifests itself as a unity which preserves diversity and diversity which strives after unity.
    David Bosch

  • There is only one assertion that requires no evidence. Children are a sacred trust...Unless we care properly for our children, we shall never build a better world.
    'A Good Childhood’ The Children’s Society

  • These are only hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses; and the rest is prayer.
    'The Dry Salvages' T.S.Eliot

  • According to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured.

  • Myth is a story about the way things never were, but always are.
    Thomas Mann

  • In the darkness ...The child of your love - and now become as the most hated one - the one You have thrown away as unwanted - unloved ..... The darkness is so dark .... I have no faith.
    Mother Teresa

  • I love the Bible. I owe my faith and my life to the Bible and its liberating message. It is in the Bible that I first met Jesus ... I too am included in God's embrace.
    Gene Robinson

  • It is this great absence that is like a presence, that compels me to address it without hope of a reply ....
    R.S. Thomas

  • Faith is not a proud self-consistent philosophy. It involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can't be solved by analysis. It is therefore a living response to the grace of God as revealed in fragile lives.
    Mark Oakley

  • Any religion which does not say that God is hidden is not true.
    Blaise Pascal

  • The contemporary Church is losing aspects of its wide and generous memory and therefore condemning itself to become a 'swimming pool Church' - one that has all the noise coming from the shallow end.
    Mark Oakley

  • For all your doctrinal headaches take Paradox.
    Mark Oakley

  • The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.
    St Gregory of Nyssa

  • Death, death be hanged, the Lord has promised me that I shall live. This I believe!
    Martin Luther

  • We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life have not been put to rest.

  • Religion is the flight of the alone to the Alone.

  • Stupid clergymen appeal quite directly to a Bible passage directly understood ....
    Soren Kirkegaard

  • What is the point of the arts of reading and criticism as long as the ecclesiastical interpretation of the Bible, Protestant as well as Catholic, is cultivated as ever?
    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • A figure like Ecclesiast, rugged and luminous, chants in the dark a text that is the answer, although obscure.
    Wallace Stevens

  • Myth is the poetry of the soul.
    Sara Maitland

  • Our loss of the ability to think mythically, poetically, allegorically, creatively, theologically, and artfully is a greater threat to our religious experience than anything good scientists have to report ...
    Sara Maitland

  • In general, Zen attitude is that words and truth are incompatible, or at least that no words can capture truth.
    Douglas Hofstadter

  • 'God' is a one word poem
    Rowan Williams

  • What is today? Today is eternity.
    Meister Eckhart

  • Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
    Meister Eckhart

  • The most powerful hunger we have, mostly suppressed and misdirected, is the hunger for God.
    Miroslav Volf

  • We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.
    Thomas a Kempis

  • Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
    Rabindranath Tagore

  • God is the beyond in our midst.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Get Directions

You can find us on the corner of West Mayfield and Mayfield Road, 1.5 miles south of the city centre. Find Us

Access for All

Level access is provided at both the west door (Mayfield Road) and the halls entrance (West Mayfield). Access for All

EU e-Privacy Directive