Benediction Online

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Are we ready?

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Well we’ve got Thanksgiving out of the way and the folk on my street are getting their Christmas lights out, it’s the beginning of Advent when we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child, and we come to church only to be hit with a gospel reading – the so-called Good News – all about cataclysm.

Jesus said to his disciples, "In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

We have this reading today because Advent is not just the season of preparation for Christmas, but also the season when we specifically remember that scripture talks about a coming time when Christ will return. And the big question is, will we be ready?

According to Hopi and Mayan teachings 2012 will be a turning point for the planet. We have seen many end time predictions come and go, and Jesus is quite clear that we will not know when the second coming will happen. But we can be quite clear that life as we have known it on this planet is over. There are already too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The climate has changed and will continue to change. Some places will become hotter, others colder. Some places will become drier, others wetter. Animals will migrate, some will become extinct. Large numbers of people will migrate trying to find a way to survive, and many will die.

It’s not a pretty picture. And it seems that as a nation we are paralyzed and unable to make decisions or do anything positive to reduce the impact of the changes that are already happening.

So the question of whether we are ready for cataclysm is no longer just for preachers. It is real and here for each one of us. We are all facing disaster, whether the personal disasters that come with living – ill health, the death of loved ones, bankruptcy, destitution; the gradual stripping away of old age as we can do less and less of the things that gave us joy and supported our identity; or the natural disasters of a changing planet – earthquake, flood, drought, fire, storm. We are all facing cataclysm. Are we ready?

This is a good time of year to consider whether you have water, canned goods, flashlights and all the things they tell you we should have on hand in case of disaster. But the question for us as people of faith is a deeper one. How prepared are we spiritually for things to go wrong?

It’s pretty easy when things are going well to give thanks and praise God. In fact, many of us tend to think that when things are going well it’s a sign of God’s blessing. But when things are not going well we think that somehow we cosmically screwed up, or God is mad at us, or God has forgotten us. Yet life is full of good times and bad times, even without climate change. God’s love for us does not change. The story of Job is a constant reminder that bad things happen to good people and God still loves us.

Spiritual preparation means letting go of our attachment to things going well. If we are only okay with ourselves and God when it’s a sunny day and life is easy, then we will not have the strength of faith and character we need when disaster comes. The way to let go of this attachment is to deepen our faith in God, deepen our relationship with the divine however we understand her, and to practice serenity and giving thanks.

Our readings speak of being alert and waiting for Christ’s coming and for God’s revealing of God’s Self. In our baptismal vows we declared that we turn to Christ. Being alert is a daily, a minute by minute turning to Christ. This is not just something we reserve for Sundays or for times when we worship together, this kind of turning to Christ is a life work, a daily discipline.

The contemporary mystic Andrew Harvey talks of the importance of preparing for the coming cataclysm even though we have no idea what it will be. Harvey suggests that we will be able to be midwives of the new, that we can be part of God’s new work. We know that out of disaster God always brings resurrection. That is the basic mystery of our faith. Resurrection follows crucifixion. New life follows death. God is doing a new work in our midst even as we stand here. Even as the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, God is preparing resurrection. We can be part of that new work even if we do not survive to see it some to fruition.

We can be part of that new work in two ways. Firstly, by deepening our spiritual practice, and secondly by refusing to become paralyzed. Find something, anything, that you can be passionate about that touches the need of the world, and do it. Frederick Buechner famously described this as the place “Where our deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet”. But we can get paralyzed trying to find that place. We can get paralyzed thinking that nothing we do will have an impact. But everything we do has an impact.

Today you may feel no passion, there may be no cause which calls to you, no campaign that you want to take up. In that case, ask God what you should do and then trust that he is guiding you as you find something, anything, that uses your energy to bring good to the world. Work in the Abundance Shop, walk dogs at Animal Services, volunteer at the Prado Day Center, write letters to the President, read books to shut-ins, re-invent your life so that you create no greenhouse gases. As Nike said, Just do it.

And give thanks. In all things, give thanks. When you look at your unpaid bills, give thanks, when you look at a flower, give thanks, when your joints ache, give thanks, when the sun rises, give thanks. This is a sure way to deepen your walk with God. In every circumstance, however good it seems, however bad it seems, give thanks to God “who will also strengthen us to the end, so that we may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful.”

Thanks be to God!