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Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on November 27, 2005

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A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

Sermon preached by

The Right Rev. J. C. Fricker

November 27, 2005


I once saw a man standing on the crowded steps of the Capital building in Washington, a bible tucked under his arm, handing out pamphlets. For some unknown reason and to my regret, he singled me out of the crowd and headed straight in my direction. I tried to avoid him because I had a pretty good idea of what I would be getting into if I paused. But there was no avoiding him. He thrust a pamphlet into my unreceptive hands, opened his tattered bible, and began. “Do you know” he said “that the end of the world is coming soon.?”.I stammered an unimpressive reply which conveyed very inadequately both my religious conviction and my emotional state. He persisted. “The Lord is coming soon, and with great power!” Then he charged on to read with great fervour and histrionics the passage the passage from the 13th chapter of Mark which was printed in the pamphlet he had forced into my hand, and which happens to be the very reading for today’s Gospel.

Mark 13 is sometimes called the Little Apocalypse, with several characteristics of apocalyptic thought, a deterministic and pessimistic view of history , anticipating the end of the world in some great and imminent crisis, along with visions of cosmic upheaval, and liberally quoting verbatim passages from the Old Testament Book of Daniel.

The bible indulges in a great deal of future talk, frequently accompanied by vivid imagery that is not easy to understand, encouraging such silly cynical sayings as “due to the shortage of trumpets, the end of the world has been postponed.” Mark 13 is a happy hunting ground for persons fascinated by the end of the world. It figures prominently in books by doomsayers, and in sermons by people more interested in the next world than in this one.

What does it all mean? There is a pervasive thought which comes to me from it all. It has to do with God’s age long pursuit of us.

Mark’s apocrophol words must be interpreted in the political context in which they were written. Yet, behind it all is the very positive assertion that being human is no banal episode in natural history, no trivial accident. God doubtless had many purposes in creating the universe, but one of them is peculiarly aimed at us. Something momentous is attached to our being here as human beings. It was human form which God took on to redeem that very form which He had created. Time and time again, in story after story, through the Hebrew Scriptures, and the Christian Scriptures, being human is held up as something magnificent, even awesome, even though it can be pitiful. As something wonderfully creative even though it can be destructive. As something so very noble even though it can be sadly unworthy.

Time and time again, in the scriptures, it is made clear that God has a purpose for this wonderful even though complex humanity. Human life on earth, brief as it is, once begun is never trivial. Human life has a purpose beyond itself, beyond the accumulation of things and the satisfaction of desires. Space explorations and scientific data seem to verify at least part of Mark’s apocalyptic projection, that the earth and the heavens in their incredible dimensions will someday not be anymore. Predictions are that every visible or tangible atomic or molecular thing will disappear. Heaven and earth will pass away, but as the Gospel of Mark says, God will not pass away, and the human creation of God will not pass away.

Now I don’t profess to understand all this. It is what I discern from the Bible, but I need to tell you, I don’t claim an understanding of all of the Bible. Yet that very awesome thought about my eternal worth should be the very basis of my hope and the inspiration of my life as a Christian.

Here’s what I believe all this encourages and pleads in us as we live in this earthly portion of our human journey. It encourages us to take seriously, and to live responsibly every minute of our life on earth, and yet to know there is far more for us than just this earthly life. It pleads with us to take seriously every person who touches our life, for God continues to come to us through the livers of others. It reminds us that human life is more important and must take precedence over everything else, over every program of politics, every device of economics, and every deal of government or institution. It explains why in every desperate situation, we still have hope, still are optimistic, why, in spite of everything, we can affirm that God has a purpose, and that we are a part of it.

 

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2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York