St Bride's: Sermons

"As it was in Noah's day"

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The end of the world is nigh. Lots of people think the end of the world is nigh. When I was a child it was people who carry sandwich boards about or who dig bunkers in the back yard for fear of nuclear Armageddon. Now it is global warming or the decline of bees or changing weather patterns. The thing about this sort of end of the world stuff is that what it actually means is the extinction of man or the collapse of civilization. Quite rightly in many instances sane people want to take action to mitigate the chances of these things happening. But the end of the worlds is nigh: the rolling up of the heavens and the coming of the Son of Man in Glory to judge the Living and the Dead. That is what I mean by the end of the world, and no one seems to be listening. To say this is to be thought pretty crazy; and certainly crazy if I suggest we change our behavior on the basis of such an assertion.

The Lord says today that we should not be surprised that no one seems to think that the end is nigh. In the ancient tale of Noah it is a basic idea of the story that no one was listening and no one was ready. Jesus says that we should not be surprised if no one now thinks the end of the world is coming. Just because no one expects it, we should not be put off expecting the coming of the Lord in Glory to judge the living and the dead. And to be a Christian is to expect this. We proclaim it in our creed; and we are called to live out the consequences of this belief in our lives. I want to show that there is good evidence for this expectation and I want to speak about how we should be preparing.

Why do we expect the second coming? Ultimately because of the First. Advent prepares us for the feast of Christmas. Christmas is, yes, the celebration of the birth of Jesus. But more than that Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation. The Word was made flesh, God is among us, Emmanuel. Our whole faith rests on the assertion that in Jesus of Nazareth God Almighty walked the earth 2000 years ago in Palestine.

But we also experience Christ now don't we? Some years ago I had to lead a group of sixth formers from a church school in a class on religious experience. I took them to the school chapel and set up some candles and burned some incense and said some prayers. Afterwards one of the group was really quite miffed. He was a young atheist - you know the kind of young person who does not believe in God but who actually has a deep sense of the numinous which he cannot quite dare to let free. Always asserting rather too loudly that he does not believe in God, but endlessly talking and thinking about Him. That such people abound is itself a sign of God's action in the world. But to get back to my story. This young man was hopping. He had been moved; he had felt the presence of the Numinous and he could not simply write it off as being emotional manipulation. Of course we do not base our faith on mere surface experience - music and spectacle and emotion. But we cannot deny that there is a religious experience and that this is something that is far more common than it is cracked up to be. God is with us.

More than experience, we see Christ at work in the world. The kingdom is being advanced on earth. Charitable giving has never been more prevalent. Look at the adverts and the activities of charities. Suggest that you might run a night shelter, and not only those who believe that Christ became poor for us want to join in but also many who reject the idea of God. All over the world the kingdom virtues of charity and humility and care are honoured and lived as much as they are rejected and traduced. There are many tares among the wheat, much that is wrong, but in the world before Christ the ideas of love of neighbor and humility and care of the weak and love were seen as foolish: like proclaiming the end of the world. But the kingdom is advancing and even the wicked need to pay some lip service to them. 

But the Kingdom is not here yet. As in the days of Noah so today there is huge indifference and in too many cases outright hostility to the Kingdom of God and to the church on earth. Persecution is rife across the world, and the blood of the martyrs again we pray must be the seed of the church. We live surrounded by war and rumour of war. The plagues are upon us. We are nearer now than when we first believed. The first coming is the pledge of the second. We wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior Jesus Christ. We wait in weakness, only the power of Christ's love and the strength of His grace in the world stands between us and utter failure. So what are we to do? How do we properly prepare? S Paul admonishes us: wake up the time has come! Take action. But what action - what's to do?

Well nothing special. Ordinary Christianity done properly is preparing for the day of the Lord. Building up the Kingdom on earth is preparing for the Kingdom of heaven. As in the days of Noah the Ark needs to be built before the flood comes down. The ordinary work of the church: the ministry of the sacraments; the exhortation to penitence and humility before the Lord, the education of souls in the ways of God. This is preparing for the second coming. The social work to make the world as far as we can a better place and the proclamation of the Gospel so that people will hear the Word and being converted choose the path of life. All this is preparing for the day of days. What will be different from the days of Noah is that this time, there will be more saved. For though he comes at an hour which is not expected, the church is waiting, ready for the Advent of the King. The end of the world is nigh: wake up -get ready!

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