Advent 4: Gabriel & Mary

Advent 4 – Year B

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89
Romans 16:25-end
Luke 1:26-38

Today is a busy day. It is a relief that the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve do not fall on the same day very often! It has gone by way too quickly.

The Gospel readings for Fourth Sunday always revolve around Mary as she completes the picture of our Advent journey. It seems that at this time of the year, we Protestants are okay to talk about Mary and even have a statue of her in church without great resistance!

I was looking back over the lectionary to see which stories of Mary are used on this particular Sunday. Year A is Matthew’s gospel account of the birth of Jesus in which Mary does not speak. Year C is Luke’s recording of the Magnificat. In full voice Mary proclaims the greatness of the Lord who has looked with favour on her lowly self.

Year B (this year) has set Luke 1 which is the Annunciation; when Mary was visited by Gabriel who brings her the good news that she will bear a son. We hear Mary’s voice in this account as she and Gabriel discuss the situation.

One of the many things to appreciate this season is how the story of the first Christmas comes alive. We see it in the pictures on Christmas cards; we hear it in the words of Christmas carols; we see the drama played out in Christingle and Crib services.

Sometimes if or when we pick up the Bible to read it we can lose the sense of awe and wonder. Over the past 4 weeks, a small group of us have been meeting to look at the various characters in the Advent & Christmas stories – John the Baptist, Mary, a bit of Joseph and finally the angels, shepherds and wise men this past week. We have been taking a closer look at the many aspects of these people. Together we have looked at some of the assumptions and shared our own knowledge, thoughts and ideas.

In that spirit I would like to highlight a few parts of this amazing story this morning.

The angel Gabriel. Gabriel is a fascinating character; he is a Messenger of God. In any artistic depiction, Gabriel looks to be tall with huge white, feathery wings. He often has a trumpet or a lily in his hand. Angels are created beings of God as we are. There is no evidence to support angels being recycled souls of our dearly departed; however comforting this notion might be.

Gabriel appears in the Old Testament as he was sent to explain the visions that the prophet Daniel was having. Gabriel has been around for a few hundred years at least. Gabriel is now back on the scene. Six months before greeting Mary, God sent Gabriel to Jerusalem to foretell another unexpected birth to an elderly priest named Zechariah whose aged wife Elizabeth would bear John the Baptist. Prior to these visits approximately 400 years had passed since God had sent any message to earth. Then twice in 6 months Gabriel is called into service with life changing news for the most unsuspecting of people.

Now we move on a few verses and turn our attention to Mary. Mary the Virgin, maybe 13 or 14 years old, engaged to be married to Joseph. He was not a local though as his family came from Bethlehem, the house of David. Bethlehem is about 80 miles (a 2 hour drive or 5-6 day walk) from Nazareth.

How and why did Joseph’s family end up in Nazareth? It was not a particularly desirable place to live. People then did not tend to move around very much; you stayed where you were from. However the Bethlehem connection is rather central to the story.

Gabriel’s opening to Mary of ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you!’ I wonder what Mary was doing at that moment. Was she alone? Was she in her bedroom or our carrying water?

Mary is perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. There is a lot of meaning here: Mary is deeply agitated, she is taken aback, disturbed, anxious. One explanation that I particularly liked was ‘stirred up throughout’ by the appearance of Gabriel.

Some of us here know what it is like to be ‘stirred up throughout’. I know a lot of people who have been stirred up throughout this year. That news that comes unexpectedly that moves adrenaline at lighting speed: good or bad that shakes us to the core.

It is not just by Gabriel’s appearance but his greeting, his words that have caused her reaction. Mary’s reaction could be that she knew that this greeting was coming with an overwhelming challenge.

Paula Gooder in her Advent book ‘The Meaning is in the Waiting’ writes, ‘Gabriel’s greeting is somewhat reminiscent of the ancient Chinese proverb ‘May you live in interesting times’, which can be seen as either a curse or a blessing. In the same way, Gabriel’s greeting can either be seen as good or bad: to be in receipt of God’s favour, especially beloved and granted his presence, can only mean that Mary’s life is about to be turned upside down. She is surely right and sensible to be disturbed by this greeting.’

Gabriel then declares ‘Do not be afraid!’ Yeah okay! The phrase ‘Do not be afraid’ appears 366 times in the Bible. One for each day of the year and an extra for Leap Years. Do not be afraid is then followed with the sweet words ‘you have found favour with God.’ How did she do that? A 13-year-old girl from a poor, backwater town. What was it about Mary?

We can do all the religiousy, churchy stuff in the world but this does not mean we have found God’s favour. It isn’t in what we do; it is in who we are. We were created by God out of God’s love for us. In spite of everything that is unlovely in us. We can still find God’s favour. What we do should be an offering back to God out of our love as thanksgiving for his love.

Mary then gets the news that she is going to conceive and bear a son whom she will name Jesus.

Jesus. This was the first proclamation of our Saviour’s personal name since the beginning of time. Jesus. The very name at which one day every knee will bow. The very name at which every tongue will confess. A name with no parallel in any vocabulary. A name with power like no other name. Jesus.

Gabriel tells Mary, ‘He will be great’. Oh yes he is.

Gabriel then carries on with some details of what is to happen. Mary’s concern is for the practicalities: she obviously knew where babies came from. We see something of her innocence too. Gabriel has the answer for Mary, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’. Come upon here means ‘to arrive, invade, resting upon and operating in a person.’

For nothing will be impossible with God, says Gabriel. If it is of God then nothing is impossible. Sometimes it is us who need a little more courage or imagination.

It is after she heard ‘that nothing is impossible’ – that Mary says ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ I sometimes wonder what our lives, our families, our community and our world would look like if this was our response to God. ‘Here am I’. And not just when the news is good or happy or the request is something that we really want to do. What about when the news is uncertain or just plain hard, comes with a price tag we do not want to pay. Or the inconvenience doesn’t seem worth it. ‘Here am I.’

As we finish out this Advent season and rush (in a matter of hours) into Christmas:

I hope that you will know the Lord’s favour upon you.

I hope the name of Jesus falls sweetly on your ears and off your tongue.

The Lord is with you. Nothing will be impossible with God.

Do not be afraid – The Lord is with you.

Advent 2: Make Straight the Paths

Advent 2 – Year B

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-end
Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
the prophets said you would bring peace
and save your people in trouble.
Give peace in our hearts at Christmas
and show all the world God’s love.

I love the season of Advent. I grew up in an evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and we were always big on Advent, big wreaths and candles in the church, special prayers and calendars at home all made for a growing sense of anticipation for Christmas.

Marking Advent goes some way in keeping my cynicism towards the commercialisation of Christmas low. It is very easy to complain about the stuff in the shops too early or how the Christian message gets lost today.

If we do not prepare ourselves and examine again what it all means, then how will we possibly be the Prophets of today who can share the Good News of this season with others? The second Sunday of Advent, over time, has been set aside to remember and reflect on The Prophets of the Old Testament. This focus gives us the opportunity to reflect on the way Jesus’ birth was foretold in the centuries before it actually happened.

The people of Israel that Isaiah is speaking to have been through the mill. The first 39 chapters of the book speak mainly of punishment and the exile of the people of Jerusalem to Babylon. Chapters 40-66 begin to speak of things turning around with messages of comfort and the end of punishment for Jerusalem.

Isaiah’s prophecy is telling the people of Israel to be on the lookout; there is a person coming who will prepare the way of the Lord (John the Baptist). They are to listen for the word of God and watch for the coming of the Lord (Jesus).

John the Baptist came out of the wilderness but not out of nowhere. There are many similarities between John the Baptist and Jesus: their births were both foretold in the prophecies in the Old Testament, their parents were notified by angels and both were surprises. The bible does not give any information about John after his birth until he bursts onto the scene in the opening verses/chapters of all four Gospels from the wilderness. John brings the message of hope for the coming of Jesus the Messiah.

The wilderness, biblically speaking, is often a place of transformation and preparation. Jesus is taken for 40 days into the wilderness at the start of his ministry, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before they reached the promised land. The wilderness is also a place of loneliness, isolation and vulnerability. Christians can often speak of having those times in the wilderness when God feels distant, it can be a time of great doubt and despair. All you can do is wait and watch for God as though your life depends on it. This does not sit comfortably in the season of Christmas parties and carol singing.

John’s message is also about spiritual preparations for the coming of Jesus; there are two things, according to John, that we need to do.

Firstly, we need to clear a path for the Lord and secondly that path is to be straight. The original Greek word for paths here means ‘a beaten pathway’; a well-worn path, a path that has seen some use, has been established, walked on.

In a personal way God wants us to prepare a path to him. If you were to picture what your path to God looks like, what do you see? Is it well worn? Lightly tread? Is our path to God straight? I know that mine sometimes is more of a meandering path. I have taken the long way around! I vividly remember a sermon where a rather charismatic preacher suggested we should ‘go to the throne before we go to the phone.’

Have we made a path for Him to come and do a major and powerful work in our lives? I trust that God wants us to make a beaten pathway to Him. We also need to clear that path of debris; this can be anything that stands in the way of God being able to work in our lives fully.

There are ways that we can make a beaten path. Firstly, meditate on the fact that we need a Saviour. We all need Jesus. Our families, your children and grandchildren, need Jesus. Our friends and neighbours need Jesus.

Secondly, engage in sober self-examination. John’s first words when he appeared from the wilderness ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ It is also no coincidence that in Matthew’s Gospel, the first line of Jesus’ first sermon is ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (4:17).

This does not mean checking how many moles are on your back or how many wrinkles have appeared around your eyes (though there is a time and place for this type of self-examination). Rather, this is a deep internal examination of how we are doing spiritually. The Christian writer John Piper says, ‘Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter’. There should be time for honest self-reflection, where we invite the Holy Spirit in to show us where we need His help and healing the most.’

John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is a way of getting our paths clear and straight. I think that many of us would assign this kind of reflection to Lent and not Advent. Yet it is through John we have a gateway to the swaddled baby, fleecy lambs, singing angels and wisemen that we hold so dear at this time of year.

Confession and repentance bring a cleansing and a change of mind and heart can help us turn back to God. It can clear and straighten the path like nothing else can. It is not easy and may not seem to fit in the season of mulled wine and mince pies. They don’t taste as good as a clean heart and mind feel though.

Repentance needs to be taken seriously. It means stopping and turning around. Is there anything you need to stop doing? We can of course ask for forgiveness for the things we do wrong. Yet if we don’t get serious about stopping sin we cheapen forgiveness. It becomes worthless and meaningless. This is what John means in his demand that the Pharisees and Sadducees to ‘bear fruit worthy of repentance.’

It is hard but not impossible. We have the God for whom nothing is impossible. He will help and provide.

In this Advent season my prayer is that you will know the hope of Jesus the Messiah as we celebrate his birth and await his return. I also pray that amidst the turkey and tinsel you find time to deepen your need for the Saviour who loves and cares for you. May you also know his love and forgiveness this season too. As uncomfortable as it might be, some serious self-examination might be in order to. Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement be with you. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday Before Advent: Christ the King

Christ the King

Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24
Matthew 25:31-46

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.

Today is the final Sunday of the church year; this is New Year’s Eve! Happy New Year!

This Sunday is a hinge that helps us to look in both directions: firstly pointing to the end of time when the kingdom of Jesus will be established in all its fullness to the ends of the earth. Secondly, it points us to the immediate season of Advent, the beautiful time of expectation and preparation as we look ahead to celebrating the birth of Jesus. In both directions we are reminded that Jesus is King.

Christ the King is a recent addition (1925 so very new) to the church calendar and a Roman Catholic one at that! Pope Pius XI instituted this Sunday in response to issues he was facing in the Catholic church and in the civic life of Rome as secularism was growing in wider society after World War 1.

There was an enormous crisis of faith and many people left the Church (both Catholic & Protestant) in Europe in the wake of the First World War. The men had left for war and they did not come back; and the women left the church and God. This context led the Pope to establish Christ the King Sunday as a reminder of Jesus’ power and authority above all else.

The Bible is full of reference to kingship. In the Old Testament, God warned the Israelites about the dangers of a human king but they insisted. God yielded and Saul was anointed as the first king of Israel. In the New Testament, the earliest followers of Jesus were looking for him to be a king who would smite their enemies and bring Israel back to prosperity. Again a need for a very human king.

However, both the Old & New Testaments offer a vision of a king like a shepherd. The sheep are a metaphor to represent the people of Israel. They are God’s flock and they are a mix of strong and weak sheep.

Sheep are not the brightest animals in creation, they are not able to take care of themselves the way other animals can, you cannot teach them tricks, they need a lot of care and attention and they need to be guided. Hence the need for shepherds.

God acts as the shepherd for his people; he will search and seek out the lost, the lonely and the oppressed. He brings back the strays, strengthens the weak, binds up the injured. He feeds them, he will make them lie down – 23rd Psalm anyone? This is a picture of a King who gets deeply involved with his mixed flock of strong and weak out of deep love and concern.

Both readings present a King who judges as there is inequality in the flock. There are both strong and weak sheep living together. The strong are not looking after the weak the way that they should. The fat sheep are the ones who butted the weaker animals, took their food, and tread down the pastures for their own gain. The fat took advantage of the lean by mistreating them and will be punished for this.

Regarding judgement, we need to hold on to some important truths: God does not judge the same way we do. I am very glad of that. God judges out of love; not hate or pride or envy. For this King love and judgement go together. We need to remember that we will be judged by the same standards that we judge others.
We all make judgements every day. I also know that the standards that I hold myself to are far less than the standards I hold other people to.

We do need a God of judgement; otherwise He quickly becomes ineffectual and untrustworthy. If God did not judge between the two what is He saying?

To the fat sheep: you can do whatever you like to serve yourself without consequence. I do not love you so I will ignore what you do.

To the lean sheep: you are not worthy of help. I do not love you enough to want to help you. You are on your own.

This is similar to the picture of judgement in Matthew’s Gospel. The separation of sheep and goats seems to emphasise that ultimately every person on earth will be called to account for the use of the opportunities to serve others. It also suggests that there will be some surprises. People who did kind things for ‘insignificant people’ will find that what they did was done to God himself. Other people will be punished for failing to make use of opportunities to serve the lowly and thereby failing to serve God.

The world does not operate as it should. It does not take much imagination to work this out. We do not treat people as we should; whether that is the people next door or the people on the other side of the world. The injustice in the world is rampant: socially, politically, and economically. We have active global examples at present.

It is not all bad news though.

It might be helpful to hold that this is not the full picture of judgement. This passage only deals with works not grace, faith or the atoning work of Christ.
Works are the evidence on which people will be judged here, not the cause of salvation or damnation. It is common to all of scripture that we are saved by grace and judged by works. The works we do are the evidence of either the grace of God at work in us or of our rejection of that grace.

Out of love God wants the fat sheep to care for the lean sheep; to share food, protect them as he does. Love your neighbour as yourself! We will be judged on this. We have a King of love and of judgement. Whatever season of life we are in, we have a King who loves us and will defend us. This will come to pass at the end of time.

As we look ahead to the imminent Advent season, we celebrate the first coming of Jesus, the Son of God. Who was born into the world as both God and man, died so that our sins may be forgiven and rose again so that we may live with him forever. We also look forward to his glorious return at the end of time. Advent helps us to remember that God is present in the world today.

The Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. We may live in dark times but the light of Christ will show us the way.

But we do have to wait. Wait with expectation and anticipation. We wait in the light of new hope. The King is Coming.

2nd Before Advent: What Are We Supposed to Do?

The parable of the Talents,
Stained glass executed by Clayton & Bell, London,
For St Edith’s Church, Bishop Wilton,

2nd Before Advent

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

We seem to be in in-between time on the calendar; both the church and in life. The days are shorter and darker. The weather is grey and miserable. Remembrance Sunday has passed.

Have you put up the Christmas decorations yet?
When should you do that without judgement?
Has the Christmas pudding started?

We seem to be waiting around for the next thing. There is a vagueness to everything. You come to church and we are faced with these seemingly dire readings all about the end times and gnashing teeth. Is that what we are waiting for?!

Both Paul writing to the Thessalonians and Matthew’s account of Jesus’ parable speak to the return of the Lord. The second coming of Jesus. This is what we are preparing for during Advent; God’s return. Yes we spend time preparing and celebrating the birth of Jesus. The bigger picture is God’s return for the second time. Not many people spend much time considering or imagining this event.

After the resurrection everyone (the gospel writers, Paul and the disciples, members of the new church) thought Jesus was coming back imminently. Yet here we are two thousand years later, still watching and waiting. Like the Thessalonians, we do not know the day or the time. Paul and Matthew are concerned with what people do in the meantime. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to put on the breastplate of faith and love, a helmet for the hope of salvation. Paul wants them to encourage and build each other up.

Jesus is coming back, and it matters what was done in his absence. This is true for us too, how are we doing in the meantime? Are we being foolish or wise, investing, hiding or squandering?

Matthew 25, like many of Jesus’ parables, can be read on several different levels and it needs careful attention. As a reminder, Matthew has this parable set in the last days of Jesus’ life. Generally people say some really important things as the end of life nears. This is not an easy parable nor is it made any more comforting by the times we find ourselves living in.

We could read this parable as a call to do more with what God has given us. It does not matter how much (think time, money, gifts, resources) we have been given, just do more with it and be smart about it. Again, if we do not use it, we will be punished.

The tension here is that, given the current situation with post-Covid, cost of living among many factors, many people cannot volunteer or contribute their gifts for the service of others as they may previously have. Should they be made to feel guilty? Punished for what is beyond their control? There is a difference here between inability to help and serve and being unwilling to help and serve.

In Jesus’ parable, the man (master) is going away for an unknown amount of time. He calls his servants and gives them each a talent of silver; but he does not give them any instructions about what to do with the talents. Why not? The man knew his servants, he had worked out what each would do with the talents given.

Through the actions of the first two servants who invested their talents, we can see that they knew their master. Even without explicit instructions, they knew what was expected of them and what would please their master. It is doubtful that these two slaves understood the motivation of their master but possibly suspected that this was some kind of test.

The third slave and the master know each other too. There is dislike and mistrust between them. The master does not trust this slave as much as the others. The slaves’ response is to focus on the negative, what he did not have, did not get and blamed the master for that.

The master replies by pointing out that the slave did not try, did not seek out what he (the master) wanted. Instead of trying to please or get to know his master, the slave gives up and buries the talent. When the master returns to his home, the third slave knows that trouble is coming so tells his master what he thinks of him. This slave had decided a long time ago that nothing would please his master so gave up trying.

Many people can relate to the third slave, that nothing they do is ever good enough, so why try? This is applied to God too. I’ve heard things like, ‘God has never bothered with me, so why should I bother with him?’ or ‘if God is so good, then why did x, y, or z happen?’

Questions like these often come from a place of deep hurt and carry some honesty. However, many people who tend to blame God for their misfortunes, do not seek after him in the first place. Assumptions about who God is and what He is like are often wrong and based on circumstance and feelings rather than knowledge and relationship.

When it comes to talents, by this I mean our gifts and skills; they have come from God. They are given to be used, we are stewards of them, not the owners. The owner is God, and he expects us to use his gifts wisely. Gifts, like the silver talents of the slaves, increase with use. To use them wisely and to the glory of God, we need to know the giver, the true owner of these gifts. God has a genuine and vested interest in what we do in his name.

If we seek to know God and his will for our lives, we do not need to worry about the outer darkness. We are all going to have to account for what we have done with what has been given to us. It does not matter how much; this is not a competition.

If you feel that God was stingy or somehow passed you by when handing out your gifts, seek him, ask him! God knows you, knows your capacity, He also loves and understands you. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to: ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’

The problem is not that Jesus did not know the slave or does not know us. The problem is that the slave, and us, do not fully know who Jesus is. We need to work to correct this imbalance. This is my prayer and hope for this upcoming Advent season; that we will find time and effort to deepen our relationships with God.

For the other slaves and for us, knowing Jesus is a positive, life-giving, life-affirming experience. It is an ongoing and ultimately loving relationship with the Father who loves us more than we can ask or imagine, who gives good gifts for the benefit of all. Let us not waste what God has given each of us, we can work together to build each other up. We can seek the Lord while he may be found, we need to build each other up for the day of the Lord in coming.

All Saints: Why We Should Remember the Saints

All Saints’ Sunday

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 24:1-14

God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age: as we rejoice in the faith of your saints, inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It used to feel a bit strange for me to ‘celebrate’ All Saints and All Souls. My very Protestant upbringing in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada did not help matters much either. Although we make a big deal out of Halloween! I like how Methodist theology puts it: ’All Saints Day revolves around giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints, including those who are famous or obscure.’ A Saint is a person of great holiness, likeness or closeness to God who remains this way through life and into death. The lives of the Saints are set to be examples to the rest of us on the graciousness of God and what virtuous living can look like.

Not all saints are famous. Most are everyday people who have done remarkable and yet sometimes really odd things! My attempt this morning is to talk about why it is important to mark All Saints Sunday.

Firstly, The dead sit at the dinner table long after they’re gone.

I said last week at All Souls that there is a belief in a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the Church triumphant) and the living (the Church militant). We don’t tend to forget people once they have died; whether we loved or liked them or not. The impact of our relationship with them, their life, the love, the moments that were shared do not cease to be important once they have bodily departed.

Does God shut his ears to prayers for them? If I am concerned about the soul of a person who has died, will God not hear that prayer? He knows far more than I do about them and their situation. Certainly we can seek his peace and reassurance.

We have biblical evidence that indicates God cares about the dead. 1 Thessalonians tell us that the dead in Christ will rise first and we will all meet together. Time and again we see Jesus cut through the cultural and religious rules to reach out to people; Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha, the Widow of Nain, the daughter of Jairus to name but a few. Jesus was not afraid to touch a dead body which would have made him unclean.

In the words of the Apostles’ Creed, which we will say in a few minutes ‘he will come again to judge the living and the dead.’

Secondly, we have an inheritance with the saints

Many of us here may know what it is to share an inheritance. My very wise Grandpa Lepp said ‘that you never truly know someone until you share an inheritance with them.’ My youngest sister is a Wills & Estates solicitor in Canada. She has a framed photograph of Grandpa on her desk with that quote underneath it. She spends her days and makes a considerable amount of money sorting out legal issues (mainly fraud and deception) for families who have come apart over inheritance.

Paul in his letter to the Ephesians speaks of the inheritance we have obtained in Christ. It is hope in Christ that brings salvation and the seal of the Holy Spirit. To the Thessalonians, Paul encourages them to live a life worthy of God, who calls them and us into his kingdom and glory. We are to receive the word of God and then live it out. That is largely what the saints have done.

Paul is trying hard to speak of his sense of wonder at the richness of the gospel. For Paul, true riches are found here and they are far, far better than the knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, even the property and money we may receive in an earthly inheritance.

Thirdly, we need to be reminded that Jesus overcame death and still does!

We do well to remember that the Christian faith is built on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Let us not forget that death came first; Good Friday before Easter Sunday. For those who die in Christ their physical death is not the end of the story. This is Good News!

I appreciate that this can be cold comfort to those who live with grief. Christian or not. Grief can overwhelm and when allowed to rob life from the living. What is a Christian response to this?

In our world, most people think that wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life and victory in battle. Jesus, in our Gospel reading this morning, is offering pretty much the opposite of that! He tells them that the temple, the centre of Jewish worship and ritual is going to be torn down (and it was a few decades later). The world is going to get much worse with famines, wars and earthquakes. The disciples themselves are going to be hated and tortured. Remember, Matthew is recording all of this in the last week of Jesus’ life.

Jesus ends with a glimmer of hope; anyone who endures to the end will be saved. The good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed. This is what the disciples did for the remainder of their lives as well as the saints that came after.

I would encourage you this morning and in the coming days or weeks to remember and give thanks for the Saints in your life; both the living and the dead. They are around. Have a conversation about them. See what comes up, compare memories. They still sit at the dinner table! If it’s hard or brings up any feelings of grief or love or guilt or joy, pray about them. Ask God for his peace and input. He is in this with you. He loves and cares for all his Saints. That means you too.