Sermon for St Mary’s Whitkirk, 2 before Advent, Mark 13:1-8
“Look teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”
I’m afraid reading this immediately brought to mind another familiar story…
“What big eyes you have Grandmother”, “All the better to see you with my dear.”
“What big ears you have Grandmother”, “All the better to hear you with my dear.”
After a few days with Little Red Riding Hood going round my head, I began to think it does have similarities with this passage from Mark’s gospel. They are after all, both about being deceived, about needing to look beyond the obvious.
The disciple with Jesus sees the size and magnificence of the Temple, and confuses the grandeur of the building with the presence of God. He’s ready to accept his first impressions…not to look any deeper.
But Jesus, as always, is trying to explain that he brings a new kingdom…and it’s entirely different to the old. It’s not about status and power, or outward appearances.
And as always, the disciples struggle to follow. If they’re losing the familiar stability of the Temple they’d like a clear sign…a date even…so they recognise the new Kingdom.
We like it nice and simple don’t we? We like to be certain. We like right and wrong to be obvious and clear cut. We like someone with charisma and power to give us a simple message to follow. We like big stones!
The trouble is, life isn’t simple. Reducing everything to black and white, not bothering to look any further can so easily mean that what we lose is the truth.
Last weekend we remembered World War I. Four futile years of slaughter…fuelled in this country by the simplistic view that anything German was evil, so war was a noble cause. Conscientious objectors who saw past the rhetoric – who refused to go and kill young men just like them – were simply labeled cowards. It was easier to hate them too, than to engage with their ideas and look deeper.
Sadly we don’t seem to have learned much. In this world of social media and instant feedback we seem even less willing to look beyond first appearances. ‘What large stones and what large buildings.’
Around the world we see how easily people are mislead by simple messages delivered with confidence. The rise of nationalist leaders is no doubt a reaction against corruption and out of touch government. But their widespread support surely depends on people being unwilling to engage with complex problems and ideas.
This weekend, the Brexit coverage has reached fever pitch. You’re probably heartily sick of it. I certainly am. The referendum took place just days before my preordination retreat…it’s been the background to my entire curacy…
…but I do think part of the mess came from our desire for a simple right vs wrong decision, and our willingness to believe people who say what we want to hear…rather than listening carefully to all the arguments.
Jesus refused to join this game of first impressions. He wouldn’t give a sign or a date; instead he gave a warning. “Many will come in my name”, he said, but don’t be fooled. For me, part of being a Christian is considering carefully who or what we follow in our daily lives, and trying not to be led into worshipping something other than God.
I’ve stopped even trying to imagine how Brexit will end…but in the coming months we may be asked to vote again, and we will certainly need to help heal a divided and angry nation. I think following Christ means looking beyond the headlines, listening carefully, being ready to suggest and support compromise.
What if we do look deeper though? Without an obvious sign, how do we know whether what we hear comes from God…or whether we’re being led astray? The simple answer is – we don’t. But on that point I’d like to take you back to Little Red Riding Hood.
I’m sure you know the story…she’s gone off dutifully to visit Grandmother, unaware that a greedy wolf is out to eat her. He sneakily finds out where she’s going, gobbles up grandmother, dresses in her clothes and leaps into her bed.
In most versions he manages to fool Little Red Riding Hood long enough…”What big teeth you have grandmother”, “All the better to eat you with.”
But Red Riding Hood has noticed something’s wrong. She obviously visits Grandmother often enough to know that the clothes and bed may be hers – but the eyes, ears and teeth just don’t look right…
“Beware no one leads you astray”. Jesus doesn’t offer a sign or a date; he won’t give us a shortcut. Is that because the best way to avoid being led astray is by getting to know Jesus as well as we can?
Hopefully we do this by coming week by week to St Mary’s. We meet Jesus in the Eucharist and learn of his grace and overwhelming love. We meet Jesus in the gospel stories we hear. And it helps if we come expecting to be changed.
There are sermons…well we do our best… And you’re very kind…you say…”Your sermon was lovely”
But we both learn more when you say: “It made me think”, “can I borrow the book you mentioned?”, and come back with your opinions.
And Pilgrim courses – yes we are a bit obsessed – but that’s because of the way they ask how faith impacts on our everyday lives, our habits, our opinions, the way they help us look beyond the ‘large stones’.
Since Advent Sunday last year we’ve been sharing Mark’s gospel…it leaves us with this challenge, “Beware, keep awake, don’t be led astray, watch for the coming of the Kingdom”
I think we do this best by investing time and effort in our faith, by getting to know Jesus…and then, in his light, looking beyond the ‘large stones’ and carefully considering the issues that face us.