5th November 2023

Texts: Psalm 43, Matthew 24: 1-14

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. Psalm 42: 5

In your doubting may God’s truth become clear to you. in your fear may the hand of God be open to hold you. in your darkness may God’s light become your new dawn.

The long liturgical season of Trinity is now at an end and we enter a funny four weeks known prosaically as the Sundays before Advent; a sort of fill in time, a stop gap, before we start our Advent preparation which may or may not include some fasting since it is, like the season of Lent, classed as a penitential season. So back to these odd four weeks and one great thing about them as far as I am concerned is that I can bring out my red stole which for most of the year lies unused. The reason for this is that these four Sundays which culminate with the feast of Christ the King focus on the kingdom of God and the coming of that kingdom and hence regal red for altar clothes and vestments.

The Kingdom! Just what do we envisage that to be and when we pray ‘Your kingdom come’ have we any idea what we are expecting to come or for that matter what on earth or indeed in heaven it will be like or are they words we mouth so often that they have lost any meaning or purpose? And here I am the first to declare that I have no real idea as to just what that Kingdom is like but I do personally believe in a way we cannot possibly begin to comprehend that it is somehow built primarily on love and for love in accordance with St John’s ringing assertion ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.’ (1 John 4: 8) Love that extends to all God’s children, and which brings to them the oh so needed blessings of peace, equality and justice for all.

When we hear or read today’s gospel reading. we cannot help but be aware that the words could have been written this very day. ‘For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places;’ I’m not aware of any earthquakes this particular week but I do know that the effects of the earthquake which affected parts of Turkey and Syria are still very real as the victims struggle to rebuild their lives. A struggle that the media has chosen to leave behind as it has with so many other headlining tragedies that beset God’s world as, for the time being at least, it concentrates on the appalling and tragic events taking place in Israel and Gaza.

All these wars, these famines, these natural disasters are certainly not evidence of the arrival of the promised kingdom; quite the opposite as the news rushes us on from one human tragedy to another leaving in its wake human misery and destitution.

So I think the question for us this morning is what are we doing in the midst of all this? Do we as Jesus suggests fall away or allow our love to grow cold as we feel overcome and utterly powerless in the face of the sheer ghastliness of the news? Do we in fact perhaps question just where is God in all this and just where is His Kingdom or is it all a complete fiction? How can a loving God allow all this, surely he could stop it? Questions of course which are not new and have been asked all down the ages and in fact quite a few psalms voice the same feelings as does today’s psalm we heard read. ’Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of my enemy? Why are you cast down O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?’

The news is oppressive and there seem so much enmity and hatred in this world and it is no wonder that people tell me they just can’t bear to watch the news. It isn’t that they don’t care but that to watch continually and absorb a diet of the utmost human misery is, I would suggest, not good for anyone. And to offset this unpalatable diet surely what we must seek is the reinvigorating hope giving diet of knowing without doubt that God is with us. Again, this morning’s psalm has these words for us to meditate upon and find the assurance of the comfort we seek; ‘O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.’

I don’t think we actually have any harps this morning, but we do have uplifting hymns to sing to turn our thoughts from the evils of this world to the joys that are to be found in God’s kingdom. Already we have sung the words: ‘The powers of darkness fear, when this sweet chant they hear, may Jesus Christ be praised.’ And as our final hymn we shall sing the beautiful words that begin ‘Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down, fix in us

thy humble dwelling, all thy faithful mercies crown. Jesu, thou art all compassion, pure unbounded love thou art; visit us with thy salvation, enter every trembling heart.’ Words which I am sure are so familiar to most of you but like the words of the Lord’s Prayer maybe sung from memory rather than from the heart so that we absorb the richness of their meaning for us and the hope they inspire.

Hope that filled with God’s love and staying true to Him we can, each of us, do our own tiny bit to reveal the reality of God’s kingdom here on earth. Staying true, that is what Jesus was calling his disciples to do knowing what lay ahead for them, the persecution, the hatred, betrayal and frequently a martyr’s death, Stay true! Do not be led astray by those who would deny God telling us our belief is just another fairy tale and how can there be a God when such evil things happen, and human beings inflict such appalling horrors on each other. Stay true! when with that unpalatable diet I referred to we stick our heads in the sand and allow our love to become cold and ineffectual. Stay true! so we can continue like the psalmist to find not just comfort but something of the kingdoms’ joy in knowing the glory which is God’s unfailing presence in our lives. Stay true! as part of the family of God we share together the feast of bread and wine, the living bread, in whom all our hungers are satisfied. Stay true! and endure to the end till we cast out crowns before the Lord our God, lost in wonder, love and praise at the glory which is God’s true kingdom.

O gracious and loving Lord in the midst of war, famine and innumerable stories of human misery inflicted by others help us to stay true as your witnesses here on earth and by simple deeds of love help make your Kingdom known to others. Amen

Rev’d Virginia Smith 5th November 2023

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