The discernment of what is true, let alone what is of God and from God is the constant quandy for the human mind to consider. In the Gospel reading proclaimed, there’s much to get our heads around in understanding where God might be in the chaos of that first century Jewish-Christian-roman world.
The spoiler alert is that the answer to where God can be found when all of these things are happening, when the Temple is destroyed, and there is chaos and disaster. He is here in Jesus is the answer, he is here in the midst of all of this. Here is God with the disciples with you and me, and with those who suffer and who are in trouble – God remains with us. God the remainer!
We cannot know all things, neither can we discern all things, and yet we are through our very nature compelled to act – inclined to need to understand ourselves in light of all that goes on in and around us.
When I appeared as your vicar many years ago, this building was fractured and broken (much of it still is). The Architects and surveyors didn’t know what to do – they literally couldn’t interpret the data to understand the undeniable source of the structural problems – the same could be said of the Christian community – for some of us, it was baffling that God would allow this place to fracture so significantly. But out of the breaking down of the fabric, came our missional identity as a community – the PCC decided we needed to act to preserve this holy temple so that we could become more authentic in our identities.
The signs talked about in our Gospel are disturbing. 2000 years ago they are written into the stories which surround Jesus and still 2000 years later, we live amidst wars, natural disaster, calamity and false prophets (who live mostly in Penge).
The signs are not the central focus for us to take away from this reading. It is in light of these signs and symbols of the age that we are asked the question – who are we going to be amidst all of this? And as a people of faith, how do we understand the presence of God with us amidst all of this toil and strife. (Hence Fr Toms Theology Café).
I recall a poignant moment at the PCC at the time of the building troubles and we asked where is God and are we a credible community of faith to warrant raising £900k for the foundations? Do we have the grounding in who we are as a community to for such expenditure? To a person – yes. And still yes. And amidst the wars and destructions, amidst the toing and froing of this life, we are clear of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God and that in this part of the Church of England, God is with us, God is with us – and in light of that we act as Christians in the world for this community.
For the Author of Mattthew’s Gospel – he saw the destruction of the Temple as a sign of something and of course it’s destruction led to all sorts of conversations about God’s Faithfulness, will, presence and forgiveness and forced the debate about how to live faithfully.
In my mind also – the fracture of this building over the years and it’s constant source of concern and stress for some of us – leads me to contemplate and put into practice how we are a faithful community centered on God and on the teachings of Jesus. And though this place protects us from the storms which rain down, and shelters us from the burning sun… it is what we know of Jesus who we follow that informs us about God’s presence with us and how we are to be amidst the tumultuous times we now and always have lived in.
As in Matthew’s day, we too are finding ourselves within a world caught up with imperial and undemocratic powers which are cruel. And those same powers in Rome which crucify Jesus are the same powers today which allow carnage and destruction the world over. But where the Roman empire ruled at the will of the gods. Rome’s emperor manifested their presence, will and benefits on earth.
Christians do not rule, but serve at the will of God. And it is for us to discern within this holy temple where we are called to worship – what that service might be.
And the clue is Jesus. For Matthew he wants us to see God’s kingdom on earth – healing, acts of loving service, the proclamation and realization of justice. That we are a called and commissioned people who amidst the trauma of this life, still seek to build God’s kingdom.
We are poor, but we still feed hungry and the displaced person in our community. We are cold, but we cloth our neighbours with blankets and provide care. We are busy, but never too busy to make time for those in need. We are joyful, but not to the detriment of taking our sister or brother who mourns seriously. We are lonely or tired, but never so consumed by ourselves that we won’t still welcome 200 under 5’s or 100 families at Messy church. We are wondering about God’s plan for us, but still we remain faithful to treading daily the path of prayer and the reading of scripture so that we might bring good into this community and world.
The voice of the Christian needs to speak in this troubled world, the Kingdom of God. Which isn’t only informed by what is right and good – but which has at its core identity an understanding of God with us, and then how we navigate the tumultuous times we live in to see the healing and flourishing of the whole created order.
The end will come when God wills it, not at human hand is the end of all things. So until then, as we enter in and out of seasons of peace and tribulation – let us make sure that we here in upper Norwood are the constant voice of the presence of God’s love and the builders of the Kingdom of God – even if in a small way – still those who proclaim Christ. Amen