Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: 1 Samuel 1:4–20, Hebrews 10:11–14; 19–25 & Mark 13:1–11
In last week’s sermon I drew attention to the comparison, expressed in the Letter to the Hebrews, of the practice of sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Whereas each year the High Priest offered the sacrifice on behalf of the people, in order for their sins to be removed, the sacrifice that Jesus offered on the cross to save us from our sins is a one-time event. In the Eucharistic Prayer of our liturgy, it is referred to as the “one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.”
The point being made by the author of Hebrews, is that the practice of sacrifice in the Temple had been abolished by the death and resurrection of Jesus. There was no need for any further offerings of sacrifice, because Jesus had redeemed all people once and for all through the sacrifice of himself on the cross. Being redeemed means that all people have been reconciled to God, so they can now draw near to God and enjoy the comfort of a new covenant relationship with Him.
This is the basis of our confidence as Christians: the fact that we have access to the Most Holy Place (which means we have access to God) through the death of Jesus. This fact should inspire us then to draw near to God, with the faith that our sins have been forgiven. It should encourage us to trust in the hope of eternal life that we profess; and to consider how best to encourage one another to live according to the teaching of Jesus.
In this morning’s reading from the First Book of Samuel, Hannah was inspired to draw near to God with the faith that God would bless her and enable her to conceive a child. And Hannah firmly believed that God had responded to her prayer when she fell pregnant. We know this from the name she chose for her son–Samuel–because in Hebrew the name sounds like the phrase ‘heard by God’. It is clear therefore that Hannah believed that God had heard her prayer and had given her what she asked for.
Each week when we stand in church and recite the Nicene Creed, we profess what we claim to believe about the Christian Faith. Fundamental to the Christian Faith is belief in the second coming of Jesus; which will be the day on which Jesus returns again, at the end of time, to judge the living and the dead. In the time of Jesus, the Jewish people understood this to be the coming of the Messiah: which for them meant the end of the current age, and the beginning of a new age, where creation would be as God originally intended it to be.
We heard in today’s gospel reading that Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple in Jerusalem, when Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately about when this ‘end of days’ would occur, and what the signs would be that it was about to happen.
I’ve been fortunate enough to sit on the Mount of Olives myself and look across the Kidron Valley to the Dome of the Rock, which is an Islamic shrine located on the site of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. So as I was reading this passage, I was thinking back to that experience, and to the model I had seen of the Second Temple, which depicted what it would have been like in the time of Jesus. It must have been an incredible sight in its day. We get a sense of how impressive it must have been from today’s gospel reading when, as he came out of the temple, one of Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”
This comment prompts Jesus to respond with a prophecy of the Temple’s destruction by the Romans, which of course was to take place in the year 70 CE, roughly 40 years after the death of Jesus. And it is this prophecy that causes Peter, James, John and Andrew to ask their question about the end of days.
The answer that Jesus gives includes a warning to his disciples not to be fooled by imposters who come in his name proclaiming to be him, a prediction that has proven true down through the centuries, with many individuals claiming to be the Second Coming of Jesus.
Jesus also told his disciples there would be wars and natural disasters, but that this would not signify the end, but merely the beginning of the end. And of course he foreshadowed the fate that was to befall Peter, James and Andrew as early martyrs of the Christian Faith.
Many people within the early Christian church believed that the Second Coming of Christ would happen within their lifetime, and we know from Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians that some members of the church there expected it to happen so soon, that they actually stopped doing any kind of work because they thought it wasn’t necessary.
I’m sure that when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, there would have been disciples of Jesus who might have thought it was a sign of his coming again. Similarly with the advent of various wars and the occurrence of natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods. There would have been many people who believed that these were all indicators of the Second Coming.
These early generations of the Church no doubt believed that the “new” age had begun with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and they must have been dismayed that the conditions that existed in the world before then–sinfulness, suffering and death–continued to exist afterwards. The question they must have been asking, is when would Jesus return to deal with these things and finally institute the reign of God? Perhaps the same question lingers in your mind today?
If we think about the wars and natural disasters we have witnessed in our own lifetimes, not to mention issues such as violence and drugs plaguing our society today, then we could be forgiven for believing that the Second Coming of Jesus is imminent–that it’s just around the corner.
But that’s when we need to remember another thing that Jesus said to Peter, James, John and Andrew, which is, “And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.” (Mk. 13:10) So the Second Coming will not occur until the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed to all the nations, and all people have had the chance to respond in conversion and faith. And as Jesus himself told the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:36, 44 NRSV)
So just like the earliest generations of the church, we have to put our trust in God that only He knows when that time will be. In the meantime all that we can do is to live our lives, in faithfulness, according to the way God intended, which was revealed to us through the example of Jesus Christ. Loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; and loving our neighbour as ourselves.