MATTHEW 24 : 36 - 44
(The First Sunday in Advent)

Jesus puts a full stop to all our misguided attempts to speculate about the end times. To persist is foolish indeed! If it's any comfort, that some texts omit "nor the Son" suggests our forbears in faith were groping with the implications of Trinitarianism even back then. We are not alone!

"Heaven and earth will pass away" probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem & its Temple, when earth and sky collapse on its inhabitants and all their hopes. But astro-physicists and the like incline to theories of a universe continuing to expand forever rather than one that all collapses into itself when some pre-determined (by what, or by Whom?) point is reached. Explore such exciting ideas. Stephen Hawking and Paul Davies, to name but two, are hard going but fairly readable, and can be a Preacher's allies rather than enemies - unless we're paid up members of the Flat Earth Society. What kinds of things have happened to you and yours that make heaven & earth teeter on the brink? Just a while back, horrific acts of terrorism in the USA illustrated what it might mean today! So does the ongoing onslaught on the Taliban & adjacent innocent civilians in Afghanistan!

"Son of Man" takes us into choices & controversy. Some opt for Son of Humanity, or of Adam (& Eve!). Any translation is an interpretation coloured by judgments we make about where on some God-Human scale we put Jesus. Of course early disciples under persecution opt for an Intervening Supernatural Figure over a Fellow-Suffering Servant. You can take just so much of that, can't you? Our listeners deserve at least to hear that there are differences of interpretation. Ever walked the beam of a see-saw, or watched children doing so? Go too far towards either end & we come down to earth with a shuddering jar! Rather than flirt with just one end of this particular beam, the coming glorified Son of Man see-sawing (well, not quite!) needs to be balanced with the already glorified Crucified One. All 'sides' of God need to be preached lest we end up with a less than complete God, & as less than complete humans. OK, says Jesus (or a later follower?): some kind of cosmic intervention's going to happen, but is our preaching teetering out at the Flaming Vengeful Apocalyptic Figure end of the see? The Fully Human Son of Adam (& Eve!) of the saw; or are see & saw well balanced?

Loving & serving God in each other is what the people of Noah's time are busily at work not doing. What really floods these folk out is not water but their failure to become what God intends them to be. True, they don't yet have either Law or Prophet, let alone Saviour to guide them, but their heaven & earth pass away because they fail to shape up by any standard. Who wants to ship out from the high life? Noah has the wisdom, the discernment, to read the truth in what's happen -ing round him, on earth & in the skies, more than anyone else. Including the not-necessarily-willing passengers (in his not-entirely-believable vessel). Andre Obey in his play, Noah [Heinemann, '35] has some fascinatingly imaginative dialogue if you can find it. Today's questions: are we any less sodden to the eyeballs? Is the flood still rising? Does wringing yourself out help?

Better to build a new ark. Not out of timbers this time, but out of the little sons of Adam & daughters of Eve we recognize in each other. Out of 'little Christs' at work loving and serving God in each other here on earth now. There's no mileage in watching for some Cosmic Christ to drop from heaven in a last desperate aerial rescue attempt when what we need do is recognize the little sons & daughters of  Humanity busily paddling the sinking ship we're all in together. Climb aboard & start paddling, too.

There's nothing wrong with eating & drinking. Only, as with those of Noah's day, excess, & what it
does to us. Our own indulgent society well illustrates the sexual connotation also present in the Noah story. While Jesus doesn't speak of them 'making merry' here (usual Biblical euphemism for sexual excess!) his talking of  marriage & giving in marriage does introduce our sexuality (not to be confused with plain old sex!) into the equation. Church has never been good at sex, has it?! It's best kept out of congregations (ha ha!) & sermons (not so ha ha! Sexuality badly expressed can lead to things getting out of control, & losing control does bring some of us undone, & makes others of us uncomfortable. But the answer isn't to see church as a set of control mechanisms. A control freak Church / Pastor / Flock can't really be what's intended by the One 'whose service is perfect freedom', can it? Is the Son of Man at the see end any more likely to rescue us from being drowned in sex etc. than the One at the saw?

Don't, whatever you do, fall into the water and be seduced into foraging for the true ark in the mountains of Armenia or therabouts! The Noah tale is a great and valuable religious myth or parable, but, as Ian Plimer (Professor of Geology, University of Melbourne) puts it in his Telling Lies For God [Random House, Australia, '94, p.73] 'Despite ingenious efforts by creationists to salvage a credible ark and flood story, the story just doesn't hold water.' Yet the truth of the story still does until we nonsensify it.

Election, a term beloved of Reformed theologians, is an inescapable consequence of YHWH choosing us or anyone else as a people. Not to be confused with 'elections' that 'democracy' allows us to vote in. God's no democrat! You don't vote for God!

We tend to read into the next bit that it's bad news for the one from the field, & one of the grain grinders to be chosen or taken. But if our God's making the choice, doing the taking, & these folk are ready, isn't this an or maybe the experience of Good News for them? OK, as long as it's them and not us, we're still thinking! Staying awake, being prepared is key imagery in Jesus' teaching, & preparing for his coming - however & whenever - includes coming to terms with our own mortality.
When Jesus talks of a thief in the night, rather than countering with cries for more law & order, or putting another gun under our pillow, how about I ask myself what steps I'm taking to prevent my being robbed of the real me? Jesus' idea of preparedness isn't having an alarm that rings in the nearest police station or security firm, but being constantly faithful to God.