Community Church: 11 Oct 2009: Trinity 18:
Proper 23 Year B; Track 2:
Amos 5:6-7. Ps 90:13-17. Hebrews 4:12-26. Mark 10:17-31
Jerusalem has its Shrine of the Book, a holy place where there is an interactive museum. You press a button and ancient music comes out. Our church is a holy place, a Shrine of The Word, so if you’d like we can have an interactive sermon. When I give the signal, you may like to respond: the age to come.
We’re inclined to use the phrase flippantly, cynically even. When the money from the appeal comes in. When planning permission is finally granted. When we return to the renovated church, all glorious within. When we move into the new monastery. Where simplicity will be combined with convenience. In the age to come. We hope and trust. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
Children of my generation were always hearing the phrase “Before the war” and came to realise that it might mean before the first world war, as much as before the second. “Between the wars” was contrasted with “After the war” – an age to come - that was something barely imaginable but eagerly looked forward to.
More relevant today are the times before and after the crash. A return to normalcy is expected but even the most optimistic know that things will never be the same again. Will they be better or worse? It is up to us and it depends on what we’re looking for.
So it is with the age to come: it depends on us, it depends on what we’re looking for. If we’re looking, like the rich young ruler, for lives of privilege and affluence, it won’t be like that. Jesus loved him but he was tied down by the expectations of family, property, position and obligation, from which he could see no escape. No age to come for him.
The disciples were aghast. Much, though not all, of their tradition taught them that riches were the reward of righteousness and gave the opportunity of winning divine favour by giving to the poor. Here was the Master turning all that on its head, as usual.
Some may give up everything but essentially what we have to do in order to move towards the age to come is to share everything. In return we get back an hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and even fields and so much more. Yes, there’ll be persecution too for some of us, as Mark makes a point of warning, because that was Christ’s own experience and the church’s experience in Mark’s own time.
The hard brittle world of privilege, vested interests, exploitation, discrimination always fights back when threatened. When we move outside what has been rather unkindly called the “charmed circle” of good church people, boring though they sometimes are, we find ourselves in a world under its often enjoyable surface dominated by aggression, suspicion, secretiveness, evasion, papering over the cracks, lying, cheating. These are among the forces which seem to dominate the present age but they are unreal, they are not of God, the final victory is not theirs and all the time the age to come keeps breaking in.
Here we certainly experience, even in this present age, in the rather unctuous phraseology of the commentator, a “rich social and religious fellowship” - echoing J.M. Neale: “What social joys are there: the shout of those who triumph, the song of those who feast”. You don’t just have to look forward to the Christmas party; there are the sherry parties even before that and, not so very far beyond, the Easter party itself. These social joys of ours are the foretaste, the pledge, the advance payment, the first instalment of the age to come.
What J.M. Neale is actually writing about of course is “ Jerusalem the golden” and we may well suspect that he refers to the resurrection life beyond the grave. Yet to postpone the completion of the age to come to another place, somewhere up in the sky, is a misunderstanding. It is this world that is even now being transformed, transfigured, by the breaking in of the age to come. It is like the beak of the new, golden Easter bird, breaking through the hard but brittle structure of the shell. The age to come breaking through the hardness and brittleness in our present world, giving us already the experience of the age to come, here and now. Even now being fulfilled, as we pray: “Your kingdom come, on earth as in heaven”.
Antony Grant CR