Sense in the Ending

As we met to pray this week, the media news was full of the sudden change of political fortunes in Afghanistan, displacing the plethora of accounts of fires, smoke and flooding from the days before1, although further forest blazes broke out in the south of France, where double-jabbed Brits had driven to enjoy their summer camping. This briefly grabbed back a few column inches. The ‘story’ seen through the news lens seemed more that the holiday makers had been rudely interrupted in their merrymaking, rather than that forests in the only remaining country on the north coast of the Mediterranean that were not on fire last week had finally succumbed to the flames. There are a few forests on the North African coast too. Apparently their local authorities do not see fit to mention climate change, so the fires breaking out in Algeria are even being blamed on arson, where ‘suspects’ are then lynched, by suspicious locals or even by terrorist groups. How tragic that some folk who came to help put out the fires are viewed with hot-headed suspicion and become the targets of fatal violence.1b

Temperature map on the day of 14 August 2021

One of the criteria for setting our prayer agenda is drawn from Col 4:2; praying with watchfulness, which echoes the watching which God gave to humans to do in the garden [Gen 2:15 to till and watch…]. However, where should we be looking? Some say3 that the object of our attention should be only on ‘spiritual’ things, and being attentive to the state of our own hearts before God. Well and good; the problem here is in the ‘only’. Certainly we seek to prioritise the voice of the Spirit, and concur that if our spiritual health before the Lord is sound, then through our activated faith with Jesus, any obstacle can be overcome in partnership with God. But we are convinced that our daily work is worship, and that work happens in this world, which is where Jesus’ kingdom is coming. So while God’s Word and Voice must certainly be given priority, we watch for what is in Creation that we can partner with God in attending to in prayer and in daily work that He will then judge to be ‘good’.

The US and then, inevitably, the UK, decided to withdraw their military interventions from Afghanistan- the collective stomach for continued maintenance of the troubled peace was exhausted, apparently. What will happen next? Might the swift takeover by the Taliban lead to a sudden about-face by Western powers, with renewed bloodshed, or might the mere threat of such action lead to subtler outcomes? In spite of the results of this embarrassing failure of intelligence and hasty abandonment by the previous western alliance, might new power relations be exerted in the Middle East which generate completely unpredicted outcomes, even to the transformation of human rights concerns more widely in the region?

As these event occupy TV screens in Europe and America, as that is where editorial attention is focused, in Haiti, a decade after the last devastating earthquake that killed 200 000, a new 7.2 scale quake has now accounted for 2000 known deaths and multiplied destruction.4 Half a million children are without homes and a tropical storm arrives as families sleep outside without shelter. Leadership is in further crisis in the country following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse just a month ago. What news reports do emerge from such places typically include a focus on the destruction of religious buildings4 and the laments of those who belong to those communities. Is this motivated by the desire of TV editors for dramatic pictures, or is there something more cynical behind this particular focus?

Perhaps you will agree that there are resonances between all this and the conclusion of the account of Jesus’ earthly life in Israel in Matthew’s gospel, from chapters 23 to 25. We have recorded a remarkable set of thoughts that look beyond the coming events of the personal trial and crucifixion- Jesus speaks as King over All even as he is about to offer himself as the unique Passover Lamb. He looks past these immediate concerns, vital as they are, to speak of two Ends, we now understand:- the mortal end for the community of faith that Jesus foresaw would develop from the germ of the disciple-apostles, in what is prophesied of the clash of kingdoms and especially the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the ensuing diaspora of the Jewish people. Fused with this is the further End of All things, related specifically to the Second and Final Coming back of God’s Anointed Saviour and Lord. In this melding of prophesying of the near and far-off future, two truths are asserted: you don’t know when the End will be, for only God the Father will determine this. And yet both sorts of End will surely arrive- the end of your lives, which in many cases, though doubtless not all, will be in times of great troubles and even persecutions, and then also the ultimate End, when Christ will return in glory for Judgement. In both cases, Jesus is addressing us as disciples with regard to ultimate concerns; God’s Kingdom and our place in His eternal Triumph! The purpose of this prophesying is related to these concerns, and not to the specific events of human history that transpire long after the first century AD. It is simply a truism to say that history- the Present become past- has Trouble in it. Jesus makes the following plain to us: even for people of true faith, life will never be straightforward, and yet even in the face of continued challenges, sometimes of the most acute and perilous sorts, meaningful discipleship will always be possible, in a mode that often transforms the world God gifted to us for the better, and that generates the fruitful creativity of God’s Kingdom Come.

Where is Jesus’ attention at the introduction of this prelude to the account of his trials and crucifixion? On Jerusalem, the central focus of YHWH God’s earthly attention through the Old Testament testimony of God’s dealings with humankind. On the city, the centre of social and business economy. On Israel’s capital, the place where trading and temple are cheek by jowl, the historic focal point of God’s partnership with the children of Abraham since Melchizedek and through the kingship of Saul and David and all the rest. Here still, at the moment of climax in YHWH God’s covenant dealings with humankind, is the Divine attention in the Holy of Holies and throughout God’s Holy City. Furthermore, Jesus prophesies that this is the place from which a crucial invitation to God must be uttered in unison – until then, God tarries. Remarkably indeed, we are here told that in God’s perspective, the Centre holds.

14th Century coloured reproduction of the Hereford Mappa Mundi [Map of the World] Jerusalem is right at the centre of this map, like a compass, the central pivot and focus of the whole world. East is at the top, which is where the sun rises. Inspired by apocalyptic prophecy, medieval Christians looked for the second coming of Christ from the east. Various distant lands are squeezed around the border, and the British Isles is at the bottom on the left.

Anticipating the deliberate destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and including the final demolition of Herod’s Temple [the ‘Second’ temple rebuilt after the exile in 516 BC and lasting until 70 AD] Jesus takes issue with what his disciples are looking at, that is, what they are seeing when they look at the impressive temple complex. He engages their spiritual intelligence through a cryptic comment, asserting that it will all fallbut how? And what meaning should be drawn from this conclusion? We should not expect to be seers of the specific and detailed events of the future, but a co-creation mindset can include way of seeing the future through a kingdom-of-God lens, which shapes our evaluation of what is fixed and what is subject to change, and what therefore is really of value.

While God’s attention will remain on the city, the place of work and history future being made, this will not continue in the same terms as with God’s covenant Nation alone. The significance of the Temple is about to come to a close, as Jesus Himself becomes the final High Priest, offering himself as Paschal Lamb. So the temple of his body will be broken and fall into the ground, we now understand, and what is raised up is the New Creation Body of the Church, of which High Priest Christ is the Head, and we all, the fellowship of faith, are joined together to become the many-membered Body of the same Christ, yet spread abroad in every city and nation. The ‘mother hen’ Spirit is well able to keep us gathered in this way. The initial horror of the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the mockery of its continuing demise beneath the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque continues to vex the Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem, yet their demolition by the earthquakes of AD746 and 1033 should continue to remind them that the long term future holds a different promise. We should not think that Jesus takes any pleasure in such disaster and destruction, or in the fatalities that result, but this is the perspective of the God of the new wineskin and new wine, the God of New Creation: unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, he once said, it abides alone. Death can be a baptism into a different future.

Just as we hear Jesus continuing to speak of Jerusalem in significant terms, so also we note that the disciples make their Lord their special focus of attention. In this separate and intimate meeting- such special privilege!- Jesus reciprocates with a personal and wide ranging intelligence briefing that speaks as much today- to us and our children – as it did then. It is impossible to tell exactly what speaks to then and what to now, and I think this is deliberate. There is a general and yet insightful portrayal of what the life of discipleship will always be like- very much in the world, with its tribulations and crises, and yet capable of being -indeed mandated to be ‘not of this world’, that is, above it. The ‘cloud of witnesses’ is both above and also within God’s creation, and thus the world is watered and nurtured.

Can we see what is in this ‘intelligence briefing’? There are seven ‘alert levels’, if you will, of which the first is the most urgent.

  • Misleading claims of those who claim to be Jesus, that is, to speak on His behalf, to speak as Him. This is of the highest priority- we must continue to know Him, not merely to know about Him.
  • wars
  • rumours of wars
  • nation rising against nation
  • kingdoms rising against kingdoms
  • famines
  • earthquakes

And no, this list is not exclusive or exhaustive, but as we see even this week, such events and happenstances have the capacity to dominate our attention, to demand our focus, and to undo our equilibrium which must only be centred on Him. The Centre must hold. But the focus Jesus is commending is not the centre and nothing else– it is the centre, in which all else can be held within God’s providence, and from which compassion can reach out even to that which is rotten, in agony, even dying.

We see in Jesus’ example that some who come to serve and love in God’s Name are reviled and persecuted. A servant is not greater than his master, and this world can refuse love with thoughtless cruelty. But note this- Jesus reassures his followers that their endurance is possible and meaningful before he states that the final triumph of the gospel good news of God and His kingdom is assured. In this we are assured that we are not merely servants, but esteemed forever friends, even in the most extreme of circumstances, if we persevere. Just as we have learned that we can only understand God’s Good News message by beholding it in the person of Jesus Christ, the priority of our Lord’s points in this passage show that we are each as important to Him as the gospel message itself. His missionaries may give their lives in persecution, but that does not make them disposable goods in God’s eternal economy.

I simply note the following in regard of this discussion: when the ultimate testing and peril come, even when the ‘present’ is brought to great strain, and each of us is under the greatest duress, Jesus assumes that we will be engaged in the economy of life in the same human terms as ever. Some are at work in their houses, doing family business, while others are out ‘in the fields’, whether literally or metaphorically. There are ‘inner rooms’ which we might imagine to be offices and places of significant business, while beyond the realms of general human habitation there is wilderness. So in sum, it is assumed that God’s people are engaged in life and work in God’s world, and Jesus is with us there, everywhere, for that is where salt and light ought to be. That is how we answer the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’

Again, to repeat, the life and identity and integrity of each of God’s saints is acknowledged and affirmed. Salvation in God is not general and impersonal, but He will see us and see us through to the End, even as He saw Hagar in the desert, with her child.

It is fashionable to note the various minorities of people in our society who have been overlooked, or whose interests might be forgotten in the commerce of so-called modern culture. This is an excellent thing. God has been taking care of the easily forgotten and the vulnerable for much longer than we have, as Jesus notes the special concern that is needed in crisis for pregnant or nursing mothers. In this way Jesus acknowledges the whole human life cycle, which hinges on this most vulnerable stage, where each and every one of us is utterly dependent for our origin and infant development on our mothers, and then many others too. We all ought to have been counted as part of a ‘vulnerable group’ and therefore relying on others for our survival at some point, even if we think we are strong now, as individuals, and Jesus speaks here to remind us not to forget it. What is more, and this is a further exciting affirmation of the key role of prayer in God’s kingdom economy, Jesus plainly asserts that we can engage with God in prayer partnership even with regard to when the final and ultimate tribulation comes to our communities. Even God’s great wrapping-up plan for History is apparently open to prayerful negotiation! In this, God cares about the weak and the weakest, and we have a part to play in this.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. What if that village has the Church within it?

In forthright terms, we are told that God’s worldview completely trumps all others. The present is going to end as God determines, and God will determine the New Future that will follow. Just as there is pain in childbirth, new life is released and born into being through that pain, and the pain is real but passing. The great works of God’s first creation in Genesis are each checked off and decreated- the lights which stood as signs are no longer required, because the Great Light is now plainly revealed, lightning and shaking and the very deliberate announcement of the End- but not for us. Just as the ‘sign’ of the Son of Man (Jesus’ adopted name from the testimony of Daniel the prophet) is seen more prominently than the signs that are to pass, so God’s elect are gathered. For us, those who persevere in faith with Jesus, this End is not the general End of oblivion, but a Great Meeting, in which all else is negotiable, except the ultimate intention of God in Christ that we will be With Him, One.

Our partnership with God in creating the future includes being observant about these serious circumstances of world affairs. To be sure, we cannot know that any particular set of disasters that we observe are the specific signs of the final End- Jesus makes that very plain. And yet we are to be constantly expectant of the Good in the End, just as Jesus had earlier approached a particular fig tree by the roadside, expecting to find flowers that had developed into fruit, though discovering that it was ‘not yet’. Just as the Sabbath speaks of Creation-yet-to-be-completed, so the birth pains of our present are in some way a sign of the New Creation that is coming. Contrasting with the uncertainly of exactly when God’s planned transformation takes place is the certainty of God’s Words, which are, above all, God’s Logos Words to us. In the metaphor of birth pains, Jesus extends the feminine sensibilities and aspects of God’s creative involvement in this world- in maintaining the processes of life and also in New Creation. What do birth pains tell the woman? The baby is coming, and she will be the child’s mother. Yet these contractive pains can come early, somewhat randomly, in the general period before the child is delivered, and this is the powerful mystery of the metaphor. In each generation there can be a genuine experience of birth pains, yet the actual End is in fact still afar off. But it is still coming!

Jesus draws a stark contrast between people amongst whom Noah silently built the ark, according to God’s instructions over a long century, the product of his studied and energetic labour, and the folk surrounding him, whose priorities are summed up in three activities: eating, drinking and marrying. There is nothing wrong with these expressions of the joys of God’s created life for human creatures. But in Jesus’ description we get the sense that these people were consumed with their pleasures, their own priorities, having a perspective on the world that all would continue in constancy and stability. It is really this thoughtlessness that God’s judgment comes to, and perhaps this is the very word that is timely for our friends today who rail against COVID precautions and/or ‘climate alarmism’. The tone changes from v40, though now without any sense that these hard working people are indulging themselves inappropriately. Jesus message is that we should aim to live in this naturally bounded world, yet with another eye fixed on the final purpose of God, as the Parable of the Dragnet spells out for us.

Here is where the faith message of Christ melds with the original mandate for work: like Adam and Eve, we are to be continually watchful in the world, regarding its inanimate resources, its creatures, and also the complexities of the vast human society that has recently exploded within it. Paying attention to all this, we have good works to do. These are profoundly informed by the values of the gospel of Christ, whom we meet as the Logos of God. He is watching over His Word, and will see that it comes to pass. We are to watch with God, and then act accordingly with the power that our human agency gives to us. We have sufficient freedom to do what is right.

As these passages continue, we are left in no doubt that the setting for God’s people in God’s world is properly understood to be work, rather than taking our ease, and not so much ‘meeting in church,’ because work was the gift of God to us even from the ‘pre-Fall’ garden.

We know that for Jesus, His ‘spiritual’ business in the false trials and His crucifixion will follow these words; in what Jesus says here, that work is implied. Once it is done, what is left to do? Just as in the garden in Genesis, God puts his people in charge, ‘over his household’ to manage and steward it on His behalf, doing as He would have done, being the living image and likeness of God in His Creation temple. This is a wholehearted intention, for at the end, God says He will give us charge over ‘all His possessions’! This co-creative partnership is no game, no temporary pretence before the final reality is manifest by some sovereign work of God completely beyond our agency. For sure, God will sovereignly and gloriously create the transition, to all things being New. But don’t expect to be putting your feet up afterwards.

I find it instructive that there is ambiguity in the translation of ‘servant.’ How much is voluntary and how much obligation? What is constrained, and in what are we free? Reflecting on the interchangeable use of servant and bondservant suggests this sense of tension, between following God’s divine and sovereign instructions for our lives, and the pleasant space within boundaries in which we can express our gifts and individuality, even as we attend to the same mission of the Kingdom of Christ and His Lordship.

Is ‘doing Church’ important? Well of course it is, but just as Jesus directed the [Jewish] disciples attention away from the stones of the Jerusalem city temple, so our attention should be directed away from the exterior trappings of ‘church’ to the transcending reality- we are the Church, and where the Church (ekklesia) is in the world, there is Christ doing what He sees His Father doing. Check the words of God in Christ to the seven churches in Asia to see the importance of Christian community rooted in the wider yet local community.

What does it mean when the delegated master is given charge of the household? This is not maintenance of the estate, of the building, of the trivial affairs of the absent owner separated from the community. The master of the household is firstly in charge of the feeding of the household- that’s the people in it! God wills that we are less concerned for stuff and more for society, though society needs a certain amount of stuff, and that must surely be managed too. There is a difference between use and indulgence, as Jesus explains. We must not give into people’s uncontrolled desires, because today some even want to set fire to the house.

There are more facets to the creative tension of free agency and obligation in this account. From 24:43 to the conclusion of chapter 25 we discover four pictures of delegated responsibility:

Matthew 24:43 The master of the house. This is an ambiguous title, either for the owner of a household, or for the chief manager who has been put in charge. It should make no difference, for the wise manager ought to do exactly as if they were its owner. Note that we must not assume this ‘master’ is the same as the servants in 24:46, which comes straight afterwards. So these variations should make it easy for us to understand that God is encouraging us to consider and reflect on what it means to live with watchfulness as widely as possible.

25:1- 13 The Ten Young women. They are neither owners nor stewards, but they are members of the community who are both invited and expected to attend the wedding festivities of a particularly important couple.

25:14-30 The servants of the man who went on a long journey. They are assigned variable portions of resource- life is really like that- and in God’s world, there is still the expectation of just and equal reward in value. God should be trusted both to act justly and to respect our differences.

25:31-46 The ‘sheep‘ who prove to have been those who did what Jesus would do, each individually and out of the public gaze, usually without media attention, so naturally overflowing from their spiritual lives that they are themselves surprised to realise that what kindnesses they showed to their fellow creatures is counted as high worship of God.

The account of Jesus’ words to his disciples given by Matthew takes another diverse turn with this depiction of the local cultural preparations for a wedding. I expect that big events might have a tendency to happen late. Long journeys on foot or even with animals are not trivial, which we forget in our age of cars. So with the arrangements for a wedding, and the need to take care with the preparation of special clothing and uncommon quantities of food, folk are likely to turn up late. No particular reason to blame brides. Maybe Jesus foresees this unfortunate habit- he blames the groom! (at least that’s how most versions translate it). While the groom or couple might be late, Jesus makes his point by impressing that it is the guests who must be ready, and its the young women of the community who we are brought to consider. Girls particularly love a wedding, I believe. Much energy and motivation is released in all the anticipation, all the chatter, all the doings that must be done. A great deal of human creativity is released when there is a wedding in the community. Art, flowers, music and dancing, cooking and serving. Hair, dressing up, general laughing and giggling. Just as Jesus said; eating, drinking and marrying. This is a wonderful thing. But it is not the general business of marrying that Jesus is now referring to- it is THE marriage, His own marriage to His Body, to us. It is God in Christ who is the Groom, and this most fabulous event is certainly to take place- BUT will we be being ready? I love how it is the young girls that Jesus uses in this story to address all of us regarding the serious business of planning and preparation. Is this a group of people you would place such trust in? Perhaps you can’t relate so much to the metaphors of managers and bondservants. Perhaps, as a woman, you agree that the metaphor of preparations for the wedding is easier to relate to. Now as both a married man and a father, it certainly does speak to me. The scripture is multidimensional and very inclusive. It is inclusive of wider human experience and expression- in considering our final End, there is still ample room for culture and art and all things joyful. A relative of mine has a sign in their kitchen. ‘If there is no wine in heaven, I’m not going.’ Judging by Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana, I don’t think that will be a problem.

We need to exercise some imagination in reading this text, as most of us have never used an oil lamp, relying completely on ever-present electricity. We mustn’t stretch the metaphor either- shouldn’t the well supplied young women (‘virgins’) share their oil with the others? That misses the point. The oil supply is a metaphor for our state of preparedness for God’s glorious and awesome Return. You have to do that yourself. Sure, I can encourage you, but you must listen and agree and then do your own planning and preparing- tilling and watching, if you will. We can pray together too, but you’ll need to commit to meeting up. Go ahead- make that plan!

Perhaps you are quite familiar with these words, as the Parable of the Talents is commonly known. I wonder if you agree that reading it as part of the two chapter discourse Jesus has with his disciples, then and now, extends your perspective. In brief, here is what strikes me. Once again, we are in the field of everyday life and business, in the marketplace, in the community. God’s household is outside as well as inside. There is an extraordinary level of trust and delegation from God (the travelling Master) and his selected servants. In the story, everyone gets a trust, and its a whole lifetime’s worth of property, investment, what you will. In short, what they are given is their lives. A happy accident in English means that many read ‘talent’ and hear the noun for our personal gifts and capabilities, rather than a large unit of money. Headteachers giving school assemblies like to make that deliberate mis-step to make a worthwhile and entirely valid point. We are not ‘in [the] church [building]’: we are in the world. And the share for each servant is absolutely not equal and it absolutely doesn’t matter. Every faithful servant who ‘invests’ the master’s trust is rewarded equally with ‘a share of their Master’s happiness.’ The last time I checked, money doesn’t buy joy or happiness, so that’s a very meaningful reward. It is deeply personal and intimate, for here is reward for the religion that God truly esteems.

The foil to the life work of the faithful is the fear of the servant who does not trust honestly in his master, and so does not put his single talent of money to work. The man does know know Him. This is the tragedy. Ironically, the Jewish Rabbi Jesus suggests such a one should break the Torah law and place the talent with worldly bankers for interest. The point really is who our trust is in- so even as we work in the World, our watching eye is on the true Master of the World, who is surely coming to seek account from us, each one, face to face. As the conclusion makes plain, the servants are working energetically within the current economy of the world, but perhaps expecting an accounting according to God’s higher and eternal economy. God will be reading from a different balance sheet.

There are two versions of this parable, and in case you need reminding that the whole section began with Jesus’ focus on Jerusalem, the city of cities in this world, go see Luke 19:11-27 to see what reward is given by the Master to each of his servants. I am astonished that this conclusion has not attracted more attention 6 in the past- perhaps it is a sign of the power of the lie that God is not interested in our daily work, or what goes on in the city, but only what happens ‘in church’. Or perhaps leaders who were jealous with their own power fear what would happen if the full truth of God’s trust in each of us were better comprehended, so have concealed this truth. If so, they fear rightly.

It is surely important to pay attention to fellowship in the family of God. I am much the richer for it, and am looking forward to the coming season of renewed community life as the easing of COVID restrictions continues. ‘Do not give up the habit of meeting together’, exhorts the writer to the Hebrews (10:25), and with good reason. This is taken as read by Jesus: what he really wants to say is on a simpler, practical and thus profoundly spiritual plane. Food, drink, clothing, human warmth and welcome, alertness to sickness and imprisonment- these are the practical concerns that God is looking towards, and though it may be a shock and a surprise to many of us, so should we be. Given the anticipated violence and destruction in Jerusalem, coupled with the final erasure of Israel at Masada by the Romans, and the subsequent diaspora of Jews and Christians, this makes sense. But don’t stop there. Surely we will always have opportunity to respond to immediate needs of those who befall these trials of life unexpectedly, through persecution or disaster, whether, say, in terms of job loss or illness, or larger scale issues like a pandemic. “You will always have the poor with you.”

Surely there is more for us to attend to, to anticipate, to plan for our ministering. Why might the food supply be restricted in coming years, and for particular people? Will there be a clean water supply in every place? How is clothing produced – is it just and sustainable? Why might people move from place to place, becoming refugees in the world, simply separated from home? What are the reasons that people fall into sicknesses- what are the contributing factors, the consequences, and the repercussions? All this is surely the management business of God’s living-and-praying-with-watchfulness people. For me, what is the role of a would-be theologian and teacher in all these things? What even are the reasons that the innocent might find themselves on the wrong side of the law, or why might the guilty be unjustly punished? Human rights abuses were not so-called in the Bible, but we can see them clearly now, and we may even be looking through God’s eyes. Surely we do these things first for those who are God’s people, but Jesus’ Samaritan parable taught us that there is no-one who is not a neighbour.

The conclusion to Jesus’ description of the final reckoning is truly the completion of the circle which begins at Genesis 2:15, ‘The Lord God placed the ha’adam in the garden, to till and watch over it.’ And then Yahweh left them there, to see what they would make of it, coming back to fellowship at the cool of the Day. When we are busy in the garden, are we constantly thinking of what the Creator of that garden would have done with it, moment by moment? To be honest, probably not. We just get on with it, though such a thought might come to mind from time to time. This is as it should be, if the gardeners are truly ‘in the image and likeness’ of the One who made both garden and gardeners. A good gardener attends to the seasons and the changes in the plants and their interactions – watching with acute attention to the opportunities and demands of the ecosystem, weighing up potential possibilities and consequences of the myriad choices that could be made, and then at once doing. The work of tilling the soil and tending to the plants and their fruit, the care and preparations that are required, season by season; these are all constant in the garden, and the gardener can get rather lost in it all! And so it proves to be with the watching and tilling of the saints in God’s world: the faithful watchers of God prove to be so attentive to the real needs of their neighbours that they have stopped giving account to Who may be watching them. We may be surrounded by CCTV in our modern towns and cities, but most law abiding folk are no longer self-conscious about them. Not that the grainy black and white videos tell the whole story of course, but God has us all on 24-7-365 CCTV (aka ‘Heavens Above’ Angel-Cam) and knows why we are doing what we do. The God who sees sparrows fall also sees each bottle of water, though a glass of water freshly drawn from the tap should be more sustainable, more just, and more appropriate to stewarding God’s world.

Stone carving from Baltimore Cathedral.

Too many sparrows have fallen from the skies through my lifetime, though I see a few more have returned to my own garden during the recent lockdowns. I let a few trees grow up too, which has provided them with more habitat. My friends in Kenya are sometimes obliged to spend on expensive bottled water since cholera is never far away, and as they generally wear second hand clothes transferred from Europe’s charity markets, this tends to undermine local clothing production. There and everywhere there is strife in the community, tribalism and party political squabbling, and then persecutions of various kinds. Bad leaders thrive through support from the powerful, while good leaders are unjustly blamed for complex consequences of the little good they seek to do. A teacher can help in understanding, in showing how the economy of the world operates at the moment, and suggesting how it might be transformed. How might we stop the forests burning? Where would it be best to plant new trees? How can we constructively interact with the water cycle in our area for the good of people and planet? Where should richer countries intervene with military might in the affairs of other countries, and to what end, and for how long? Which Afghan nationals should be rescued from their homeland and given safe passage to our country, at least for a season, or permanently? At the time of recording the words of Jesus and Peter and Paul and the rest, this scope of influence was beyond imagination. But not any more.

In God’s ultimate economy, His throne is at its centre, and the lives of the living saints are God’s means for holding all these concerns [and more: you know what they are!] in both prayer and action- with our whole lives- to the One at the Centre, who is already making all things New. Through our faithful stewardship, the centre can yet hold. If we hope for the reward of ruling cities in the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19)6, then our watching and doing need to expand to a larger scale than hitherto. If God is to return to find His people praying with impact in His world such that it has not been allowed to fall into fire and destruction, because God’s people are being truly salty, the our prayers must reach a greater scope than hitherto. It is time such prayer spread like wildfire, for there is growing chaos, and then soon He will be at the Gate.

You may think that I am ignoring questions regarding the justice of God. I will simply say this. If God’s people, who are addressed directly by all these words of Jesus in the first instance, woke up to the realisation of the responsibilities that we are thus charged with, individually and collectively, then perhaps the world at large might stand a chance of being able to hear the call of the God Who made them, and see the Way home. Let’s defer discussion of the justice of God’s judgements until after that. There may yet be sense in the Ending.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats 7

NOTES

Published by Stephen Thompson

Thinking inside the box is to be recommended for many reasons. I am creating this blog in May 2020 as we are encouraged to stay inside our boxes as far as possible, though we are allowed out- encouraged out, indeed- for exercise. By blogging, our thinking can also be allowed out for public exercise. Right now we need new thinking, new exercising of our mental faculties, and collective application of our thinking to the big idea of a healthy collective future. I am trialling my thinking in constructive theology, science and leadership in the light of my experience as a science teacher, theological student and as a representative of the Christian community in the county of Kent, in the UK. I welcome your partnership!

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