Fr Bosco Peters presided and preached at the 10am Mass. Our Gospel Reading was taken from Luke 21: 5–19.
Read on for the sermon and a video of the service.
There’s a wonderful Netflix series called “Living with yourself”. When it first came out, Helen and I did what we’ve never done before or since – we binge-watched our way through all the episodes of the whole series.
We just couldn’t or wouldn’t stop watching this comedy drama. If you haven’t seen it, I’m sorry, here’s a couple of spoilers.
The well-known actor, Paul Rudd, plays the character called Miles Elliot. Miles is unhappy with his life and discovers that there’s an instant way to improve himself physically, emotionally, his personality, and intellectually.
In actual fact [little spoiler] what people in the programme, who go through this, don’t realise is that this is a cloning process – so the clone is an improved version, the instantly perfect version if you like, of Miles with all of Miles’ memories downloaded into his upgraded clone. And then the original is killed. But something goes wrong and, in this case, the original Miles continues to live. So the series is about imperfect and perfect Miles alive at the same time.
Now you would think that the perfect version of Miles is the preferred one; you would think that Kate, Miles’ wife, would love Miles 2.0 more. But that is not the case. Imperfect, flawed Miles is the one who wins the day. Imperfect, flawed Miles can keep on growing and changing and improving.
We, you and I, all of us, are all flawed. And this is what Thomas Merton says about that:
“Our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that his plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to his will.”
What we do here in this church today is a celebration of this hope.
Today’s Gospel reading speaks of this world as it is and as we wish it wasn’t. Today’s Gospel reading begins with some people speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God.
The temple in Jesus’ day was a massive, magnificent complex. King Herod the Great had rebuilt it, a building program that took over 40 years. In Jesus’ day it was the largest sacred site in the Roman Empire.
Only Jewish priests were allowed in some areas and so the building project employed 1,000 priests as masons as well as 10,000 labourers. The walls were 30 meters (that’s ten stories) above ground, and their foundations were as deep as 20 meters underground to reach bedrock. Some of the quarried stones used, in what is now called the Western Wall, are so large that we don’t know how they were transported there. This 30meter-high stone platform is half a kilometer long – that’s from here to Colombo Street. On top of the platform around the edge of it, were roofed porticoes. And the renovated Holy of Holies was a wonder of marble and gold.
Jesus responds in Luke’s Gospel today to these people speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. Jesus says: "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
Now what was the reaction of the original hearers of Luke’s Gospel? Well they knew that Jesus was right about this because Luke’s Gospel, of course, is written AFTER the destruction of the Temple. In 70 AD the Romans destroyed the temple after a four-year campaign against the Jewish insurgency in Judaea.
And Jesus follows up on the almost unbelievable news of the temple’s destruction with, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
It's as if Jesus is describing our current experience: war, earthquakes, famine, plague, even the Moon turns blood red!
And then Jesus says – but wait, there’s more: they will arrest you and persecute you; you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.
So if the news in the newspaper, online, and on our TV screens isn’t bad enough; doesn’t give you anxiety – look at what is happening to the church and in the church, locally and internationally.
And what is Jesus’ response to all this? Jesus is saying: breathe easy, become more present - not a hair of your head will perish. And by your endurance, he says, you will gain your souls – or maybe a better translation of Jesus’ words would be: “by your endurance, by your perseverance, your resilience, you will gain your life.” How do we put this into practice? Each one of us will have a wide circle of concern – all the things that trouble us: global warming, the state of the economy, government decisions, the way people drive, and so on. There’s a smaller circle of things that we can influence - directly or indirectly. And then there’s a smaller circle still that we can directly control - things we can actually do something about. Proactive people focus on what they can do and can influence. Reactive people focus their energy on things beyond their control. Reactive people maintain an attitude of victimisation and blame. Focus your energy on things that you can influence; you will notice your circle of influence starts to increase. If all your energy goes into those things you cannot change your circle of influence shrinks. Not only will you drain your energy, other people will see you as unduly negative and critical. Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous Serenity Prayer can help:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Our world emphasises resilience and tries to fill the gap of faith, hope, and love by teaching mindfulness and so on, and these things are good and fine as far as they go. But Christian faith brings something more. In this world as it is, not as it might be, Jesus’ words to us today are: do not be terrified. Don’t shut down your life by responding with a fight-or-flight response. And know that God, love, people of goodwill are on your side.
Julian of Norwich lived in the fourteenth century – a time of plague, the Black Death (30-60% of the population died); there was religious conflict and civil insurrection. When she was close to death herself, God gave Julian revelations that I hold onto, that reinforce the assurances Jesus gives us today:
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well…