Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Times and seasons
January 23, 2011, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , ,

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, Sunday evening, 23rd January 2011

Ecclesiastes 3.1-11; 1 Peter 1.3-12

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Eccles 3.1)

In St Matthew’s Gospel, when the Pharisees came to Jesus to ask him for a sign, he answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

How are we to interpret the signs of our times, to discover what it is, for which the proper time has come? Is it time to break things down, or a time to build them up? To gather stones together or to cast them away? To seek to hang on to what we have valued in the past, or to move on to something new? The signs of the times are not always easy to read.

Take the economy, for instance. Is it time to cut spending, or to increase it? That goes for individuals and families, as well as for the nation. Different experts come up with different answers. We should be prudent and cautious, you may say: but it isn’t always prudent to stay still and hope for the best. The fearful hedgehog curls into a ball- but in the middle of the road?

Again, take the Church. Siren voices say, move with the times. Others say, carry on as we are. Who is right? And if the time is ripe for change, in which direction should it be? I do have a certain sympathy for those Pharisees who asked for clearer guidance. St Peter, in his letter, writes of the prophets searching and enquiring about “what person or time was indicated” by the signs of their own times. As the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets.” The signs were no easier to read then than they are now.

The Sign of signs, and the interpretation of all the signs, is in fact Christ himself. The Pharisees asked for a sign, when they were in literal fact staring it in the face. St Peter knew that his readers were suffering various trials. Christians in parts of what is now Turkey were having a hard time of it. Interestingly, some modern scholars maintain that this letter was written not by Peter himself, but a little later, although they agree that it came from Rome. If they are right (and I do not say they are), it implies that even after Peter’s death the Church of Rome felt itself entitled to write to other churches “in persona Petri”, in Peter’s name as Pastor of the whole Church.

In their trials and tribulations, the letter says, they should look to Christ as Saviour. “Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.” This is (or should be) as true of us, in the twenty-first century, as it was of them in the first. For Peter, who had known Jesus in his earthly ministry, and for Paul who had not, Jesus was not a dead teacher but a living Lord and Master. Peter speaks of “an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you… a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Heaven, the place of the Lord, though invisible was absolutely real to him. It was real, precisely because Christ was real.

Christ is not merely someone we can speak of; he is someone we can speak to. “I am with you always,” he has said. “Where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus is never absent, always present. Above all, he is present in the Blessed Sacrament. He has left us something visible, something tangible, as the great Sign of his presence. Let us come with confidence before him, lay our needs before him, and worship him. “There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Let us be still and keep silence before the Lord, as he gives us his Blessing.

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