When we woke up this morning, many of us stepped into a world of expectations. This was not a conscious decision; it's just where we live, in a land where life is so good we have the luxury of taking many things for granted. The air conditioning stayed on, so we could awake to a comfortable room temperature; and if it was dark when we awoke, we reached for a light switch, so the invisible dangers could be revealed. Then we walked into a room with running water inside the house. On a Sunday some of you will be even listening to my voice over the sound system you expected and hoped to work so you could hear me when I turned the switch on. However this Sunday will be different in that we are in Melbourne but the expectations are still there.
So many things we expect in life we just take for granted until something doesn't work. The alarm doesn't go off. It's hot in the house. The light switch is non-responsive. We panic for a minute. We get frustrated. Then we think, "This is not how my day is supposed to be. My life is supposed to play out in such a way that I have all that I need to be comfortable. However, this morning, somebody or something flipped the script. And now I have no power when I'm supposed to have power."
Most of the rest of our world plays out a very different script; a minor power outage is disappointing. Outside of our country or outside of our neighbourhood there are problems and concerns many of us can't even begin to comprehend. There are illnesses that can't be treated, people dying in need of food, political and civil unrest, and overt exploitation and abuse of humanity and nature. A power outage in most of the world is a good day. Yet many of us see the discomfort and shock of power outages in this country, natural disasters like hurricanes and weather-pattern changes, wars in places where wars have been waged since the beginning of recorded history, and some of us interpret these events as "the sign of the times."
Where we live, 'be alert' became more a catch-cry in the 'war against terror' or a tool in the weaponry of road-safety campaigners, than an issue of spiritual 'safety'. What kinds of spheres do we need to be alert in where we live? What do we expect our world to be like in such an environment? One field in which we certainly need to remain spiritually alert and informed about our expectations is in the face of the multitudinous cranks out there, peddling extremist, fundamentalist versions of what Jesus is on about.
Not just in what we consider 'extremist' churches, but within mainline ones these days. The recent debates and news about abuse issues and about same gender acknowledgement are some examples. It can happen!
It doesn’t just happen out there somewhere but can happen right here amongst one’s own community. How can we live in our time and God's time at the same time, in the world and in the church as Christ's Body, and do it free from fear? 'Perfect love casts out fear' says John. Persecution of Christians these days in some of our societies is just as likely to come from fundamentalist protestant or catholic factions within churches more than from outside.
Those out there in the wide margins can still persecute and the possibility is growing within in some quarters. The places where misguided people try to draw in church margins tightly round fellow Christians. Isn't it ironic that that's the way Jesus' warnings may be fulfilled today? That Jesus speaks of wars, earthquakes, and famines, as 'the beginning of birth-pangs' could be a helpful way of exploring the pains that our world still - as always - labours under. We have become very comfortable with the expectation that all will remain the same or get better. I really wonder where our focus might be. Is it in the expectation of all the comforts being there and available all the time?
On the other hand, is it on where God calls us to be and is it on the most important thing of God’s great love for us. What do we really have to bear to bring something worthwhile to birth? Have we even thought about it? Have we thought about what it is we are meant to be doing here and now? As distinct from theological philosophising, what practical and constructive steps must we take to 'endure to the end'? I will leave you with some more questions to ponder over the next weeks before our focus is taken to shops and parties and gifts and all the other trappings of our western Christmas lifestyle.
Are we as Christians or even those outside the faith listening for what we say and working out how we act in love as we face those whom we meet day to day? And what is this end that Jesus talks about? Whom, is the end for and is it important? Is the Christian call to be working to enable God’s kingdom to be here and now in his love the most important thing? Is this scripture passage too close to the bone?