A Rescue Boat

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Being watchful and wise stewards



The Gospel reading for today, the first Sunday of Advent, is Mt 24:36-44. Here, Jesus refers to the story of Noah in Genesis 6, and emphasizes the surprise with which the flood came, both negative and positive.

The flood was a negative surprise as widespread corruption was unexpectedly overwhelmed by God’s justice.  It was also a positive surprise in that God provided a boat as a way of rescue to Noah and to those who trusted in God.  So the faithful come through the flood without harm, while the faithless succumb in terror.

Even today we see the story of Noah as important. Firstly, baptism strongly recalls the story of Noah.  Secondly, the word for a ship in Latin is navis, which is translated into English by the word ‘nave’.  The nave is the area the people of God gather in church, and in which we journey together towards God. The gathered community of faith is like God’s rescuing boat in the floods of our lives.

In Matthew Jesus is a teacher (among other things), teaching us about how to live in the present with a view to the future, and eternity.  So, Jesus teaches that as Noah and his community saw surprising changes, so we should expect surprising changes around us, both negative and positive, at both the communal level and the personal level. Here are some examples:

At the larger, communal level, worldwide, on the negative side, recent examples of big surprises include these four:

  • Firstly, climate change, still resisted by many after over 45 years of scholarship and research
  • Secondly, AIDS (World AIDS Day on Dec 1) called a worldwide pandemic, and now growing again
  • Thirdly “globalization” which contains great benefits but also great pain
  • Fourthly, a sudden financial reversal like the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008

Positive surprises at the communal level include electric light, airplane flight, medical advances, electronics, computers and the cellphone revolution, all inconceivable just a few generations ago.

There are surprises at the personal level,

  • On the negative side, a vehicle lost control just in front of me in heavy and fast moving traffic on the expressway a few weeks ago. It was a reminder that life can change in a second!
  • On the personal and positive side, it was a surprise for you and for Barbara and me to come here six years ago, a surprise that has become a great joy and pleasure to us.
  • The surprising failure of our health or of the health of someone close to us; and vice versa, a recovery after illness
  • A surprising change in a relationship, for better or for worse, with
    • A spouse
    • A parent
    • A sibling
    • A child; or a pregnancy
    • Someone at work, like a superior, colleague, or customer

Such things forcibly remind us of all of the things that we do not know, which can quickly change; and of how transient life is.

 So we must take Jesus’ teaching seriously both for now and for eternity: To be watchful, and to be wise stewards.

The gospel this morning is a further reminder that even those in Jesus’ most intimate circle can be lulled into complacency or false security.  The apostles themselves could fall into faithlessness.  For that reason, in Advent we emphasize

  • That we should consider each day as a baptism; each day as an opportunity to be filled with the Holy Spirit; and each day as the day that Christ may return, with the Son of Man coming for the whole world as we read in Daniel 7:13-14
  • That our customary way of life can suddenly and greatly change or end: and that Christ will ‘soon’ return
  • That we should daily review our lives with this in mind

So let us stand lightly towards the things of this world.  As Rudyard Kipling wrote, “Meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.” For our real life is found nowhere else than in our relationship of faith, love, and hope in and with Jesus Christ

Let us be hopeful, joyful and peaceful amid even the most startling changes of the world.

Let us be compassionate to others and constant in prayer; for we want to journey ever closer to the Lord (Ps 122, Isa 2:1-5) and to each other; there, where God’s reign is complete over all people and the whole creation.

To that end, let’s join in the collect for the First Sunday of Advent: “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”


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