Mark 13.24 – 37 & Isaiah 64.1-9
If your job is to collect the refuse, nurse the sick, construct buildings or serve customers in food stores then it’s highly likely that your boss can see what you are doing, how well, and when.
However, if your work, pre-Covid was usually done sitting at a screen in an office then there is a high probability that you are now doing this from a room in your home. It turns out that the execution of many knowledge-based tasks can be done pretty much anywhere that the technology reliably functions.
Some managers and employers I have speaking with don’t like this. They can’t always see what time the employee starts and finishes work, what they have open on their screen, and worry that their cat, or family member will distract them when they should be labouring away producing easily measurable outputs.
A business article I read recently observed that the combination of automation and artificial intelligence is changing the nature of work. Basic tasks are being stripped away, and work is skewing towards the things that tech can’t do as well: creativity, persuasion, empathy, and complex problem solving. Thinking, often in combination with others, rather than just executing processes is now the essence of much work.
I believe that taking readings from the bible and sharing some thoughts on them currently falls outside the scope of automation, just in case you felt that this sermon sounds like it was written by a robot. Our individual heart felt reactions to our bible readings certainly don’t feel threatened by technology despite its ever growing prevalence in our lives.
Back in the new workplace, in many cases also known as your bedroom, most people are highly conscientious and put in a full shift, and some, without the need to be seen doing so. It’s evident that in many cases working at home has proven highly productive for certain sectors of the economy and whilst it’s not the long term answer for all it has helped shift the focus from presenteeism to productivity, a much more positive way of thinking about work.
It’s not a bad starting point from which to approach our Gospel reading on this first Sunday of Advent, ‘Keep awake for you do not know when the master of the house will come’ we are told, but Jesus doesn’t tell us exactly what we should be doing. The message for the disciples hearing this and for us today is initially both frightening and confusing.
Are we to constantly be busy at work which God approves of? Well that can’t be a bad thing but God also wants us to make time for reflection, rest and recreation so I feel that Jesus was saying more than this.
Perhaps we are to be awake, aware of God in our midst in a way that we hadn’t previously been able to see.
It sounds good but it’s so much easier to passively receive what we are fed by all forms of media, and get angry with various groups of people we will never encounter than to take a moment to breathe deeply, still ourselves and think where we might find God among us.
It could be that the way we understand Mark’s apocalyptic language now is very different from how those who heard Jesus directly.
I read that the Greek word from which our ‘apocalypse’ comes meant uncovering or revelation. Consider then whether this is about the end of the world as we know it or whether it’s more realistic to see it as God being revealed to people otherwise blind to him, offering new hope in previously hopeless situations.
Our reading from Isaiah is a lament by people who feel that they can no longer see God among them. They want him to be like he was in the old days, you know make some mountains quake, tear open the heavens, send fire that makes the waters boil!
God hasn’t changed, God hasn’t gone away, perhaps the people have busied themselves to the extent that they have crowded God out of their lives and entered into a period of spiritual dryness.
In in a moment of calmness and reflection the people recall that God is their creator and Father, ‘we are all your people’ they eventually say.
Particularly at the present time when our freedoms are severely constrained no one could be blamed for focussing on the negatives, and there’s no denying that these are very real for many. Yet it’s also essential that we don’t let copious amounts of sad news stories accumulate into a wall that we cannot see over.
Times of bad news, sadness, stress and exhaustion don’t always feel like times of growth with God, of deepened spirituality, but as God has proven over and over they are exactly the situations into which he welcomes an invitation to journey with us.
We must resolve to look around us again with open hearts and minds aware of the possibility to see things anew in our current reality, not always putting it off until things are better in the world or until we are in a better place. God is able and willing to meet us where we are now whether it be in a dark place or a challenging time.
We need to keep in mind that the weeks of advent lead us towards a God who came to us as a vulnerable baby and is who no stranger to suffering.
For all the challenges many face some will also see anew how blessed they are to have family, to live where they do, for the people they walk among and take for granted. Enforced time at home can make the wonder of God’s detail in the natural world more vivid if we make time to enjoy and celebrate it, an antidote to staring at screens for hours.
We do not know when the time will come that Jesus speaks of or indeed whether it will be the same for any of us but neither do we need to wait for it to experience his revelation, by serving each other, regardless of background or belief, we may well find that God becomes more real to us.
For some an apocalyptic second coming of Christ might be more attractive than playing their part now in the ‘new heaven and new earth, spoken of by the prophet Isaiah later in his book.
Maybe the same Jesus who spoke of the Kingdom of heaven as like a net thrown in the sea, like a merchant in search of fine pearls, like treasure hidden in a field and like a mustard seed, wasn’t being literal when he spoke of stars falling from heaven.
Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion are near in Mark’s gospel. But no matter how much he was to suffer and no matter those who chose to follow him may do so the imagery of stars, clouds and winds of the earth serve as signs that our imaginations can start to fathom which tell us there is so much more. It could be more than we can cope with but it’s there to remind us that there is a parallel story where Jesus remains king of all seen and unseen.
Perhaps this difficult year still has time to be an apocalypse for us, a revelation of God into our imperfect lives.
29th November 2020