“The Signs of the Times”
Sunday 18 August 2019
Many of us will be familiar with P. J. Hartigan’s bush poem – Said Hanrahan.
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan
In accents most forlorn
Outside the church ere Mass began
One frosty Sunday morn.
The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears
And talked of stock and crops and drought
As it had done for years.
The farming community has always been very attuned to the weather. Coping with the variations in rain and dry and hot and cold is critical to producing a return from the land.
And farmers have found it useful to be able to pick the likely turn of events in the weather.
Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight.
Red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning.
And this facility with picking the trends in the weather is exactly what Jesus was alluding to in the gospel passage we read today.
“When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
Remember that all of these chapters of Luke that we are reading at present are set within the context of him journeying from the north to the south to Jerusalem. So those accompanying Jesus would be expected to be able to interpret a build up of clouds in the west, over the Mediterranean Sea, as the harbinger of imminent rain. And winds from the south, off the Negev Desert can only mean hot dry weather.
Jesus is using the prevailing weather signals of his time to warn those disciples accompanying him that they need to take a note of what is going on around them, not just in terms of weather, but in terms of the heightening drama of his approaching Jerusalem and all that it means for him as a prophet who will be rejected.
It is implicit in Jesus’ harsh words that he expects us to be interpreters of our times as well. Jesus means us to be aware of the shifts and changes that are taking place about us in the world in which we live.
We don’t really need to think very hard to come up with things that lead us to understand that we live in critical times and that the need for the gospel message has never been more urgent.
For many years now, social commentators have considered it legitimate to refer to our times as post-Christian. What they mean by that is that Christianity is no longer the overarching worldview in which our modern western culture is embedded.
Let’s just reflect upon that notion for a moment. Those of you who are old enough may be able to think back to a time when Christian values and practice were very much the norm of everyday life in Australian society. Particularly for the Anglican Church, our role and place in society seemed to be assured and significant.
That is certainly not the place that we inhabit today. Today’s Australia is largely motivated by secular values, exorbitant economic aspiration, unchecked consumerism and a mistrust of all religious organisations, especially because of shameful breaches of trust by some within the Church against vulnerable children within their care.
Jesus encourages us to interpret the present time. He expects us to do that particularly in relation to his command that we go and make disciples of all nations. Our call to God’s mission in this country has to be viewed in the context of our interpretation of the present time in this country.
One of the things that I think that means is that we proclaim the gospel with humility. By that, I don’t mean that we should be ashamed of the gospel. What I mean is that we should not attempt to evangelise people from some imagined position of superiority. We need to approach people with respect, even when we think they are badly misled.
It means that before we evangelise others, we need to see and respect them as individuals with particular sets of values and opinions. We need to establish a relationship of trust with them and wait patiently for the opportunities to make the gospel known to them. Perhaps it means finding opportunities to make them aware that God loves them before trying to tell them that they are sinners.
I always have terrible memories of a group of elderly gentlemen who used to stand on the Adelaide Street steps of King George Square in Brisbane during lunch hour one day a week haranguing passersby with their sinfulness and waving the Bible in one hand. That is not respectful evangelism.
In fact, maybe others need to see something in the way we live as we build relationships with them that leads them to wonder why we might be different. What difference has Jesus made to our way of living? Maybe then they will be prompted to ask us about the gospel that guides our lives.
Jesus exhorts us to be people who interpret the present times. The times have certainly changed from when we could expect the Church to evangelise within a sympathetic culture. Our society does not warm easily to religious organisations. But it does warm to individual Christ bearers.
Let our reading of the present times lead us to be people who develop sincere relationships with those who do not yet commit to Jesus so that we can prepare for the opportunity to introduce them to Jesus when the time is right in their lives. Be that person who will be in a position to make Jesus present when the time is right. Let’s try to interpret the signs of the times effectively.
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen