On Wednesday, I went to a concert at the Sage. Before it began, we were looking around the shop. They have a lovely shop, selling all sorts of arty-type gifts. One book I was looking at was trying to inspire your imagination, getting you to draw things. On one page, it said: “Here is a keyhole. Imagine you are looking through the keyhole. What do you think you would see.” And then you had to draw whatever you think you might have seen looking through the keyhole.
I want to invite you to do something similar, but different. I want you to imagine what you would see if you were to look through the keyhole in order to see the future, the future for yourself, for the world, for the church.
In the Gospel today, in the story as Luke tells it, Jesus is looking through the keyhole into the future. And he tells the disciples that the future is going to be tough. Politically, the world will be in chaos with wars and rebellions. There will be more chaos in the environment with earthquakes happening, famines and plagues. And it’s not much better for the church: Christians will be persecuted, betrayed and martyred. But not to worry about all that, Jesus says, just persevere and stick with it.
There are a number of places in the Bible where it talks about the terrible times ahead, the bad times that will happen before Jesus comes again. People have often said to me, ‘it’s like that now. We must be in the end times. Jesus will come again soon.’ And one day, Jesus will come, certainly he will.
In every generation, people have looked around them and seen really bad things happening, and they have said, ‘this must mean we are in the end times!’ and they expected Jesus to be with them in a matter of months. Imagine what it must have felt like when the First World War began in 1914. And then in 1918 the great flu pandemic in which thousands of people died – they have must have experienced this as a tremendous plague.
But the waiting has continued. So until Jesus actually comes in clouds of glory, we must persevere and keep faithful, do our best to relieve suffering, witness to Christ wherever we are, and show the love of God to all those around us.
Even in our own times, we have seen disaster after disaster, tragedy after tragedy. There was the Boxing Day Tsunami, the earthquake in Haiti, and now Typhoon Haiyan. Over the last few years, there has been violence and conflict in Egypt, Libya, Syria and the whole of the Middle East is like a tinderbox. There is so much distress! Ordinary people whose lives are turned upside down, deprived of the means of survival, deprived of hope. It is tough out there, and it doesn’t seem to get any easier.
The Christian church throughout the world is also beset with problems. Christians are persecuted in many countries, deprived of opportunities for education and employment, and sometimes injured and killed. Churches have been burnt down in Egypt. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are standing up for their faith in the face of great opposition. We have it so easy! We may battle against the forces of secularism and apathy, but we can worship freely, and that is such a privilege.
One thing is certain when we look through the keyhole into the future: things will change. Some things will change for the worse, and we pray that some thing will improve. There are signs of hope.
The concert I went to at the Sage was the Soweto Gospel Choir. The choir was formed in the black township of Soweto in South Africa ten years ago. They sang Gospel songs and other songs with power and energy, singing and dancing for all they were worth. There was so much energy. It was a performance full of faith and hope. By the end, everyone was standing and clapping and dancing in their places. They shared their faith and hope with us, and we over a couple of hours, we blossomed.
We had the Annual Meeting of St Chad’s Community Project last week. The Project for me is a great sign of hope in this area. They do such good work with children and families.
Each week, we go into St Aidan’s School. There is another sign of hope and of faith in action. They take in children from families who are struggling and given them boundaries and stability and the opportunity to learn. The results they get are brilliant with children that schools in other areas would find unpromising.
I spent an afternoon this week at Eslington School, which is just behind St Aidans. This is a school for children with emotional and behavioural problems. They are the most damaged kids in Gateshead, and the school does absolute wonders with them, living out the love of God. It was a real privilege to work with a couple of classes, looking at pictures about the birth of Jesus and thinking about darkness and light.
And yesterday afternoon, we had the Fun @ 4 Family Service. Our theme was the story of the Prodigal Son, and we did various crafts and activities to get into the story.
All of these are signs of hope, of faith in action, of Christian love shown to people in great need. We need to find more ways of making that happen. It needs to be part of our dream for this church and this community.
So if you look through the keyhole into the future, what do you see? What do you hope for? What do you fear?