St Stephen Lewisham

18th November 2012

When Troubles Come…

‘There is going to be a time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence’

When the Prophet Daniel wrote those words, the Great Distress had already begun. Many of us have experienced a one or more ‘Times of Great Distress’ in our lives. It may have been when someone we love suddenly died; or when we discovered that our spouse had been unfaithful to us; or when we failed an exam; or one of our children disgraced themselves. The Unthinkable has happened!

But alongside these ‘personal’ sorrows, some of us have found ourselves caught up by a collective tragedy with many other people: there’s been a flood, a fire, or a terrorist attack in which not only we and our family, but our neighbourhood, our Church, our community, or even our whole Nation are victims.

One such disaster was the Great Distress in the First Reading. About 130 years before Jesus was born on earth, the entire Jewish nation was invaded by a Greek tyrant, Antiochus, who forced them, on pain of death, to practise foreign customs and religion. He compelled them to worship him, rather than God. He encouraged them to practise all kinds of sinful activities, especially sexual ones; and in the Temple itself he erected what became known as the Abomination of Desolation where the Holy of Holies and the High Altar had once stood. And that was wasn’t the first or the last time when such a disaster had happened. 200 years later, in 70AD, another invader, this time the Romans, burnt the Temple itself to the ground.

In both cases people asked ‘What’s gone wrong? Why has this happened to us?’ And in both cases the answer was the same. Daniel, in the First Reading, and Jesus Himself in the Gospel, had warned God’s People, that because they had not only neglected to worship God and ‘turned their back on Him’, but disobeyed His commandments, disaster would certainly happen. Well, they didn’t listen, and it did!

We’re in much the same situation today. Everywhere we see people adopting the ideas and practices of the world around. Sins, like Lying, Sexual Immorality, Drugs, Contempt and Pride have replaced Virtues like Honesty, Chastity, Respect and Modesty. People have neglected the worship of Almighty God in favour of worshipping the false gods of today – Success, Fame, Wealth, Power and Instant Pleasure.

But Daniel and Jesus didn’t just warn people. They gave them an alternative – and, being ‘Men of God’, they said the same thing: ‘Do a U-turn, repent, turn away from sin, turn back to God. Don’t imitate, or even listen to, what the World says and does; but find out what God’s will for you is, and do it!’

Now, of course, many of those who heard the message of Jesus and Daniel ‘turned a deaf ear’ to it. But in the case of Daniel, one small family, the Maccabees, led by Judas Maccabeus, did listen to him, and despite being so few (a father and five brothers) managed to collect a ‘Faithful Remnant’, and turned the tables completely on Antiochus and all his detestable enormities. Jesus did the same: He chose just twelve men to be Apostles, whom He sent out into the world, and enabled them and their successors (like St Paul), to ‘turn the world upside-down’. The Lord works just as well with a few as with many – sometimes even better!

So just imagine what God could achieve with the seventy or so of us who come to St Stephen’s. As we listen to His Word, we hear God calling us. First, He calls us to repentance; then He calls us to follow Him. Like His Apostles, we are to be Missionaries: people He sends into the world to be His agents. We make a good start every Sunday by confessing and repenting of our sins; but often our response to Him comes to a full-stop when we reach the church door. We should be following Him through the door, into the world. ‘Go forth, the Mass is ended’, says the Deacon. It has; but our Mission has only just begun!

God’s Mission will vary from one person to another. He might tell someone who is housebound to start praying for those whose mission is more physical – our Street Pastors for example; or by telephoning just one other housebound person every week to have a chat. The opportunities are endless.

There are already twenty or more of us who have answered God’s call to mission – for example by helping with the food distribution, church cleaning, and the P.C.C. Surely there must be another twelve people who could offer their services in some way or other? This would be the start of what is called a Lay Apostolate. All God needs is our ‘Yes’, and then He will decide what He wants us to do.

The fact is that people today have lost their way – if they ever had one. God is calling us as Apostles to help them find it again. Remember, it’s through a Faithful Remnant that He often works. The six Maccabees and the twelve Apostles are prime examples of that strange truth w hich the Bible teaches us.

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