Well, it’s a Bank Holiday weekend, so by rights it really ought to be raining.
I like summer – it’s my favourite day of the year. A day without sunshine is like … night
Well, in England the national topic of conversation is the weather, and many of us watch or listen to the weather forecast. It’s quite a demanding task, involving looking at warm fronts, cold fronts, ridges of high pressure and all the rest of the information available and then interpreting it to give an accurate forecast of what weather we shall experience over the next day or two. Sometimes the results are more accurate than others.
Yet, there are many traditional signs of what the weather holds in store: a red sky at night is the shepherd’s delight; a red sky in the morning is the shepherd’s warning. When cows are lying down in a field it’s likely to rain. These old sayings are often very accurate. The film Groundhog Day is based on the legend that when a groundhog emerges from his burrow on 6 February, if the weather is cloudy there will probably be an early spring, but if he sees his shadow in the sunshine and scuttles back into his burrow there will be another six weeks of winter. So the signs are there, but it’s for us to decide what we make of them.
Weather forecasting was a lot more basic in the Judean countryside in the days of Jesus, and the weather was a lot more predictable in first century Palestine. If you see a cloud rising in the west, says Jesus, it’s going to rain, and if you feel the wind from the south, it’s going to be hot. All you have to do is interpret the signs.
But then Jesus heaps criticism on his listeners for failing to do just that. Signs were all around them. Some followed the strict observance of religious laws and the sacrificial worship of the sacred temple, meanwhile, the poor, the diseased, the disabled, and the destitute were among those whose needs were neglected. They failed to interpret the signs of the times.
In our own day, signs of imminent disaster still go unheeded. Signs of climate change are obvious. We see hints of what is to come when we see prolonged periods of drought and exceptional weather conditions and the threat of floods in so many parts of the globe. And while nations hesitate over what to do, too many fail to interpret the signs of the times.
The Occupy Movement, in response to the global financial crisis, was an expression of anger at an unsustainable financial system which has brought nations to the brink of bankruptcy. The occupiers didn’t seem to have clear demands – it seemed to be a sign of a deep dissatisfaction with the way the world is run – a global financial system which ignores the fact that it cannot keep on reproducing itself and continuing to expand indefinitely, and a consumer society in which many are unable to participate because of unemployment and poverty. They proposed no solution. They simply pointed out the problem. But they were a sign of the times in which we live, and a sign to be taken seriously in a world where there is such a huge gap in wealth between the rich and the poor. All you have to do is interpret the signs of the times.
Signs of the times indeed. But there are also plenty of good signs, indicating good times.
The Olympics last year sparked huge interest in sport. Cycling, and many other sports, are enjoying an enormous renaissance. Young people are taking a new interest, and receiving new levels of coaching and encouragement in sports. This will all have huge benefits for health, community, and the environment in years to come. All you have to do is interpret the signs of the times.
Just outside Farnham there’s a campsite called Woodlarks, for severely disabled people. Some of us visited the camp this week – we often do each year – and it’s amazing what the disabled people are able to do. Some people are so disabled they can’t easily feed themselves and control their electric wheelchairs with the most subtle movements, and yet you’ll see them going down the zip wire, getting in the swimming pool, and camping in tents. And a whole host of people, many young adults, give up their week to help and care. Years ago such things would never have been possible, and yet today what can be done, in advanced equipment, but more in people’s time and effort, to help others less fortunate is amazing. Years ago many of the people we saw camping this week would have had to spend their life in an institution, but now their lives are so much more fulfilled. Signs of the times indeed.
This week and last week, many young people received their exam results. Seeing pictures on the television and in the newspapers, they look so happy and so confident, ready to claim the world that is their oyster. So much potential for good. Signs of the times, indeed.
And there are some more personal signs as well. Peter and Anna your relationship, your love for each other, is a sign of God at work, showing the fullness of his love.
Lillymay is gift, a precious gift, to be loved and cherished. It might not seem like that when she won’t eat, or won’t sleep, or won’t be quiet, but she is a precious gift to you, Peter and Anna, a sign of your love for each other, and a sign that God’s love is present.
Lillymay’s baptism is another sign. A sign that God’s love is not something abstract or pie in the sky, but real, and here and now. Many people send presents for babies, certainly we found distant friends and family, who’d never met our daughter, barely met us, sent presents for her, and in doing so were telling us of their love for her, even though they didn’t know her. Baptism’s a little bit like that – we can’t see God physically present, but through the sign of the water, he shows Lillymay his love for.
Signs of the times. Yes, there are things to concern us, things to try and do something about, but there are so many signs of hope in our world. In Baptism, we see the sign that God’s love for Lillymay is made real and visible. All you have to do is interpret the signs, they can give us confidence that God’s goodness is planted more deeply than all that is wrong.