Warning Signs

Beside my mother’s bed there was a small mat: a small, pink mat with a floral pattern. Her cleaner did not like this mat, she thought it was a trip hazard and wanted to remove it. My mother said no, she liked the mat, she thought it looked nice, until her walking frame trolley caught the edge of the mat, and tipped over sending her crashing to the floor and she broke her hip. 

The cleaner had seen the risk, and flagged it up. My mother refused to heed the warning, and I had failed to notice the potential hazard. The warning sign was respectively noted, dismissed and unnoticed.

Jesus tells his disciples to look out for signs of the end times, and he uses the lesson of the fig tree (Mark 13.28). As they see the tree come into leaf they  know that summer is near. The end of Mark’s gospel contains much apocalyptic writing, looking to the end of time and the final judgement when all will be consummated. His generation expected Armaggedon within their lifetime as Jesus had told them. That helps put the Brexit debacle into perspective. We can take comfort that though we may not reach a deal before leaving the European Union, the world is not expected to end!

Jesus tells them to read the signs of the times. One of the most regrettable factors of Brexit is its almost total dominance of government and parliamentary time. So much of importance is not being resolved in this country. It took three hours for an ambulance to get to my mother. And on arriving at accident and emergency there were eleven ambulances in the queue and it was two more hours before she could get off the ambulance and be admitted. Waits of up to seven hours had been recorded.

So many of our public services are at breaking point, but are those in authority heeding the warning signs or  dismissing them? The United Nations in a report this week has drawn attention to the high level of poverty in this country. Professor Alston who carried out the research talked about the disconnect between those struggling to get by and the ministers responsible for addressing poverty. They refuse to heed the warning and acknowledge the problem. They refuse to see the signs.

Our parish population continues to grow as more houses are built in South Lynn. But where is the new health centre? Where are the new school places? Both St Michaels and Whitefriars Academies are full.

Jesus told his disciples not to be preoccupied in looking out for the signs of the coming of the kingdom for the final day could come at any time. We need to be ready, treat every day as if today is the day. As my fridge magnet with Jesus knocking at the door, warns me,  ‘Jesus is coming, look busy.’ Later in the gospel he asks, when the master returns, will he find the servants active in their work, or idling away their time.

Through the message of the gospel we are better able to heed warnings and read the signs in our own Christian lives. Jesus promised that his words would not pass away and they have not. They are preserved for all time in the pages of the gospels. And we must be acting on them now, doing what the Spirit tells us through them. The Letter to the Hebrews says that the word of God is something alive and active, sharper than a sword, it judges our thoughts and intentions.

We might ask for signs from God to help guide us. But the signs are already there, they are all around us. The word of God and prayer help to reveal them to us. If scripture is an active part of our lives it will be in the forefront of our minds and make us truly aware of what is going on around us. Prayer helps us to discern what our response should be.

Despite her vicissitudes my mother is now safely in hospital in Norwich and making progress, albeit slowly. And we are thankful for the excellent care that she is able to receive. We must be thankful for our national health service and all who work in it under trying conditions. And at this time of national difficulty, we must continue to pray for our Prime Minister, her government and civil servants.  

But we must also be vigilant and aware of the signs of the times both in our country and in our Christian lives, and we must be prepared to act wherever and whenever is necessary to put things right. If we ignore the mat on the floor we ourselves may well trip up and come down with a crash.