Fourth Sunday before Advent
Introduction and Call to Worship
On All Saints’ Day we rejoice that we belong with the people of God down the ages and across the world. Let us join our hearts with theirs as we worship the Lord of light and life.
First Reading Micah 3. 5-12
The prophet condemns false prophets for misleading the people and predicting thru in of Jerusalem as judgement by God for their sins.
Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 2.9-13
St Paul and friends work so they have enough money to support themselves and don’t need handouts from the community. He taught the Thessalonians gently, like little children – he longs for them to be worthy of God’s Kingdom of heaven.
Gospel Matthew 24.1-14
Jesus predicts that the temple will be destroyed and tells his disciples how to keep an eye out for signs of The End (also known as the second coming or the end of the age).
HOMILY “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24.13)
Today, the 4th Sunday before Advent or All Saints Sunday, marks the start of a 4-week season of reflection upon the Kingdom of Heaven and the promise that Jesus makes to draw the whole Church, living and departed, into one. The celebration of All Saints' Day (1st November) and All Souls' Day (2nd November) recongises the spiritual bond between those in heaven (the "Church Triumphant") and the living (the "Church Militant"), and in Catholic theology we specifically think of those whom we pray have reached Heaven – the faithful departed who have gone before us. All Saints has been celebrated at the start of November since the 8th century as it falls on the date of the Celtic festival of the dead (Samhain). This season we will also have Remembrance Sunday and the feast day of Christ the King, when we hold our parish Memorial Service.
As we recall the saints and their examples of faithfulness, so we also recall the lives of the Martyrs – those who have drawn close to Jesus and his suffering for us upon the cross by the shedding of their own blood for the sake of the faith – bearing witness. Our red hangings for these next four weeks also remind us of the mortal nature of human life – blood – poppies – and history is filled with people called to choose between their faith and the challenges of their own times. Last week I alluded to the BBC drama, Gunpowder, treason and plot: the story behind Bonfire Night and Guy Fawkes. I find it all a bit brutal and bloody myself – but that was indeed the violent nature of the times in which people lived. It is hard today to imagine people being persecuted simply because they don’t share the same tradition of faith as we do. But those days are not actually far behind us – just think of ISIS and their attacks upon Coptic Christians in Syria, or a few years back, the sectarian battles in Northern Ireland. Many have suffered over the centuries; some recognised as Saints but many more not counted by name, whose faithfulness as disciples led them deeper into a relationship with Jesus.
This beautiful medieval building in which we have the pleasure to worship and gather as a united and inclusive family of faith has been here through periods of great division. We treasure it – our spiritual home. We care for it, and enjoy time spent here. But even this place is transient. In today’s Gospel, Jesus warned his disciples not to pay too much attention to the grandeur of the Temple because it would be gone sooner or later! Indeed, the Roman army, led by the future Emperor Titus, with Tiberius Julius Alexander as his second-in-command, besieged and conquered the city of Jerusalem, which had been controlled by Judean rebel factions since 66. The beloved temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, although some of the city remained after the final battle.
In this mix was the fledgling Christian Church – the Cult of the Nazarene – who remained faithful to Jesus’ teachings, meeting for fellowship in houses and for the breaking of the bread, the basis of our communion services today. Even with horrific persecution extended to Christians in an attempt to keep pure Roman teachings, the followers of Jesus spread the Gospel far and wide, and through the Roman Empire the faith extended all over the world. Eventually Christian faith was adopted by Rome and Christianity became the official religion of the Empire. From that point the Gospel spread rapidly in the Empire and the nations under its influence.
Being a disciple is as important today as it ever was, but would we be willing to suffer as many of the saints and martyrs of history have done before? Sharing faith and allowing our values to influence and change lives is essential for human flourishing. It is our call as disciples to do this and to reach out in love and embrace to those in need. It is also our call to gather regularly for worship, for fellowship and the breaking of the bread. We do this despite the challenges that are all around us. As St Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “Remember our labour and toil – we worked night and day. You accepted God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.” (1 Thess 2.9) Discipleship requires work and that may not seem like a very palatable suggestion. Often Christians prefer Church to be more passive – to simply attend and listen and go back to their daily toil. But today more than ever we are called to be active in our faith, taking that which we have learnt and proclaiming it in our work, home and social lives, and most importantly living out and displaying our values in the decisions we make.
If, as St Paul suggests, our faith is based on the God-centered word of scripture, we need to serve God in our daily living, like the saints, even in the face of challenge. We can, through our service as disciples today, give thanks to God even in the most difficult of situations, allowing our prayers to be shared among the community of faith. This sharing of our burdens is essential for the Christian community to grow, thrive and prosper. The Saints, whom we remember during this Kingdom Season, knew all about this call to discipleship, faithfulness and fellowship. Our sense of fellowship extends, as St Paul suggests, to all the saints living and departed. Since we believe that saints led holy lives and are close to God in heaven, we feel that their prayers are particularly effective – we may pray through Jesus our Lord, but we can also ask for the intercession of the saints to pray with us in our challenges. This recognizes our fellowship with the wider company of saints – on earth and in heaven. Amen.
The Saints and martyrs were faithful unto death but now dwell in heaven.
It is very easy to become attached to a building – but they are not permanent. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed following the siege in AD70.
Faith requires us to gather for worship and to share our burdens.
The Saints knew all about faithfulness and the essential need of discipleship for the building up of the Kingdom. This kingdom season, with red hangings and festivals including All Souls & Christ the King, reminds us of the Church, living & departed.
We can see glimpses of God’s Kingdom here in Thorpe.