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Proper 28, 2 before Advent, Yr B, Tr 2,15.11.09
Dan 12.1-3: resurrection to life or shame
Ps 16: you will not abandon me to the grave
Heb 10.11-14, (15-18), 19-25: ...let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together...
Mark 13.1-8: anti-temple, be not led astray, wars, etc. coming (101S2)

Heavenly Lord, you long for the world’s salvation: stir us from apathy, restrain us from excess and revive in us new hope that all creation will one day be healed
in Jesus Christ our Lord.  

(The life of love in Christ is the means and the goal of sharing the Good News.)

          Today is the Second Sunday before Advent, the traditional season for talking about the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell, and already, two weeks in advance, our readings are beginning to move toward the sound of the last trump, of moving towards a final goal.
 
         We might say that all of today’s readings are concerned at one level or another with the question of how are things going to turn out, either immediately or at the end, with the reading from Hebrews posing the question of what can we do about it?
         
In the whole of the OT it is only the passage that we have heard this morning from the Book of Daniel that clearly speaks of resurrection from the dead.  Therefore it should come as no surprise that Daniel is one of the most recent writings in our OT.  In fact, part of it is written in Aramaic which was replacing Hebrew in everyday use.  It speaks of a general resurrection of everyone to judgment, one of Advent’s themes.
         
Our psalm, in a verse we have not used, looks to God for deliverance from death, with the words “you will not abandon me to death”. And this is another theme of Advent.
   
         The reading from Mark chapter 13 is part of what is called the little apocalypse.  Apocalyptic was written in times of oppression, and it was concerned with what was going to happen when the prospect looked very dark, and it often, as here and in the book of Revelation, spoke of very calamitous occurrences in terms that we might call “all hell breaking loose”, very much an end-time theme.
         
And this brings us to Hebrews.  With Hebrews we are not at the end-time but in the long stretch in between.  It was written about 85 AD, perhaps either at Alexandria or Rome . The writer is concerned that his congregation is in danger of drifting apart because they are losing focus on why they are Christians.   They have been Christians for a long time and are growing weary, with their situation being made uncomfortable by constant petty pinpricks from their non-Christian neighbours, but far more importantly, apathy with perhaps discouragement, is beginning to set in.
         
So the writer of Hebrews sets out to convince people to stay the course.  He has to show that there is a goal, and that the goal is worth it.  He needs to prove that they are on the right track, so that the present trials are worth it. And he needs to encourage and support them, which they also need to do to each other.   All this he does by evoking the model of a worshipping community going on a pilgrimage.  The goal of the pilgrimage is the heavenly city, and the way to the goal is to look to and to follow Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of their faith.  He makes much of Jesus as the once-for-all great high priest who has made the sacrifice for sin thereby clearing the way for us. But at the same time he is the first writer to emphasize the whole of Jesus’ life, and not just the cross. He speaks of Jesus as “the firstborn of many brethren”, so that we are all his siblings.  And all through the letter he speaks of Jesus’ humanity, as when he says of Jesus, “though he was a son, yet he learned obedience through suffering” and he stresses Jesus’ many cries to the Father.  As they travel, they are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  And then finally in today’s reading, he tells them “
...let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together ...”, which probably means for the eucharist.
 
         What does this have to do with us here at St Mark’s?   At this time we, and the whole of the united benefice, are engaged in thinking through where do we go from here?  So, with the example of Hebrews in mind, let me now pose a series of questions for our ongoing deliberations.

 How do we attract, encourage, and keep newcomers?

What goal do we present to them?  Is it life in Christ?

How do we ourselves show forth that goal in our own lives and fellowship?  Is going in the way of Christ both the goal and the means to the goal?

How do we show that we know how to get there?  In what ways can we support and encourage them? What kinds of support and encouragement are we able to provide?

          Let me suggest where we might find some of the answers.
          I begin with a superb definition of heaven as the ultimate goal.  It is by Monsignor Roderick Strange, Rector of the Pontifical Beda College in Rome .  He begins by saying, “Love is more than a quality we possess.  It is not an abstraction.  It is ultimately what we are called to become.”  He then goes on to say, “Heaven is code for the presence of God where love is made perfect, and we are perfected in love.”
         
So how do we get there?  I think we centre on the answer, every week, as we bring forward the bread and the wine. With the words, “We will remember Jesus”.  If we indeed place Jesus as the centre of our life, the one who is truly for us the Way, the Truth and the Life, then we will seek to show forth “What would Jesus do?”  Following his example we will be open to all comers, welcoming, accepting, supporting and encouraging.
        In the company of him who was called a glutton and a wine-bibber, we will be a joyous and rejoicing community, full of infectious laughter.

         
And we will not stop there.  If indeed we have found in Jesus a pearl of great price, then we won’t be able to stop ourselves from telling our neighbours what we have found, and inviting them to share in this wonderful treasure of life in the Body of Christ, the life of love unbounded.