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Remembrance Sunday/2nd Sunday before Advent, Tr 2, Yr C, 14.11.1010
Mal 4.1-2a  the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings
Ps 98:
2 Thess 3.6-13: versus the idle scroungers
Luke 21.5-19: ‘little apocalypse – opportunity for witness (1111)  

Eternal God, in whose perfect realm no sword is drawn but the sword of justice, and no strength known but the strength of love: guide and inspire all who seek your kingdom, that peoples and nations may find their security in the love which casts out fear; through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

 Take up the quarrel with the foe:
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

 

          During the Second Battle of Ypres a Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2 May, l913.

His friend and fellow Canadian, a medical doctor, Major John McCrae, conducted his burial service because the chaplain had been called away.  That evening John McCrae began the poem ‘In Flanders fields’.

          In responding to this poem, Moina Michael promoted the Flanders Poppy as the symbol of remembrance that we have used ever since.

 

          On this Remembrance Sunday we shall pray for shalom.

 Shalom does not simply mean ‘peace’ as in the cessation of war.  It means God’s good order of peace, justice and mercy. Let me share with you something of how we here at St Mark’s are making what is ultimately the essential contribution to the search for shalom in the midst of a world where there continue to be many conflicts, and much injustice.

          Our gospel reading is Luke’s version of what we know as Mark chapter 13, namely, what scholars call the little apocalypse.  Apocalyptic literature was quite widespread in the first century AD, and it usually took the form of saying that all hell was about to break loose.  The passage we have heard mentions wars and insurrections among other things, so it is appropriate to our observance of Remembrance Sunday.  But the main message of the passage is, in effect, to persevere in bearing witness.  And what we are to bear witness to is the redeeming love of God, no matter what is going on around us.

          Earlier, as our prayer for the day, we have prayed that peoples and nations may find their security in the love that casts out fear.  This is a goal that we all may fervently hope for and work for in our own lives and the lives of those with whom we are in contact, for the good news of Jesus Christ is all about sharing God’s love as supremely made known to us in Jesus.

          We have heard a reading from the second letter to the Thessalonians.  This epistle is not by Paul, although it has been written in his name, probably some time after his death.  If our gospel has been positively encouraging believers to persevere, then the author of 2 Thessalonians is, in effect, giving a kick up the backside to slackers who merely wish to sponge off the good will of the community.  We know from Luke’s writing in the Book of Acts that apparently at least in the church in Jerusalem the members tried to pool all their resources.  By means of this sharing of their food, money, etc., they could meet the needs of the poorer members of the fellowship.  Obviously, this could be abused, and some members of the community being addressed in 2 Thessalonians did so.  If it seems to remind you of our present government’s concern to weed out those who abuse the invalidity benefits system, then that wasn’t the case.  Unlike today, there was no economic downturn in which jobs were hard to find.  It was, bluntly, a case of lazy, immoral sponging.

          So how can we be engaged and how are we engaged in peace-building by gathering here at St Mark’s Sunday-by-Sunday to break the Bread of the Lord?  Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has found a very good guide to the answer.  It lies in an extensive survey done in the United States between 2004 and 2006 by Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam concerning fifteen kinds of caring for others.  The survey showed that those who frequently go to church or synagogue, and I quote, “are more likely to give money to charity, regardless of whether the charity is religious or secular.  They are more likely to do voluntary work for a charity, give money to a homeless person, give excess change back to a shop assistant, donate blood, help a neighbour with housework, spend time with someone who is depressed, allow another driver to cut in front of them, offer a seat to a stranger, or help someone find a job. ...

          “For some acts of help, such as looking after someone else’s plant or pet while they are away, helping to carry someone’s bag, or giving directions to a stranger, there was no difference between frequent and non-churchgoers.  But there was no good deed among the 15 on the survey more commonly practised by secular Americans than by their religious counterparts. Religious Americans are simply more likely to give time and money to others.”

          But “they are also significantly more active citizens.  They are more likely to belong to community organisations, especially those concerned with young people, health, arts and leisure, neighbourhood and civic groups, fraternal and professional associations.  Within these organisations they are more likely to be officers or committee members.  They take a more active part in local and civic and political life, from local elections to town meetings to demonstrations.  They are disproportionately represented among local activists for social and political reform.  They get involved, turn up and lead.  And the margin of difference between them and the more secular is large.

          “Tested on attitudes, religiosity as measured by church or synagogue attendance turns out to be the best predictor of altruism and empathy: better than education, age, income, gender or race.”

          What we have built here at St Mark’s, and continue to build and renew, is a community that builds people up in love by loving one another.  We learn how to love by being loved, and, as St Paul says, we have the ministry of reconciliation, which is the only way forward in the long road toward true shalom for the world.

          Whenever we baptize someone, we always tell them they are entering a family and we are their brothers and sisters in Christ, for we know that it is only as members of this family week by week that they will grow in Christ and become as outgoing, loving, serving peacemakers as possible, for that is what we are all called to be in a world that yearns for true peace, God’s shalom.