Monday, November 5, 2007

Sermon for All Saints Sunday 2007


Today we celebrate All Saints Day .
All Saints Day is one of the principal feasts of our church.
In other words, it is a big deal.
It is such a big deal that when the official date of November 1st
doesn’t fall on a Sunday
we transfer the celebration of All Saints Day
to the Sunday that follows.

The reason for this is simple—
we don’t want to miss this celebration--
this celebration which reminds us
how connected we are to one another
and how connected we are to God.

As early as the third century,
the Church has designated a single day to commemorate
the martyrs of the church,
those who were willing to die for Christ—and did.

In our modern church,
All Saints Day commemorates not only the martyrs,
but all God’s children, both living and dead,
who have led and strive to lead
good and faithful lives.

We all form “the mystical body of Christ”,
as we heard in today’s collect.
That means that you and I, as people of God,
are connected to one another,
and we are connected to all God’s people who have gone before us
and all God’s people who will come after us.
That makes us one BIG (!!!) family. All saints.
I sing a song of the saints of God…
We sang that song as our sequence hymn last week
And we sang it again today.
We sang it last week because we were dedicating our new children’s space—
a special area for our littlest saints.

We sing it this day
because we celebrate All Saints Day—
and we celebrate Justin’s baptism--
plus it is just worth singing again.

Listen to these words—
They lived not only in ages past
There are hundreds of thousands still…

The hymn continues…
You can meet them in school or in lanes or at sea
In church or in trains
Or in shops or at tea…

The first time I ever heard this hymn I laughed.

I laughed out loud.
The words just struck me as funny=--in a delightful way—
It sounded more like a Dr. Seuss book than an Episcopal hymn!

But don’t you just love it that we can walk out of our house on any given day
and bump right into a saint—
At school or in the grocery store or
or having a cherry limeade at Sonic.

And the wonderful closing line of that hymn…
…and I mean to be one, too.

I mean to be a saint, too.
God wants us to dream that.

It is why we renew our baptismal covenant on All Saints Sunday.
It is why this Sunday is set aside
as one of the Sundays when baptisms are encouraged.
When I spoke with Justin about his baptism
I told him that I believed in God’s eyes
he had been a saint from the moment of his birth
But today, with his baptism here at St. John’s,
we are going to make it official!

The promises we make in our baptismal covenant
are our guide to becoming true saints of God.

We renounce evil.
We renounce everything that draws us away from the love of God.
We put all our trust in God’s grace and love.
We promise to look for the face of Jesus in every one we meet.
We promise to strive for justice and peace.
We promise to respect the dignity of every human being.

These are BIG promises.
We need a BIG day like All Saints to hold the enormity
of our baptismal covenant.
When we say those words
I can just imagine Jesus flying a plane across the skies over St. John’s
And skywriting the words,
WOW! Did you hear what you just said!!??? WOW!!

Our gospel reading today is from Luke’s gospel.
This scripture text, as well as a similar text in Matthew’s gospel,
Is known as the beatitudes, the blessings.

Luke has 4 blessings and 4 woes.
We all know what a blessing is but maybe you are wondering,
Just what is WOE?
Woe is like saying “You are so out of luck.”
The woes are the dark side or the reversal of the blessings in Luke’s gospel.

The blessings Jesus gives in Luke’s gospel are all for those who live difficult lives:
The poor
The hungry
Those who weep
Those who are rejected, hated, excluded.

Then Jesus places woes on those with lives we would see as easy (and desirable):
The rich
The full
The laughing
The accepted, those people speak well of.

When we first read or hear Luke’s four blessings
We are likely to say, Good!
I’m glad that God loves the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the rejected.
They need God’s love.

But then come those woes.
And we are likely to say UH-OH!
Because the truth is, for most of us,
we sound a lot more like the people of the “Woe to you”
than the “Blessed are you” people.

These blessings are not meant to exalt poverty or hunger or grief or victimization.
They are not virtues we are to seek.
This is Jesus saying, bad stuff happens in this world.
Bad stuff happens to good people.
Life is terribly hard for some of God’s children.

And neither are these woes meant as retaliation by God.
These woes are not revenge against the rich or those with enough to eat
or those who are happy
or those who are respected.

Jesus is telling us is two things:
One: our position in life, our position in the world,
can change in a heartbeat.
Two: we are all connected, one to another, as children of God,
And if some are hungry and heartbroken and hurt
then we need to understand that part of our work in God’s world
is to reach out to those who are suffering.

In Jesus’ time most folks thought if things were going good for you,
it was because God was pleased with you.
And if things were going badly—if you were sick or poor—
then God was angry with you.

But Jesus says over and over to us,
that is SO not true.

God’s ways are love and forgiveness, and grace.
The saints of God are the tangible presence of love and forgiveness and grace
being lived out in this world.

All Saints Day is a wonderful time to reflect on our blessings,
to think about the saints in our lives
those who have rescued us from woe, from sorrow, from disaster.
Those who have been the face of Jesus for us.

I want to share with you three of my saints.

My mother is one of my saints.
As a teenager, I used to roll my eyes at the way she waited on my father.
I wanted her to be liberated!
Then I grew up and began to see that what my mother did for my father
was done out of pure love.

My mother was a very strong woman
but when my father died,
when you lose the person who has been the love of your life
for over 50 years,
your heart aches.
In my mother’s weakness, I saw her deepest strength—
her immense capacity to love.
Blessed are you who weep now.

I met another saint on my first mission trip to Panama.
His name is Daniel.
He was a teenager at the time.
I was part of a group of seminarians
who worked with a group of Panamanian Episcopalians
to help renovate the chapel
at their youth camp.
On our last day there,
we were getting ready to leave,
and those of us heading back to the States,
decided we were going to throw away
our old tennis shoes we had worn all week.
We had purposefully brought our oldest, rattiest shoes for that week of work.
Our shoes at week’s end had paint, cement and a lot of dirt covering them.
Not something we wanted to pack and bring back home with us.

As we were changing shoes, getting ready to toss our old ones in the garbage,
the man from one of the Panamanian Episcopal churches
who had coordinated the work week came up to us
and asked us if we would be offended
if he gave our shoes to some of the workers there.
We were a little embarrassed,
but said, no, that was fine.
Daniel was one of the workers who had been selected to
receive a pair of our shoes.
When he came over he was so excited.
When I looked down,
I saw that his own tennis shoes were tied onto his feet
with a pair of shoe laces.
The bottom had long ago come apart from the top of the shoe.
He had worked all week in those shoes
And I had worked right beside him --
and I had never even noticed.
Blessed are you who are poor
for yours is the kingdom of God.

Remember that hymn I sing a song of the saints of God?
I told you it made me laugh when I first heard it.
That hymn also made me cry once.
It was one of the hymns sung at a burial service for my friend Tori
who died of cancer when she was 34 years old.

Tori did not pick that hymn for her burial service
because she felt SHE was a saint--
She picked that hymn
because she felt one of the gifts she received from her illness
was having her eyes opened to all the saints who surrounded her.
Her husband, her friends, her sister, her neighbors, the doctors and nurses.
Tori even included their dog Daisy among her saints.
Daisy would come up and lick Tori’s face
just like Tori was a puppy who needed special care.

Why do we celebrate All Saints Day?
As a reminder:
To remember those we love but see no longer.
To remember the saints that are still with us every day.
To inspire us to be one, too.

There are a myriad of wonderful saints throughout the history of the church.
They all belong to us.
But there are a myriad of saints right here, too.

I look out on this congregation of St. John’s
and it is not just John who is our saint---
there is Saint Sheila and St. Roberta and St. Anne and St. Stacy and
St. Susan and St. Chris and St. Eddie and St. Sandra and St. Joe…
…and on and on and on.

The saints of God—right here in front of us,
right here beside us, right here behind us,
right here all around us.

As my grandmother would say,
If you threw a stick, you’re bound to hit one.

I am NOT advocating throwing sticks—certainly not in church!!!
I AM advocating that we open our eyes
and see the saints that bless our lives everyday.
I AM advocating that we strive to live into our baptismal promises:

For the saints of God are just folk like me—and YOU--
And we mean to be ones, too.

And there is one among us today,
who really means to be one, too.

So let us gather at the font now and baptize Justin…


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