Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sermon for the Feast of All Saints 2010

Singing songs of sunbeams and saints

I recently read an article by a man named Dave Hurlbert,
who, like me, grew up in the Baptist Church.
Dave writes:
When I was a six-year-old Southern Baptist,
I loved singing “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.”

I, like Dave, remember singing that song as a little child
in the basement Sunday School classrooms
At Central Baptist Church--
feeling like I was the best and brightest sunbeam ever!
There was not a doubt in my body
how much Jesus wanted me for a sunbeam.

As I got older that sunbeam brightness got a bit tarnished
and at times I felt more like the Nirvana version of that song,
“Jesus DOESN’T want ME for a sunbeam!”

But by the grace of God, the journey continued,
And as an adult I discovered the Episcopal Church
and became an Episcopalian.
I don’t know if I still felt that Jesus wanted me as a sunbeam,
but I sure felt that I was wanted and welcomed as an Episcopalian!
I had found my home.

I quickly learned that the hymns we sing in my Episcopal home,
especially if we stick with the 1982 Hymnal,
the hymns are beautiful, pious, sophisticated, profound hymns—
but not too much along the line of Jesus wants me as a sunbeam!

But there is one (at least one) exception.
That’s hymn 293---I sing a song of the saints of God.

I remember so well the first time I heard this hymn.
I was still fairly new to the Episcopal Church.

Along comes All Saints Sunday
and suddenly we are singing …
And one was a doctor and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green….
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast!

I loved it. The words to this hymn made me smile!
And the tune was downright perky!
How on earth did this hymn get into our Episcopal hymnal!

Here is what I learned:

This hymn was written by a woman, a British woman,
named Lesbia Scott.
She wrote this hymn in 1929--
She was married to a priest
and she wrote a number of children’s hymns
and published them in a little book
called Everyday Hymns for Children.

But interestingly, this particular hymn
is much more popular here in the States than in Britain.
The research I did said that this hymn
is “particularly loved by Episcopalians.”

Now this hymn was in the 1940 Hymnal
but they were going to remove it
when they published the 1982 Hymnal.
The reason for its removal?
The Committee said it lacked “theological profundity.”

But when word of this began to circulate
there was a letter writing campaign like they had never seen before!
Episcopalians across the country wanted this hymn to stay in their hymnal.
And so it has.

I love this hymn because it reminds me, all of us,
that ordinary people,
going about their ordinary lives,
striving to love God and love one another,
can be true saints of God.
I think this is what Jesus is trying to tell his disciples
in his sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel today.

It is possible to be one of God’s saints.
Being a saint is not about being perfect,
or perpetually pious;
Being a saint is not about checking off a long list
of holy accomplishments.

Being a saint is about making some choices
on how we choose to live our daily lives,
how we choose to treat other people.

Being a saint is coming to understand
that wealth and power and prestige
can be more woe than blessing
unless we are extremely cautious.

Being a saint is about loving our enemies.
Doing good to those who hate us.
Praying for those we know are not praying for us.
Treating other people the way we want people to treat us.

Is this easy?
Oh my, no!
But Jesus seems to believe it is possible.

Being a saint is about learning to live an upside down life,
Very much like Jesus lived an upside down life.

The world teaches us to get everything we can—the sooner the better.
More money, more power, more control, more revenge.
More, more, more.

But Jesus says,
Dear saints of God, live a life that is upside down from the world.
Don’t grab and grasp. Let go.
Let go of your power, your money, your resentments, your fears.
Less, less, less.
Saints seem content with less of everything.
Less of everything except love.
Unconditional and abundant love is the mark of every saint.

It is not easy to love unconditionally but it is possible.
It is possible simply because
God has already given unconditional love to each one of us.
It sometimes takes us a while to notice but it is there
and has always been there.

Unconditional love was planted in our hearts,
tucked away in our brains, infused into our very marrow
before we were even born.
We have never been without God’s love.

In 2003 an internet survey was run by
asking people to vote on what hymn would they want
on their desert island if they could only have one hymn.

Which one hymn would you want on your desert island?

I sing a song of the saints of God came in at number 14.
With all the hundreds and hundreds of possible hymn choices,
it is not too shabby to come in at number 14!

There can be no doubt that we love this hymn—
we long to be one of God’s saints!

They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will

You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.

For the saints of God are just folk like me—and just folk like you!
Going out into the world
to be sunbeams!

1 comment:

unorthodox50 said...

I, too, love Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam! My grandmother was the organist in the Methodist Church I grew up in and I would often stand by the organ bench after the postlude and she would play that song as I'd belt it out!! Thanks for the memories and your theological musings on the lesson.

Are you blogging elsewhere? Your posts stop in 2010. I'd love to read more. Blessings to you.