November 5 2017 Sermon
All Saints Sunday
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
On this most holy of days, All Saints Sunday, we have gathered to worship Almighty God who has received our friends, family, neighbors, and brothers and sisters in Christ into eternal life. And we give thanks for the life of each of the departed, those who have died this past year, and even some decades ago. In their own ways, each one of them taught us the depth of faith in Christ and how to live with compassion for the downtrodden, a zeal for justice, and an unrelenting love and hope for the world.
“Many of you have come here today to honor someone you have loved who has died. Your hearts are heavy with the loss of someone dear. Many of us have our own beloved dead to remember this day. People who we’d frankly rather still have here in this room as a living person and not as a photo on a white table at church the first Sunday of November. We’d rather be standing behind them in line for communion than adding them to the litany of saints.” (Nadia Bolz Weber)
While we can give thanks for the ministry of those who have inherited God’s promises and shared God’s love with us, this day brings along with it, a tremendous amount of grief. Among us, we have lost spouses, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, and lifelong friends. To the family of each one of the individuals whose name was read during our time of prayer, I want to continue to offer condolences on behalf of this church. In particular, to the families of Diane, Jayne, and Francis, we share in your loss of these unique women. They were yours before they were part of us here at the church. We miss each one of them in a unique way and know that your grief is far greater than what we can imagine.
Over these next two months, the road might seem extra arduous as dinner celebrations are prepared without mom in the kitchen or dad keeping watch on the festivities from his armchair. There will be an empty seat at the dining room table, one less name on the Christmas shopping list, and maybe a heated discussion among siblings about where Thanksgiving lunch and Christmas dinner are going to be held. Be gentle with yourself in an already busy and overwhelming season. Even folks years removed from the gut wrenching loss of a loved one find a renewed sense of grief in these coming holiday seasons. Even when the night seems so dark and the road so long, you are never alone in your grief. It is God in Jesus Christ who most closely feels your grief and his church that is called to walk alongside you to bind up the broken hearted.
And a year from now, we will gather on this holy ground to do again what we are doing today-remembering the saints and their ministry.
So let’s remember and celebrate! When my wife and I were looking at homes in Kingston Springs (years before I knew I was coming to be your pastor), we ended up in a conversation with the next door neighbor to one of the properties on our favorite list. As we stood on the curb talking to the neighbor, we learned more about the house and the area than would have ever showed up on a real estate listing. To our surprise, we learned that all the siding on the back of the home had been replaced recently due to a mix of a tornado and straight line winds that threw debris into the home. That little tidbit of information about the inclement weather from 2011 came to the forefront when I met Jayne Hiett.
In 2011, that day of terrible weather blew out the stained glass windows that are at the rear of the sanctuary. In the wake of that destructive event, Jayne took the glass shards and made candles in which the stained glass adorns the outer shell of the tube. She gifted me one of those candles shortly after I arrived last summer. This past week as I was sorting through a desk drawer, I came across the note written in her own hand that explained the candle was made from the shattered glass. She understand the power of resurrection and had a tremendous ability to see beauty long before the rest of us. In one of my last visits with her, she wanted to make sure the kids in the nursery and children’s church had the necessary art supplies so they could be trained to see beauty in a not always beautiful world.
I had been told about Francis Wilson quite some time before I actually met her. Every single soul that ever mentioned Francis made a point of drawing attention to her sense of humor. It was crude at times but she had an usual ability to create laughter in those around her. What a gift-in a world where laughter and frivolity can be hard to come by, a light hearted soul that could stir your heart to laughter and joy is much needed. That was Francis. For those of you who had the opportunity to know Francis, I hope you walk out of church today treading a bit lighter having known her, maybe even recalling a joke not clean enough to tell in church.
And Diane, I especially mindful of Diane this week because Room in the Inn has begun. This ministry for those who are experiencing homelessness literally saves lives by getting men, women, and families off the streets in the worst weather months of the year. I was told before I ever met Diane that her sticking point was Room in the Inn. When she welcomed me into her home last summer, one of the first questions she asked was whether or not this church would be hosting Room in the Inn? I was delighted to answer in the affirmative. And since losing Diane, I’ve thought about Room in the Inn and the mantle of ministry that we’ve all inherited from her commitment to outreach and justice ministry.
Is the church doing Room in the Inn this year? Of course we are. Diane showed us what is good in the eyes of God-to create safe spaces for our neighbors who are most vulnerable.
The saints, who now sit at the feet of their Teacher and Lord, Jesus the Christ, have shown us what the Lord requires. Their lives, their ministry, and their love have helped us see the reign of God in the world. I wish we had enough time for each of you to help remember the saints by telling stories of those who formed you in faith. When you’re at lunch, at the dinner table, or in the car, cultivate the memory of those who have been faithful in seeking to grow in love of God and neighbor. Those memories will keep the church rooted in a rich history crafted by those who have gone before us into the very presence of Almighty God. Those memories will also inspire us to emulate those counted among the saints, as we seek in this life to be faithful to God’s call to serve our neighbors within God’s reign.
That’s why this morning’s gospel lesson is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in particular the section that opens the extended teaching session called the Beatitudes. It is a depiction of the way God shows favor in the world, and in every way in runs counter to our prevailing value system. Happy are those who mourn for they will be comforted. On this day, such a claim seems ludicrous because the palpable sense of grief is far from what we associate with happiness and blessedness. Happy are the meek, the mild mannered, the unimposing. The earth will be theirs. That cuts against the grain of every prevailing system of power-the meek are trampled underfoot and have no place at the bargaining table. But in God’s reign, vulnerability to grieve or a thirst for righteousness and justice are to be emulated.
There’s a place in God’s reign for those who are often left out and forgotten at other tables. The broken hearted, the unendingly compassionate widow, the hourly wage worker who knows the very heart of God, or the neighbor who builds bridges among diverse folks so that peace might reign. All of these and more are promised a blessing in God’s reign. It’s an upheaval of the prevailing order.
Following Jesus Christ orients us toward the ways of God in the world. It takes practice and struggle to follow Jesus into places and relationships that are difficult; but such is the life of faith. Perhaps it’s a major life transition such as the loss of a relationship, job change, or transition to an unwanted season of life. Or perhaps it’s a form of ministry God’s spirit has called you to while others avoid it at all costs. It is in the experiences of dislocation and unsettledness that we revisit the Beatitudes and the lives of the saints in glory and those among us for direction.
Where do we go from here? We go where Jesus goes pronouncing God’s blessings in unexpected places. We do as the saints have done before us, living faithfully and fruitfully wherever they were planted. We’ve been shown what the kingdom of God looks like, instructed on how to embody it ourselves.
James Merrell puts it this way by working through the Beatitudes in reverse. “The way to Heaven is through poverty . . . the way to consolation is through genuine sorrow . . . the way to earthly possessions is through a gentle spirit that is neither stingy nor possessive . . . the way to satisfaction is through a hungering and thirsting for justice . . . the way to mercy is through mercy . . . the way to God is through the open, unobstructed, pure heart . . . the way to a full relationship with God is through the active practice of peace . . . the way to God’s realm or Kingdom is through the struggle for right that leads through conflict, pain, and even death itself.”
I hope that on this All Saints Day your heart has been stirred calling to mind those who have gone before you and shown you the path into God’s ways.
As I do each All Saints Day, I invite you to close your eyes, to be still in your mind and heart and to remember.
Who was it that gave you the first glimpse of God’s pronouncement of blessedness?…
Who met you at the door the first time you walked into a community of faith looking for a love larger than yourself?…
Who taught you the ways of God?…
Who cooked, washed dishes, and did laundry with such love that it was as if God was doing it?…
Which saints among us have shown you how to live in love of God and neighbor?
Who has a healing touch?…
Who do you admire for their unwavering sense of God’s justice yearning for the least, last, and the lost?…
Go and do likewise.