South Presbyterian Church – November 2, 2014 – All Saints Day
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Readings behind today’s sermon
Our first reading today is from the Letter of 1st John, Chapter 3, verses 1-8. I’m reading from The Message. Hear the Word of God.
3 What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.
2-3 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.
4-6 All who indulge in a sinful life are dangerously lawless, for sin is a major disruption of God’s order. Surely you know that Christ showed up in order to get rid of sin. There is no sin in him, and sin is not part of his program. No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ. They’ve got him all backward.
7-8 So, my dear children, don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah. Those who make a practice of sin are straight from the Devil, the pioneer in the practice of sin. The Son of God entered the scene to abolish the Devil’s ways.
A reading from God’s Holy Word. Thanks be to God.
Today’s Gospel Reading is from Matthew 5:1-12. This is also from The Message. Jesus is teaching about Blessings.
5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Here ends the Gospel reading for today. Praise to you, Lord Christ.
How many of you have sung that song that we just sang (“I Sing a Song of the Saints of God”) before today? We are going to sing the whole thing as our closing hymn, but I just love it because it reminds us that we are ALL saints. There is no sanctification or deification or dedicatory process for us as Presbyterians. We are ALL saints who are called to live out our lives of faith.
Merriam Webster has several definitions of “saint” but two are: “one of the spirits of the departed in heaven” and “one of God’s chosen and usually Christian people.” The Church of Latter Day Saints … the Mormans … recognize the same kind of definition that we do: a person of faith who has gone home to God.
And today is the day in our church calendar year when we lift up those who have gone before us. NOT because they did anything special in the eyes of the world, but just because of who they WERE in living out their FAITH.
And so I look at today’s two scripture readings as guides or templates for how to best fulfill our own commitment to be people of faith. I mean … I really LIKE the way the song words it: One was a doctor and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green. They were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one, too.
Now some years I have paused here and asked you to NAME those folks who were saints in your life … people of faith who influenced you in YOUR ways of believing in whatever it is that you believe in. I’m not going to do that today because of time … but I invite you to call them to your mind now and to think about them as I continue. Take just a few seconds to focus on one or two of those people.
Both of today’s readings are early writings in the Bible … not as early as Mark’s gospel, and certainly not as early as Paul’s letters … the 1 John writing probably comes from the late first or early second century, and Matthew’s gospel was about 20 or 30 years before that in the 70’s. But both grow out of long ORAL traditions which root us firmly in the teachings of Jesus. And they are both quite similar in their content.
If I want to become a faithful follower of Jesus … a SAINT … then here’s what I should do according to Matthew: feel blessed when I’ve run out of options …. When I’ve lost what’s most dear … when I’m content with just who I am and when I’m HUNGRY for God … feel blessed when I remember that I’m cared for and when my life is aligned with God. I should even feel blessed when I’m persecuted for my beliefs, people make fun of me, and I should count my blessings when people attack me.
Those are such disparate occurrences, aren’t they? They cover everything from an internal alignment to external attack but the one constant throughout them ALL is that one command … to feel BLESSED.
According to Matthew, THAT’s how we stay wrapped in the teachings of Jesus … that’s how we stay FAITHFUL and on the right track: we remember that we are BLESSED. No matter what happens, we are blessed because in order to truly feel blessed we have to be connected. There has to be a RELATIONSHIP in order for that blessing to occur.
And then John’s letter comes with the follow-up to that … to live out your faith, remember that you are CHILDREN of God. That one fact is why we don’t fit in. That one FACT is why people don’t take us seriously and sometimes write off the things we say or the vision we have for the world. People don’t really WANT to be reminded that what they’re doing … how they go scurrying around in the dark like little cockroaches … that that’s WRONG and so any of us who shine the LIGHT on those things (as Jesus did) … we get attacked because they want to put out the light that is exposing their scurrying ways.
One was a doctor and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green. Educated person … royalty, political leader, or everyday laborer … They were all of them saints of God. And I mean, God helping, to be one, too. They were faithful and it doesn’t matter what their station was in life … it doesn’t matter if they were rich or poor … it doesn’t matter if they were well-educated or not. They were SAINTS because they lived faithful lives.
When we die … it’s like the Moss Hart, Joseph S. Kauffman play, “You Can’t Take it With You.” None of that MATTERS … what matters is our relationship with God! … with OTHERS … with OURSELVES!!!
The Reverend Emeritus Professor William R. G. Loader from Murdoch University in Perth Australia where he is the Emeritus Professor of New Testament and a minister of the Uniting Church in Australia wrote: The author might say today: “No amount of doing good deeds and no amount of having impressive spiritual experiences will count for ANYTHING if it is not connected to a real change that is relational.”
Nothing matters except the relational experiences.
The people you brought into your memories a few minutes ago … it doesn’t matter if they had money or prestige … it doesn’t matter if they were particularly good looking or lived in a fancy house … it doesn’t matter if they were PERFECT or not. You remember them … and are grateful to them … because they touched your LIFE and lived out their faith in some way that had meaning for you (and presumably for others, too).
THAT’s what Jesus tells us to do.
That’s what these two passages are instructing us about.
There are some billboards around Rochester right now. You’ve probably seen them. I THINK they’re for St. John Fisher but I’m not positive about that. They say, “You don’t have to be famous to be unforgettable.” Let me say that again: You don’t have to be famous to be unforgettable. It’s the little things that we do for and with each other that touch lives because, frankly … it all boils down to RELATIONSHIP.
Whether I’m talking about my relationship with myself … learning to not be so hard on myself … learning to accept those parts of me that I find hard to accept …
Or I’m talking about my relationship with other PEOPLE … learning that I really CAN try harder to be accepting and forgiving of others … realizing that they really ARE doing the best they can at any given moment and that I have to be okay with that …
What really underscores BOTH of those relational realities is my relationship with GOD. It’s my relationship with God that influences how I see myself. If, as 1 John tells us … I am a child of God … then who am I to disrespect the God Light that is inside of me?
If we are ALL children of God, then who am I to disrespect the God Light that is inside of YOU? … or of a STRANGER I meet in the supermarket?
I love the phrase in today’s reading from John that says, “Sin is a major disruption of God’s order.” Most of you know that I STRUGGLE with a working definition of the word “sin” because it has been so over-used by some Christians that we have INJURED each other and we have BLOCKED some people hearing the Good News of God’s Love because we stay focused on SIN … on the sinnnER … on sinnING … and not on the LOVE that changes our LIVES so that we are no longer LIVING as we used to.
Let me just say that there is a lot more REJOICING in Jesus’ teachings … there is a lot more discussion about the Kingdom of God than there EVER is talk about sin.
But anyway … this idea that Sin is a major DISRUPTION of God’s order … I can live with that because God calls us to love and CARE FOR each other. These two readings today are about us taking care of each other and holding on to our faith while we do that because other people won’t understand when we do it.
So anything that gets in the way of that … that disrupts our honoring of God in our relationship with ourselves or with others … anything that demeans or embarrasses … anything that hurts or belittles … anything that INJURES … that’s an affront to God.
And if we really mean it when we say: They were all of them saints of God … and I mean, God helping, to be one, too then we can’t DO those things anymore. We can’t think those thoughts. We can’t give IN to the ways of the world because WE are followers of Jesus and WE are called to live differently. WE are called to be the presence of the risen CHRIST in the world … to be that Light … that ENERGY source … that LOVE in the world. And we are called through this WATER [scoop water from the baptismal bowl] … THIS water … through this water we have been CHOSEN to be his voice in the world … to be HIS presence … his arms and legs … his smiles and hugs … his sense of righteous indignation and HIS standard bearers when it comes to the treatment of other people and the environment.
Today we have a chance to underscore that reality through receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion. THINK about that. We get to literally TAKE INSIDE ourselves the teachings … to mark our commitment with this symbolic meal … to be in the Presence of Jesus in a new and different way than just reading and talking about him. We get to sit at his table … in his PRESENCE in a way that is a MYSTERY. It’s one of the great DO-OVERS … a new start. It’s like we don’t have to wait til Monday to start a new diet ??? We don’t have to WAIT to start a new way of LIVING because he’s here all the time and in this meal, it’s like going home for supper when mom used to call us in from playing. THAT’s the feeling when we come to this table.
Y’know … I may just be a middle aged white gal … but for whatever reason, he seems to think that I can be a saint. Go figure. Wanta know the funny part??? He thinks YOU can, too.
So as we prepare to do that … to receive nurture and sustenance through the sacrament … the same nurture and sustenance that will “help us to be one, too,” … I’d like to close us with a prayer I discovered last week. Let us pray:
O God our Love,
You have taught us the ways in which to live,
As our Creator,
you have offered us commandments to follow
so that we might be fully your people.
All you ask
is for our love.
Loving You who ARE Love…
and then to love what You love–
your world, our neighbors,
great and small,
the least, the last
the most, the first,
and everything and everyone in between.
Show us, our beloved Teacher,
the places and peoples
that are starving for your Love…
acts of justice and mercy and humility.
Forgive us when we forget to love,
When we get caught up in everything BUT
the acts of love.
We pray this prayer,
for LOVE’S sake,