Saints in the Midst of Us
Lord, may we clearly see you and the glory that you have redeemed for us through those that you have chosen as your saints. Amen
If your house is anything like my house then this morning is… The morning after Halloween
But in fact the tradition of Halloween came second to what today actually is
All Saints Day – Halloween is short for All Hallows' Eve or All Saints' Eve
There are many possible sources to our modern day Halloween traditions, however it probably has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)"
The name is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end"
The festival of sow-an celebrates the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half", and is sometime regarded as the "Celtic New Year"
The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on sow-an, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through.
The family's ancestors were honored and invited home whilst harmful spirits were warded off.
It was believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks.
Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm.
Although the Celtic festival brings us interesting insights to the tradition, for us Christians
Today, we celebrate “All Saints day”.
The tradition of “All Saints Day” started out reasonable enough with Christians in the early days that were in the practice of solemnizing the anniversary of a martyr's death.
A death that was suffered in the name and faith for Christ.
Later under the persecution of Emperor Diocletian, with many martyrs suffering for their faith at the same time, there developed a joint commemoration.
Over the years it was adapted and changed to the point in the 8th century when Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter - ‘to all the saints’ and fixed the anniversary to November 1st.
We find our heritage from our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters – saints that have gone before us
For some Saints are whose people whose life is so abundant that it transcends death
Their joy of God’s gift of abundant life fills them beyond which they can contain it and they share God’s blessing to others
Simply - Saints are those that have learned to give and receive God’s love
For others, saints are understood as models of virtue signaled by elaborate canonization ceremonies, what one might understand from Roman Catholic Church
We keep days in their honor and frequently recognize them with the honorific title "saint": St. Peter, St. Andrew and so on. In fact two weeks ago was St. Luke’s day
And, while it is helpful, even inspirational to think of these exemplary lives as models that have powerfully witnessed to God’s Love – it might not be the only way in which we can benefit and celebrate the notion of “All Saints Day”
One could define saints as simply those that went before us to tell us the message of God’s love
A saint in the simplest definition is one that tells that ‘in Jesus there is the promise of life abundant’
In the midst of the confusion of this world - in God - we take shelter from the storm
And it is the Saints that have gone before and passed this message on
In fact, now we are getting closer to the Biblical understanding of a saint
In Acts and the writings of St. Paul – The term ‘saint’ is used as virtual synonym for members of the Christian community
You might be surprised to read that in the New Testament there are 62 references to "saints" and that St. Paul used the term 44 times to refer to the Church on earth
and that the word even appeared in the Old Testament.
I think St. Paul would say Baptism is a mark of sainthood.
In the Revelation to John that we had read today we hear of his heavenly vision "I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;"
It has been said that one way we can understand what a saint is - we only need to look at the stained glass windows of a church
And a saint is someone in which THE light shines through
It is important to know that we are called saints because of God's continuing incarnate presence among his people;
It is God who is intimately and fully holy,
It is a God who came in the flesh, who still dwells in the midst of His people.
That presence permeates the entire community of faith.
What makes God's people holy is His presence not our behavior that is often less than perfect.
As we all know too well, humanity has far from reached perfection.
Former slave ship captain John Newton's famous hymn "Amazing Grace" brings home the reality that it is God's gracious presence in the midst of His humanity that makes this kind of sainthood possible.
"Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see."
Left to our own devices, we will eventually disappoint at least our own selves.
But with God's loving grace we can grow to the heights of human expression.
From the bible readings today we have powerful messages for all of God’s saints
Powerful messages of God’s promises
We are told from the Apocrypha reading - the Wisdom of Solomon
A reading incidentally that is often chosen for funerals – an all too familiar celebration of the saints that have gone on before us
We hear this promise – [That - the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, …
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, but they are at peace.
Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his elect
We are promised to be in the hands of God – we the righteous – we, the believers in God
Righteousness being Jesus Christ - Christ-ians - those that strive to follow His ways – His Righteousness – and made righteous only by His loving grace
We trust in THE truth – that God will abide, literally meaning ‘dwell with us’, in love
We are promised grace and mercy and perpetual oversight
From our reading from Revelations, we are promised
That - he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more…
From the only words spoken by Christ in Revelations, we are promised –
“See, I am making all things new.”
…“It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
Christ is promising for those that believe - a new creation - a new heaven and new earth
It is the dwelling place of the saints – this new creation – this New Jerusalem
Rev Barbara Brown Taylor – one of my favorite sermon writers wrote from an All Saints Day sermon of a few years ago this:
A Christian is one that has Faith in believing in the "New" Jerusalem when the one we see on the TV news is so Old
The vision of the New Jerusalem, the fulfilling of time, is not Zionist goal to recapture modern day Jerusalem for the Jews – to build a giant wall around the city and live in armed naivety
The New Jerusalem is not a place, but is potential anywhere and everywhere as the saints live out the way of Jesus
The New Jerusalem is the dwelling place of the Lord
And it starts within each one of us – in our hearts
And it extends out to wherever that is realized
Our quick look at the readings today can not exclude the powerful and image rich message from the gospel reading of St. John
Here among the many things to learn there is the message for the saints of some of God’s promises
Where we have the “compassionate God” that weeps with Martha and Mary and the mourners gathered
The “God of promise” that tells Martha
“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
And the triumphant God - triumphant over all things including death
That calls out to decomposing dead
“Lazarus, come out!”
We need to know that Jesus still weeps for us if we allow grief, despair, or disappointment to hold its sway in the midst of life.
We need to hear him say to all forms of death that are at work in us in our lives, “Come out!”
Each day as you may die a little under the worldly burdens.
Remember the promise that Jesus says “Come out.”
Come out… and see the glory of God…
Trust in Jesus, the victor over death – trust that Jesus abides with us – weeps along side us
Calls us to follow in His ways – Calls each one of us to be a saint of THE light
Today on this festival of All Saints God calls us again to be the clay in the hands of the potter,
To enable God's holy presence in our midst to continue to shape our lives and our faith as his saints here on earth.
As Christian saints on earth we are called to live life inside out.
Isn't that what the Incarnation is all about.
With God there is always more than you can see.
But let’s not end there, looking outward to God and inward to our response
Let us all honor those that have been saints to each one of us – that have let the light of God shine through them
As I consider my own spiritual walk and life in ordained ministry, I will share with you a few that have affected me
I think of two ministers of my childhood and youth – Father Jack Bielby and Rev Larry Reese
They weren’t forever canonized in the Roman Catholic sense
And for me, it was the small details that they are saints in my life
The way they prayed for me when I was going through some tough adolescent times
How they shared the good news of something better than this world - the promise found in the belief of Jesus Christ as Lord of life and death
Another example of saints in my life, right - now, are three gentlemen (all retired) that I meet with weekly or bi-weekly for lunch, we share with each other how God is working in our lives over the past week
We pray together, and then simply share a meal and share God with each other
They are, for me, saints
Also, I think of both my parents, here today… how they modeled a Christian life for me
I can look back at my upbringing and although I know they weren’t perfect, and they really didn’t verbalize in the traditional evangelistic way, they witnessed God’s love in innumerable ways – they are two of God’s saints
So, As we celebrate “All Saints Day” - consider your own saints
I encourage you at some point – today, don’t wait till tomorrow – today, find a quiet place for a moment and take some time to think of the saints in your lives
And then – thank God for them
Today – is a day that you might: Hear - see - celebrate - and live - so that you might overflow with the message of the saints
- Let the message of Jesus Christ shine through you
- that God loves us - and promises - life abundant - Amen!