Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sermon: All Saints Day

Around a large campfire late one autumn evening, Jesus comforted his disciples by speaking to them of a heavenly realm that far surpasses the beauty of anything on earth. He spoke of a place that never grows dark or cold, a vast city filled with beautiful mansions, with streets of gold and with unending expanses of green and fertile land, a place of perpetual peace and fulfillment. Jesus spoke of his kingdom late into the night, painting pictures of heaven until the fire began to turn to ash and a chill filled the air. One by one Jesus’ disciples drifted off to sleep with the images of heavenly treasure and luxurious mansions feeding their dreams.

In the end, only Jesus and a poor, unknown, uneducated disciple were left, each one lost in thought and watching as the last cinders of the fire began to die. After some time had passed, this solitary disciple looked over to Jesus and spoke, ‘I was wondering about something,” he said. "Yes my friend," Jesus replied.

"Well, there are so many people who follow you now that I can’t help worrying whether someone like me, an old, uneducated sinner, will be overlooked amidst all the great thinkers, politicians, preachers and radicals that are being attracted to you and your message." Then he turned away and continued, ‘I’ve never been in a mansion, never even seen one. So I don’t care too much if I miss out, but tell me, will there be room enough for me when I die – will there be somewhere for me to stay in this kingdom of which you speak?’

Jesus looked at the man with compassion, ‘Don’t worry’ he whispered, in a tone that could barely be heard over the content noises of the sleeping crowd, ‘tucked away in a tiny corner of heaven, away from all the grand mansions and streets of gold, there is a cramped little stable. It doesn’t look like much inside or out, but on a clear night you can see the stars shine bright amidst the cracks and you can feel the warm breeze caress your skin. In this Kingdom, that is where I live, and you would be welcome to live with me there’. Mansions © Peter Rollins (from IKON wiki)
On this All Saints Day, when we remember and celebrate the saints, when we think of what St. Francis did or a William Wilberforce or Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King, Jr., it is Rollins little tale about mansions that reminds us that we are all connected to those saints and there is a place for all of us there in the Kingdom. It is such humility, like a disciple wondering if there is a place for him that lies at the greatness of the saints.

As we have studied the founding fathers and mothers of our country, I think of what Ben Franklin wrote at age 28 for his epitaph:
The body of B. Franklin, Printer (Like the Cover of an Old Book Its Contents torn Out And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding) Lies Here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be Lost; For it will (as he Believ'd) Appear once More In a New and More Elegant Edition Revised and Corrected By the Author.
Would that we all be at our deaths in a New and More Elegant Edition Revised and Corrected By the Author. But sainthood isn’t just about looking to the past and seeing those who have done it right whether it be among our St Francis or our Benjamin Franklins nor is it looking only to heaven to know we are surrounded by their witness. It is how we live our lives now. As that old children’s hymn put it:
“For the saints of God are just folk like me, And I mean to be one too.”
This morning, Kaitlyn Marie Harrington, will be baptized, and take her place among the faithful, the saints, the body of Christ here at St. Peter's. She will be marked as Christ own forever, with the seal of Chrism upon her head. Like the multitude of saints gathered around the throne whose heads are marked with the seal of the living God. It is not a seal that is a magical means to salvation, but as the book of Revelation shows us, it is a process of growth in the faith, for God will make his home among us.

The parents and Godparents will take vows on behalf of Kaitlyn, saying just that, through their actions, their prayers, in all they do they will raise her up in the Christian faith and life. They will plant seeds of faith that by the work of the Spirit will grow with her throughout her life. You all also will take a vow to support Kaitlyn in her life in Christ. And so Christ says to you like the churches in Revelation, to keep the faith, to witness to Kaitlyn by your words and actions what it means to be a Christian here today. And you will help till the soil in which those seeds of faith are planted.

All Saints Day is our time to stop, before the rush of the holidays begins, before the last leaves fall, to reflect and remember lives that have touched us, those seeds of faith in each of us, and how those we remember this day have left their mark on our souls. For we remember those gathered before the throne and the lamb and we celebrate Kaitlyn and welcome her into the household of God. Saints are not "spooky figures, morally superior, pietistic" as William Stringfellow once described saints as
“those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”
Saints have their faults and foibles like anyone else, yet they lived their lives as fully human as they could, and many of them touched our lives. As we live our lives, following their examples, we are not all called to be martyrs but we are called to be saints, fully human, by giving our lives away by loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to support Kaitlyn and each other in our lives in Christ.

If we follow that path, then we honor the saints who made that journey themselves, who now support us in prayer in the communion of saints. We need not worry about the mansions of heaven or a simple stable – for we will find Jesus there at end of our days with the saints…

For now, let us gather around this altar and this font, knowing we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We are loved and we are blessed. Remember all the saints, like those we named in our reading from Ecclesiasticus, from the well known to the unknowns and to those in our hearts. Give thanks to God for their lives and let us live our lives as the saints we are called to be in this world. Amen.

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