Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Saints' Sermon - Pay it forward!

God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age: as we rejoice in the faith of your saints, inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As Christians, we aren’t solo acts, leading solitary lives. It is through baptism that we become members of the body of Christ, and members of the company of saints. This connection transcends death, as Charles Wesley put it:
One family, we dwell in him,
one Church, above, beneath;
though now divided by the stream,
the narrow stream of death.
We are connected to the saints of past, present, & future through baptism, and this baptismal celebration began on the night of All Hallows Eve, or the eve of All Saints, what we call Halloween. When we use fun and humor to live into our baptism and defy the power of death over our lives by a carnival type of celebration. This celebration ends tomorrow with All Souls Day, or (as our BCP puts it) the Commemoration of all the faithful departed. We remember our loved ones, family members, friends, even those whose names have become silent, with no one to speak their names. We commemorate all.

In between Halloween & All Souls is All Saints Day, when we remember the saints from long ago and not so long ago…asking God to help us follow them in all virtuous and godly living… “The New Testament uses the word “saints” to describe the entire membership of the Christian community. But from very early on, Christians have also used the word “saint” for persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.” (Lesser Feasts & Fasts, 2000)

And so today we remember the saints who lived the godly life, to which our first reading from Ecclesiasticus reminds us: “Let us now sing the praises of famous men and women, our ancestors in their generations.” We honor those famous men & women and even those whose deeds are forgotten but whom God honors; they are not "spooky figures, morally superior, pietistic" - we find that they are just like us, but they lived their lives by fully following Jesus with generosity and love.

Halloween, All Saints, & All Souls Day help us remember that Christ has brought us out of death into life, out of darkness into light. The faithful dead, the saints live in that light and they call us to do the same.
“In truth all human beings are called to be saints,” William Stringfellow reminds us. “that just means called to be fully human, to be perfect – that is whole, mature, fulfilled. The saints are simply 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.”
These saints, some of whom are pasted on our columns this morning tell us through their lives, how they paid forward the generous gift they had from God by giving such a gift away.
  • We remember the faith & work of William Wilberforce in England’s parliament to help end the slave trade in England & to prevent cruelty towards animals.
  • We remember the faith & work of Q. Emma and K. Kamehameha IV, the Holy Sovereigns of Hawaii, who built schools and hospitals for the people, even translated the BCP into Hawaiian.
  • We remember the faith & work of writers like Madeline L’Engle & Thomas Merton who helped us experience God in new ways from their writings.
  • We remember the faith & work of Moses the Ethiopian, who left his life of crime to become a faithful monk in the desert.
  • We remember the faith & work of Mary Magdalene who was the first Evangelist after the resurrection.
Each of these saints followed Jesus in their age, in their context, but didn’t hoard their faith or their lives, they paid it forward. They gave it away.

We are called through our baptism to do the same; to live our life of faith by giving it away to others, & to share the love and generosity of God with all those we meet.
In the backwoods of rural north Georgia, members of an Alcoholics Anonymous group listened respectfully as old John told his story once again. They had heard the story many times before…

Wrinkled, wizened, dirt permanently embedded in the cracks in his hands, teeth stained with tobacco, John slowly shook his head as his face softened into a smile that still harbored a tinge of pain.

"Back when I was drinking," he began in his customary fashion, "I used to think I knew everything." Glancing at each face in the group of people sitting on the rickety chairs surrounding the old picnic table, he rested on their gentle smiles as tears welled up in his own eyes. "A.A.'s greatest gift to me," old John continued, "what you people gave to me . . . " John searched for the words for a moment and then gently struck the table with his large, gnarled hand. "…you helped me . . . you made me . . . teachable."

Teachable, he repeated again and again, and with each repetition, old John struck the table with the palm of that work-ravaged hand, softly but firmly, as if to drive home the point. Silently, as always, the group waited. Finally, as always, it came: "Thank you," John concluded, "Thank you." [From The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham.]
What is a saint? - someone who is "teachable": someone who has "learned" to move beyond their sins and failings to realize the possibilities for forgiveness and reconciliation in their lives; someone who possesses the openness of heart to embrace the love of God; someone who keeps getting up when they fall down, who tries again and again despite the mistakes and miscues. Who learn that life is a gift and the best way to live, is to give it away. These saints on the pillars did just that.

Today we celebrate the lives of all those who were opened their heart and spirit to be "taught" by God - all imperfect, but who made of their lives an offering of blessedness and grace, who were "teachable" enough to learn compassion and mercy and then "teach" others - including us - on our own journeys to the Kingdom of God. We are not solo acts. We are part of the Body of Christ with the saints. May we follow their lead and pay it forward. Amen.

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