A Sermon for 4 November 2018 – All Saints’ Sunday
A reading from the gospel of Mark 12:28-34. Before hearing this portion of the gospel, it’s important to know that Jesus is in Jerusalem at the temple. And every time he turns around there, religious leaders are upon him. At this point in the gospel of Mark, Jesus already has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday. He’s been to the temple to overturn the tables of the moneychangers. Next, four instances are recorded of the religious leaders coming to question Jesus – and not at all in a friendly manner; for lines in the sand already have been drawn between them. At last a scribe, who overheard the other leaders’ disputes with Jesus, questions Jesus. What follows is a beautiful reminder of what God really requires. In this reading of Mark 12:28-34, listen for God’s word to us.
“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to Jesus, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that the scribe answered wisely, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask Jesus any question.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
All Saints’ Sunday is the perfect Sunday to have before us the story of Jesus in the temple – at long last putting an end to everyone’s religious questions by declaring it’s all about love, love, love. Love of God first with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love of neighbor as ourselves – as in loving our neighbors as if we saw them as our very own selves. Though Roman Catholicism might reserve the status of saint to those the church officially deems so after a lengthy investigative process. A process that typically includes a five year waiting period after death, substantive evidence of heroic virtue, and at least one if not two verifiable miracles (www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27140646). In the Reformed Theological Tradition we’re a part of, we view the saints a bit differently. The PCUSA’s Book of Common Worship reminds us that the emphasis of the festival of All Saints’ Day “is on the ongoing sanctification of the whole people of God.” We’re further reminded: “While we may give thanks for the lives of particular luminaries of the ages past, we also give glory to God for the ordinary, holy lives of believers in this and every age. (Thus) this is an appropriate time to give thanks for members of the community of faith who have died in the past year, and to pray that we may be counted among the company of the faithful in God’s eternal realm” (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, WJKP, 2018; p. 383).
During the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving today, we’ll remember the lives of this congregation’s saints – the members of this congregation who have died in the past year. Elva, Faye, Bill, Bill, and John. As Christians, we seek to pattern our lives after Christ – following the ways we learn of in Jesus’s life and death and resurrection. And I think it’s good for us to look too to the lives of other followers among us. Christians who have shared the pews with us whose lives give witness to the love of God and neighbor enacted among us today – like in our same kind of lives and in similar homes in which we too live. Think about Elva – if you knew her. ‘Til just a few days before she died, she sat over there. Elva was raised in a faithful Christian family. A member as a child at Woodland Presbyterian Church in East Nashville, she and her family became active members here in this church’s early years. And for all those years, Elva faithfully worshipped and grew and served among us. Quietly. Diligently. Through hardship and joy. Her life reminds us to live likewise. . . . And what about Faye? I’m told she too used to sit over there. If you knew her, then you knew that in her last days, every breath was a struggle. But Faye continued to have that welcome that graced her life with all sorts of interesting, eclectic people. The memorial service we had here in celebration of her life reminded that Faye loved life. And people. No matter who it was, she opened wide her heart for strangers to become friends. Her life reminds us to live likewise. . . . And Bill B. At the beginning of the year, wasn’t he still standing with his cane right on that back row? Bill had an incredible integrity about him. A warmth and kindness that made him a wonderful friend and successful businessman. His entire family admired him – from his devoted wife to his youngest great-grandchild. Bill still is deeply missed because he cared so much for other people – making them feel special no matter who they were. Exuding wisdom that came from deep faith. Indeed his life reminds us to live likewise. . . . When I think about Bill R., I think about us visiting him just last Christmas when we caroled to him. Remember how he took a hymnal and started singing along? Bill loved all of our visits – especially the ones including the children of this church. A man of few words, he had a presence of appreciation. Some of you may remember how Bill lovingly cared for his wife for several years. And though he knew deep pain in his life as a father, one of Bill’s greatest joys in his final months of life was seeing his son released from prison to start his life over – a sober, changed man. Talk about the forgiving, abiding love of a father for his child! Bill’s life shows us the power of love – a love like God’s that never gives up on us. No matter the ways we mess up. His was a saintly life that teaches us to live likewise. . . . Just a few weeks ago, we gathered to celebrate the long life of John. A survivor the Great Depression, John (like Bill) proudly served our country. As a naval commander, those who attended John’s memorial service heard the depth of his life’s impact. A man who had served in the army as a part of the effort storming the beach at Normandy showed up to pay his respects at John’s visitation. He told John’s children that if it hadn’t been for their father’s leadership by sea that day, he would have been killed in that battle. John’s courage and steady leadership ensured others lived. John’s deep love of his family and friends was inspirational. The way he tirelessly gave for others needs encourages us to live likewise.
In a way, each friend we remember here today shows us what it looks like to put love of God first, followed by love of neighbor as self. None of us does it perfectly, we know that. But to keep our aim, as the saints of the faith have, to continue to get up each morning. Give thanks to God for another day. Go about our lives loving our family members and neighbors and co-workers. Finding ways to welcome strangers and provide for those in need. Giving ourselves in service for middle school students down the street and babies downstairs. Using our talents in our life together here so that homebound people feel connection and hurting people have a place to come heal and others have a chance to discover new gifts and abilities, and friendship can deepen, and children can grow. This is what saintly life looks like. Faithful life. Generous life. Lives like the ones you have been living; for which we all can give great thanks!
Perhaps no pope will ever canonize any one of our lives. No evidence will be sought that proves our heroic virtues or verifies the miracles we accomplished – though each one of us certainly has done the miraculous in the ways we have given of ourselves. Even if a pope never deems any of us saints, no matter. Today and every day, we look to the faithful that have slipped on before us. We celebrate the saintly life of all who quietly continue to live among us right here each day. . . . Members and friends, in all the ways you have loved God first and neighbor as self. In all the ways you faithfully have served God by serving others through your time and talents and treasures, THANK YOU!!! Thank you! Through it, God’s kingdom has been in our midst! . . . Alleluia! And amen!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2018 (All rights reserved.)