Tag Archives: All Saints’ Sunday

Celebrating the Saints

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.)

 

Five Hundred Years Later

A Sermon for 29 October 2017 – Reformation Sunday

A reading from Romans 12:1-13.  Listen for God’s word to us in a message from the Apostle Paul to encourage the Christians in Rome.  Listen.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.  For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.  We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us:  prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.  Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

Five hundred years ago, no one had heard of this church.  Five hundred years ago, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) wasn’t a glimmer in anyone’s eye.  Five hundred years ago, there wasn’t even something called the United States of America.  We forget, sometimes, how young our great country is – not yet 250 years old.  Five hundred years ago here native people lived off the land.  The Cherokees and Chickasaws and Creeks and Natchez and Shawnees and Tuskegees hunted and farmed the land under our feet.  Tennessee comes from a Cherokee name meaning Little River.  Because the native people loved the fertile Tennessee River Valley (https://m.warpaths2peacepipes.com/history-of-native-americans/history-of-tennessee-indians.htm).

Five hundred years ago Tuesday to be exact, one man half a world away from here made an important proclamation.  The wisdom writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9b).  Five hundred years ago a monk of the church was wrestling with his faith, as many of us do every day today.  Though vowed to God as a monk and priest of the Church, the man wasn’t so sure he was ok in the eyes of God.  Riddled with guilt over who he knew himself to be – the ways he hadn’t done enough of the will of God, the ways he didn’t love his neighbors as if they were himself, and often times didn’t even love himself all that well.  Five hundred years ago a man, who was trying to do his best for God every day, came to a revelation.  It wasn’t exactly all of a sudden.  Martin Luther had been wrestling with God a goodly long portion of his life.  It’s part of what drove him to the monastery.  He was terrified of God and even more afraid of hell – something he was living on earth as his soul just could not rest in what he was seeing in and hearing from the Church.

Of course, the Church at the time was not Presbyterian, or Lutheran, or Anglican, or any other sort of Baptist, Methodist, or non-denominational body.  The Church in the Western world five hundred years ago was the Roman Catholic Church (that was it); with the Pope in Rome as its head and a whole host of cardinals, bishops, and priests all being financially supported by the local people.  They were the state, and the state was them – because no one yet had envisioned the experiment of separating the powers of the state from the powers of the church.  That would come later when some colonies that wanted to break from under Britain’s rule fought to forge a new nation where folks like the Cherokees and Chickasaws and Shawnees hunted and farmed and lived.  Five hundred years ago Tuesday one man, who found a fresh insight in scripture that transformed his experience of God, concluded that things had to change.  So, in protest of how things in the Church were and how he believed God wanted them instead to be; Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the chapel at the University of Wittenberg where he had become a professor of Theology.  He knew everyone would come for mass the next day on the high, holy All Saints’ Day.  He wanted to start a conversation in which he and his colleagues would dialogue about the ways things needed to change.  Fueled by the recent invention of the printing press that ensured copies of his 95 protests would be sent all over Western Europe in just two months – an act unheard of before; Martin Luther ignited a revolution whose end the world has not yet seen.

Five hundred years later, here we are.  Celebrating the doubts of a Catholic monk that propelled him deeper into realms of Christian faith.  Remembering the perseverance of a budding Theology professor who stumbled upon the Spirit’s inspiration as he prepared to teach a class on the meaning of Romans.  Something clicked in Luther like a sprung lock whose key at last is found, when he read in Romans 1:17:  “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”  . . .  Faith alone.  Scripture alone.  Grace alone would become the rally cry of all who joined Luther’s protest.  So that to this day, our own Book of Order proclaims that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) “upholds the affirmations of the Protestant Reformation.  The focus of these affirmations is God’s grace in Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture . . . (and these affirmations) continue to guide and motivate the people of God in the life of faith” (F-2.04).  Of course, another young man would come along some 15 years after Luther’s protest to lead the steps of reform over in Geneva, Switzerland.  Born from his efforts, we embrace John Calvin and the other reformers’ theological traditions that call us to be “’the church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God’ in the power of the Spirit” (F-2.02).

Five hundred years later, here we are.  About to gather after a potluck to hear the results of this congregation’s recent Church Assessment Tool.  I can’t say we particularly planned it all to end up on this 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, but thanks be to God the days are coalescing.  We are here as a faithful, little part of the body of Christ, the Church.  And for the fifty of this congregation who completed the Church Assessment Tool, you have made your mini-protestant proclamation.  Though the Vital Signs Report we received from your input sometimes seemed as weighty as Luther’s 95 Theses, the CAT Team has been working hard over the past months to prepare a presentation for you today that hopefully will be clear, uplifting, and motivating.

Nothing really is new under the sun.  The church of Jesus Christ still needs reformation – we know that.  For us in the Reformed Theological Tradition of the Protestant Reformation, we are the church.  Romans 12 states it beautifully:  “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5).  It’s not some pope.  It’s not some hierarchical group of priests or bishops or pastors or session members who are put in place to be the church to make the kinds of changes that are needed.  It’s all of us.  Every one of us baptized in Christ who has vowed to be a disciple of Christ connected to this part of Christ’s body – whether by official active membership or simple presence here each week.  We are the church today for this place – for this community that surrounds this building and property.  And it will take us all working together, with God’s Spirit to guide, to lead the steps of reformation here.  . . .  I’m excited for you that you have spoken your truth through the Church Assessment Tool.  The results are going to tell you somethings you already know:  that you now are a small, family-sized congregation.  You are all over the map theologically and you are committed to remaining so.  You want to make an impact for good in this community and you want the leaders of your church to help you discern how your gifts and abilities best can be used for God’s glory.  That too is nothing new.  Nearly 2,000 years ago, Paul was reminding the Christians in Rome that we each have different God-given gifts.  And it is possible to find our way forward.  Christians across time and space have been doing so for almost two millenniums.  The future doesn’t have to be just like the past.  In fact, it can’t be, because we who are a part of this congregation today are not just like we were in the past.  Even if it heavies our hearts, your wise enough to know that!

When you see some of the charts of the presentation today, we realize you may not be entirely happy.  What church doesn’t want to be firing on all cylinders with clear direction and excess of money, members, and ministries?  I’m a part of a Leadership Excellence Training in our Presbytery right now and I think it’s ok to share with you that out of the 12 pastors and Christian educators who are a part of that training, only one of us claims to be serving a church that is growing leaps and bounds today – and it happens to be a church near neighborhoods where home growth continues to boom.  Does that mean there’s no hope for the rest of us?  No.  As a denomination we have been shrinking in the United States for the last 50 of our 200-some years.  I don’t remind us of that to paint a picture of gloom but to remind us that faithful, important ministry still goes forth from God’s work through us.  . . .  This weekend just two blocks from the designated site the White Supremist Party chose to convene their rally, sits the building of one of the churches represented in our Presbytery’s Leadership Excellence Training.  I don’t know what they finally decided to do about the rally coming into their town, but I know some from that church gathered the night before for an alternative witness.  In an interfaith, interracial witness, they prayed for peace before thousands from around the country descended upon their community.  . . .  I’ve heard another colleague of one of our churches in a shrinking county tell of a struggling first-semester college freshman of their congregation who unexpectedly received cookies, cards, and encouragement from a woman of the congregation.  That faithful act made all the difference for that young woman whose life had become too much for her to bear.  The church of Jesus Christ still is needed in this world.  There still is vital ministry to be carried out for God by this congregation.  Luther’s revolution isn’t over.  . . .

Members of the church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God’ in the power of the Spirit; hear again these words from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome – this time from the version of the bible called The Message.  “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.  Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.  Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.  Do not burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.  Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant.  Do not quit in hard times; pray all the harder.  Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality” (Romans 12:9-13, The Message).  . . .  Who knows what they then might be saying five hundred years from now.

In the name of the life-giving father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

God of the Living

A Sermon for 6 November 2016 – All Saints’ Sunday 

A reading from the gospel of Luke 20:27-38. We’re in a portion of the gospel where Jesus has been busy teaching in the Temple. According to the text, he’s actually been challenged by one group after another. Likely confronted by those threatened by the authority with which Jesus speaks and to which the crowds seem drawn. . . . In what happens next, listen for God’s word to us.

“Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to (Jesus) and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

Early in the Seventh Century on the 13th of May, Pope Boniface IV “consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs” (www.catholic.org/saints/allsaints/). Thus, a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation was born. Meaning that all Catholics must attend Mass on that very day. As a way to honor those who had persevered in the faith, every Christian was under obligation to be present and reminded of the sacrifices made by ones such as the Mother Mary, the rock of the church Peter, the zealous apostle Paul, and all the others who risked their lives in the pursuit of following the Way of Christ. Boniface was tricky in his placement of the day – he made it coincide with an ancient Roman festival aimed at placating the restless spirits of the dead. The Pope usurped the pagan day with a focus not on the restlessness of the spirits who already had passed, but on a celebration of the saints who now enjoyed the fruits of heavenly life. All Souls’ Day, the day after, would remain a day to focus on any who may have died but not yet found eternal rest. But the Holy Day of All the Saints would be a way to honor the kind of faith the church wanted everyone to emulate. Later in the Eighth Century, Pope Gregory III would move the high Holy Day from May to November. Thus, the current practice of All Saints’ Day found its way to the first day of November (Ibid.).

Most of us likely spent more time and energy this week on the night before: All Hallows’ Eve – also known as Halloween, the secular holiday that seems to be taking second place right behind Christmas in the United States. If you participated Monday night, I’m betting you opened your door more to Super Man or a Princess or maybe even a tortured-looking goon than to the Blessed Mother Mary, Stephen who’s first Christian martyrdom is recorded in Acts, or our brand of Christianity’s hero Martin Luther who wisely posted his protests on the sanctuary door the night before All Saints’ so that everyone in Wittenberg would know the ways he believed the church needed to change. Unless you grew up Roman Catholic, you may be boggled about this talk of All the Saints. And by the way, we Presbyterian’s don’t do All Souls’ Day on November 2. We don’t buy that theology of the restless dead needing release. . . . Nevertheless, in the mid-Twentieth Century, when mainline Protestant denominations began to see the value of the cyclical seasons of the liturgical year; Presbyterians began to sing songs like For All the Saints who from their Labors Rest. The Book of Common Worship pointed us on November 1, or the first Sunday after it, to scriptures like Hebrews 12 that remind us that “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also . . . run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Prayers for this Day assure us: “neither death nor life can separate us from your love,” Eternal God. So “grant that we may serve you faithfully here on earth, and in heaven rejoice with all your saints who ceaselessly proclaim your glory” (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, 1993, p. 385). Many faith communities now look forward to this day when the names of those from the congregation who have died since last year’s All Saints’ Day reverently are spoken aloud when we come to gather around the table. Incidentally, our prayers around the table remind us every month that the veil between the living and the dead is not as solid as many often think. Every time we gather around the table of our Lord, we welcome the presence of all those of the Church and of our lives with whom we remain connected. Our minds may tell us death brings physical distance, which of course it does. Yet our spirits know we all always are and ever will be held together mysteriously in the binding love of God.

It’s the good news according to the gospel of Luke that Jesus proclaims to the Sadducees and any others who will listen. Here come these men who do not believe anything much takes place after one physically dies. Jesus is so incredibly patient as they concoct this crazy story about a family following the laws from Moses when one after another brother marries the sister-in-law who is left childless by each one. Seven times a wedding takes place; but still no heir is born. Perhaps because she’s heartbroken from burying seven husbands childless, the woman finally dies too. And all the Sadducees want to know is will she be Mrs. Jacob in the resurrection, or perhaps Mrs. Isaac. Will she spend eternity with brother number one, or maybe brother number five who she seemed to like a little bit more? . . . So much is so far beyond our grasp, isn’t it? I mean can we imagine an existence that’s not quite like anything we’ve experienced in our earthly bodies? Can we make sense of being eternally in God’s Presence instead of feeling so separate as we tend to most of the moments of our lives? Though our minds cannot figure it out – if others will know us as Mr. so-in-so who did such-and-such all our days here on earth; or if we’ll hang out forever at God’s eternal feast with our parents or children or favorite friends. We like such re-assurances that what lies ahead will be much like what we’ve known already. And then the words of Jesus strip away every social construct that’s defined who we have been and how we have lived our lives. Children of the resurrection are beyond such human boundaries, Jesus explains. And just in case you doubt such a thing as resurrected life, Jesus throws Moses back at the dis-believing Sadducees. He quotes the very name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. This is YHWH – the Holy One of Israel who IS God of all the ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God of the living; for in God, those who have gone before are not dead. They still are alive to God.

That is the great Mystery we may never fully understand. How it is that those whose hands we held at what we believed to be their end, still are alive to God. It is as if death does not exist to God. Or at least does not hinder the connection God has and always will with each one of us. It’s like God doesn’t see the casket. Doesn’t let the last breath mean one thing. Though our own eyes cannot see what lies beyond a physical death; at least according to the words of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of Luke’s 20th chapter, God sees us only alive. Alive. Alive “for to God, all of us are alive” forevermore (Luke 20:38).

A few years ago I learned a song I may have told some of you about. It’s from a rendition of Singing the Hours and is based on words from the Song of Solomon. It goes like this: “Arise, my darling, beautiful one; my beautiful one, come with me. Arise. See the rains are over and done, my beautiful one, winter is passed; come with me. Beautiful you, my darling, O how beautiful. Beautiful you, my darling, O how beautiful. Arise, my darling, beautiful one; my beautiful one, come with me. Arise. See the rains are over and done, my beautiful one, winter is passed; come with me. Beautiful you, my darling, O how beautiful. Beautiful you, my darling, O how beautiful. Arise, come my darling, my beautiful one; come with me. Arise, come my darling, my beautiful one; come with me. My beautiful one, come with me” (“Arise, My Darling – Lauds [Morning Prayer],” Joy Yee, Singing the Hours, 2011). It’s a song for Lauds, the earliest of morning prayer. And something about the tune is this elixir of fresh morning dew when first the birds begin to sing. It’s easy to imagine these words to and from Solomon and his lover in the backdrop of an abundant garden. But often when I hear it, I imagine what I suspect the composer had in mind: The Great Lover singing to us all. When each one of us exhales our last, there at our side is the Holy One. God waiting to whisper into our ear: “Arise, my darling, beautiful one. My beautiful one, come with me. See, the rains of this life are over and done; my beautiful one, winter is passed – the strife of your life is behind. Come with me.” Those seem to me the words of the One in whose eyes we never die. The Voice of our God calling us out of the slumber of our death to awaken to a whole new life. “Beautiful ones, darlings: arise and come with Me.” It’s the next great adventure – one we cannot fully anticipate, that moment when we pass from life as we’ve known it into God’s everlasting embrace. And for each one we will name here today – though sadness may remain in our hearts at what of them we have lost – ahh! What a gift. What a miracle. What an incredible adventure of an eternity in which they remain forever alive to God! . . . In this is our hope. Our comfort. Our peace.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

2 November 2014 Sermon — All Saints’ Sunday

The Saints of our Lives

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!
RevJule
______________________

2 November 2014 – All Saints’ Sunday
Hebrews 11 (various verses) — 12:1

Click here to read scripture first: Hebrews 11 (NRS)
Hebrews 12:1 (NRS)

I wish we could be in a great big circle today. We could sit with each other to swop stories of the saints of our lives. . . . I know it’s important for us to be familiar with the giants of the church. Those saints like Francis of Assisi. What a remarkable man! Son of a wealthy Italian cloth merchant, Francis spent the early days of his youth living it up. He always was the center of the party and really wanted nothing more than to win himself glory as a valiant knight. At the age of 25, he finally set off on the Fourth Crusade of the early Thirteenth Century. But he never made it. After a days’ journey, Francis had a dream in which God told him he had it all wrong. This wasn’t the purpose of his life. He was to return home immediately. . . . Little by little Francis took to prayer. There are stories of him kissing the hand of a leper, which he later considered to be a test from God. And selling his father’s cloth to rebuild an ancient nearby church, only to end up denouncing his son-ship and hefty inheritance. Instead Francis took to living simply. Begging for garbage to eat, preaching about returning to God, and literally giving away anything he and his growing followers had. This is the Francis who is rumored to have preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful to God for their beautiful cloths – with not one of his listeners flying away until his sermon was all done. Francis considered all of creation a part of God’s family. He even intervened between a village and a wolf that had been killing villagers. Convincing the wolf not to kill again, Francis turned around the fear of the villagers by teaching them how to feed and tend the wolf so that they began to live alongside one another in peace. He is a remarkable saint of the church who even went to Syria on the Fifth Crusade to ask the Muslim sultan to stop the fighting. Known as the founder of the Franciscan Order, he gladly gave up his position of leadership to live out his final days as a regular ole’ brother alongside the others. Dying at just 45 years of age, Francis grew more in his faithfulness in just twenty years as a Christian than many do in an entire lifetime. He’s a great saint of the church who’s witness can inspire us to the joy of simpler living in union with God and all God’s creation (www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=50).

Many of us probably know a bit about Mother Teresa of Calcutta: the Roman Catholic sister of the 20th Century who set off from her home in Albania to India. Eventually she founded the Missionaries of Charity among one of the poorest urban populations of the world. There she and fellow sisters compassionately cared for lepers and other medical outcasts despite any risks to their own health. She tended the wounds of the dying and was a kind of a moral compass throughout her lifetime. She urged us all to follow the voice of Jesus to serve the poor, a message she heard early in her life during a time of prayer. She’s on her way to official sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

Another one is the remarkable Saint Hildegard of Bingen, the German mystic of the late Eleventh and early Twelfth Centuries. She was a woman way ahead of her time as she not only was an abbess for a Benedictine order of sisters, but was a remarkable poet, composer, artist, scientist, biblical exegete, writer, preacher, herbalist, and more. Her lectures on the spiritual life are said to have drawn large crowds of listeners from all over Europe. Throughout her long life she experienced these remarkable visions – or times of deep union with God. In fact, it’s said that her family witnessed her in such experiences when she was as young as three years old; and by five, she was aware that these visions were of God. Another deep lover of God’s entire world, a great gift from Hildegard’s wisdom is veriditas. Veriditas is the understanding of the greening of all creation. Something like the life-force of God living in it and us all (www.greenflame.org). She often called it the green flame of God’s Spirit. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI (16th) named Hildegard a doctor of the church – a designation given in the Roman Catholic Church to those believed to have contributed significantly to the theology of the church – a distinction only 4 women in all of history have obtained (www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=3777). Indeed Hildegard is an incredible saint of the church!

But today isn’t just about those giants – the Francises and Teresas and Hildegards of the faith. For Protestants especially, All Saints’ Sunday is about the regular ole’ faithful folks of our lives. Those who have lived among us to witness directly unto us. . . . If we got together today in that big circle to swop tales of our saints, I wonder how many of us would tell of grandmothers who lovingly told us the stories of Jesus. Or grandfathers who first taught us how to pray. Who of us could speak of fathers or mothers who tenderly held us in their arms as they brought us forth for the sacrament of baptism; then took us home to teach us how to live out Christ’s love each day in our families, neighborhoods, and world. I’ve heard some of you talk about dear friends – of the church or otherwise. People who really went above and beyond the call of duty to be with you in your times of great difficulty. And those who taught you how to celebrate your successes. For some it’s been spouses or siblings or children who have loved you as unconditionally as God. Mentors on the journey in Sunday School classrooms or committee meetings or mission projects. Take a moment right now to call them to mind: those saints of your life who showed you the way of Christ in all the covert and overt ways the saints of our lives do so. Bring their faces to your mind. Remember them now in the quiet of your hearts. Go ahead. I’ll wait for them all to come flooding to your memory.  . . .

Jim W. might be one of them for some of you. His tenure among this congregation goes back many years. I’ve been told Jim loved being a deacon: caring for those in need. A World War II vet, Jim became a traveling salesman and absolutely loved meeting people. When he wasn’t enjoying life among people, Jim was busy bringing beauty to this world by getting down there in the dirt – willing things to grow in his yard at home or out here on the church grounds.

Others of you might be remembering Betty E. Betty had been retired for something like 30 years, but she still talked like it was yesterday about the students she taught in one of the rougher neighborhoods of Nashville. Every day for so many years she went not just to teach the subject matter of a certain grade. She went to give possibility to classrooms full of children who had all the racial and economic strikes against them.

Melissa M. was a daughter of this church; one some knew only by sight. Remember how she devotedly cared for her mother? Some of you remember celebrating life with her and her father in serious games of cards. Melissa gave so much care to so many people – her parents and husband and children and grandchildren. She was a great sister to her brother too. She’s a saint of the church who was grateful for God’s shepherding and joyous about Christ’s birth in this world!

Some of you fondly remember Fred W. Life-long Presbyterian, Fred sought out this church when he and his wife retired to Nashville from North Carolina. He was a faithful servant – even in his aging years. He gave of his time and of the wisdom of his business experience to be a part of our session. He continued to want to learn and found a home among you in Sunday School and in worship.

These are just a few ways those of this congregation who have died this past year have lived out their Christian discipleship. They have witnessed to us and to the world of God’s great love for all. They may never have done the kinds of stuff that would get recorded in a letter like that of Hebrews. That like Abraham and Moses and Rahab. Or, for the sake of God, those who were tortured and mocked and wandering in deserts. That might not be the story of anyone of the saints of this church. It probably won’t be the story of any one of our lives either. Which actually is just fine. Because all that really matters is that each disciple of Christ seeks to follow according to the gifts of who we are. How God made each one of us to be.

Spurred on by the witness of all the saints, in great gratitude; let us run the race set before each one of us. Let us become the saints of others’ lives.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2014  (All rights reserved.)