Tag Archives: Saints

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.)

 

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.)