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