Sermons
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November 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

All Saints' Day 2015

All Saints Day 2015

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    I am my father’s son. Being responsible for carrying on the family name comes with a lot of responsibilities. When you are working on a home-improvement project, part of being a Warren male means that it will take three times longer than you thought, at double the price you estimated, and you may not walk away from the project with all your fingernails or sense of dignity in tact. As my father’s son, I have inherited a strong sense of how things should be done. Tradition plays a crucial role in deciding what should be done when. For instance, the Sunday Night after Thanksgiving, we should be watching Christmas Vacation on TV, just as one should watch Major League on the first day Pitchers and Catchers report to Spring Training. 

    This sense of propriety does more than simply direct when movies should be watched. It obviously leaks into my professional life, as well. For instance, this morning, we are not using the usual readings assigned for All Saints Day. As you Vicar, I have taken you all “rouge.” We are using the old collection of readings based on the Book of Common Prayer, because on All Saints Day, you should be reading from Ecclesiasticus. I remember studying abroad in London and going to chapel in Westminster Abby on All Saints Day, expecting full well to hear the readings and the hymns that we hear this morning, because, after all, this is how All Saints Day should be. 

    All Saints Day is the day in which the Church remembers all those who have died in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Ecclesiasticus reminds us this morning, today is the day for us to “sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. Some of them have left behind a great name, so that others declare their praise, but of others, there is no memory. But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.”

    As such, it has been the custom for now two-generations of Warren priests, to use this day to share the story of an otherwise anonymous saint in our own life. To, however briefly, introduce you to the hybrid and imaginary congregation of saints whose life and actions have illumined God’s path in my own life. People whose names you might hear once, but then never again: Mark Dostal, Cookie Cooke, Carol Gledhill, Kinnear Smith, Erica Murray, Dick Patera, Mary Anne Fick and Earl Sneary. 

    This template for preaching and teaching on All Saints has been all I have ever known. It is how I should be preaching this morning. Of course, something happened a few months ago which made me reconsider how I approach preaching on All Saints. Like All Saints Day, another day that comes with its own set of shoulds is Good Friday. For years, I believed that, as Christians, we should not be peeking into Easter Sunday for a sense of relief. But this year, something changed my perspective, and instead of putting blinders on to make sure we don’t see Easter Sunday too early, I wondered how seeing the triumph of Easter Morning might actually help, rather than detract, from our vision of understanding the importance and the significance of Good Friday. As it turns out, when you know that Easter is coming, Good Friday takes on a whole new dimension of meaning. 

    And then it struck me...what if I changed the temporal focus of All Saints Day? What if, instead of "singing the praises of famous men in their generations," we recognized the truth of our closing hymn this morning: That the saints of God "lived not only in ages past, There are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints Who love to do Jesus' will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; For the saints of God are just folk like me, And I mean to be one too.”

    And I mean to be one, too. It’s such a wonderful lyric. Too often, I’m afraid, priests will use All Saints’ Day to encourage parishioners to adopt the behaviors of those famous pillars of the Church—to once more sing the praises of famous men and women. We should all hope to be as generous as St. Nicholas; as humble as St. Bonaventure; as free from material wealth as St. Francis. And when you start to catalogue these various virtues with the various saints which represent them, you can easily turn to the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for inspiration. 

    But the problem is that the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t describe how we should act—The Sermon on the Mount describes how we will act. For the Beatitudes are not a list of Christian Virtues…the Beatitudes are a proclamation of God’s coming Kingdom. And, today, All Saints Day, is really a celebration of the Church, itself. Those who built this church over the centuries, those who fill its pews this morning, and those who will be brought into the faith through the Holy Spirit. All Saints Day is as much about those who have built this Church as it is what we will do gathered together AS THE CHURCH

    We are, by virtue of our Baptism, both members of the mystical body of Christ in the Church, but we are also, and just as importantly, God’s Saints. We are all, you and I, saints. And Saints have a very specific job: they have to make the world a better place. And not just better in a generic sense of picking up litter and playing nice—our job is to literally bring about the reign of God. And what we will accomplish is the sanctification and blessing of this world. 

    NT Wright describes it wonderfully when he describes the very notion of blessing. “Blessing is not primarily about what God promises to do to someone. It is primarily about what God is going to do through someone. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – in other words, when God sets up his sovereign rule on earth as in heaven, it’s the poor in spirit through whom he will do it. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth: in other words, when God wants to sort out the world, to put it to right once and for all, he doesn’t send in the tanks, as people often think he should. He sends in the meek; and by the time the high and mighty realize what’s happening, the meek, because they are thinking about people other than themselves, have built hospitals, founded leper colonies, looked after the orphans and widows, and, not least, founded schools, colleges and universities, to supply the world with wise leaders. Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for justice; because they, unlike the time-serving lawyers who bully witnesses for their own professional kudos, will be a sign of hope in a crooked world.”

    “Ever since Nietzsche it has been customary to sneer at the apparently wimpish vision of human life in the Beatitudes: the meek, the mourners, the merciful, and so on – when surely everyone knows that the people who make the world go round are the arrogant, the go-getters, the people with sharp swords or at least sharp elbows, the pushy, the proud.”

    But the beatitudes aren’t good advice, it’s good news. The Good News is that, like St. Paul wrote the Corinthian Church, “We proclaim Christ crucified—Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” We, as a church, as the gathered mystical body of Christ, are in this world to pronounce God’s blessing, and to partner with God in the re-ordering of this world into the Kingdom of God. 

    That, simultaneously, is the work of the church, and the mark of the saints. Think of all those canonized saints throughout the centuries…what was it that made them so godly? Wasn’t it simply that they comforted those who mourned, who hungered and thirsted and strove for righteousness, who showed mercy, who worked for justice and peace, and who were persecuted for proclaiming the Gospel. 

    What is it that we want our church to look like? What are the marks of a church engaged in its mission to be and to represent Christ in this world??? Isn’t it the same list? Isn’t it possible that we are already continuing the work of the saints who have gone before us? Aren’t we, through the Grace of God, serving as God’s saints right here and now. 

    For years, I have found great comfort, even solace, in the saints of the past. There are the pillars of the faith, who have inspired countless Christians over the centuries, and there are also those Saints in my own life, just as I’m sure that have been saints in each of your lives, that have kindled or strengthened our faith through their presence. But the focus of All Saints day should not only be looking back. For the saints of God are just as rooted in our present, just as they will continue to shine for others from generation to generation. 

    One of the great gifts of All Saints Day is that, no matter how painfully off-message the preacher gets, the music appointed for today is sufficient instruction on the meaning and importance of All Saints Day. 

    “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;

The saints triumphant rise in bright array; The King of glory passes on His way. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: Alleluia. Alleluia!”

    The saints of God "lived not only in ages past, There are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints Who love to do Jesus' will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; For the saints of God are just folk like me, And I mean to be one too.”

    And we will be saints, too. 

 

Amen. 

 

 


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