Sermon for November 3, 2019
An old lady was on an airplane flight. She was sitting beside a young businessman. Not long after takeoff, she took out her Holy Bible and started her devotion. The businessman glanced at her and said. Do you really believe those stuff in the Bible is true? "Well, yes, as a matter of fact I do," said the old lady. "Yeah, right..." the man scoffs, "like... what's that guy's name, the one who got swallowed by a whale..." "You mean Jonah?" "Yeah, Jonah, I mean, how do you actually survive for 3 days in a fish's belly?" "I don't know," replied the old lady, "but I can ask him when I see him in heaven someday." Feeling smart, the young man said: "Ok, but what if he's not in heaven because he went to hell?" "Then young man, *you* can ask him" replied the old lady calmly.
Today is All Saints Day. We celebrate the saints both past and present. Each of the scripture lessons paints a picture of the life of a saint. Yet each of the lessons also provides an example of the evil that exists in the world. In Daniel we hear about four great beasts that will rise up, evil ones. Daniel wrote that “holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever”. In the Psalm, the faithful people of Israel must be ready to fight the evil forces of the world. In the letter to the Ephesians, the community must deal with the powers of hostility and disobedience. Being a Christian is not easy. We are lifted up by the saints that have succeeded before us. Some of the saints we know through scripture, others through biographies, and still others we have known personally. Today is more than a celebration. We may find joy, thanksgiving, inspiration, sadness and most importantly hope as we reflect on saints today.
I often think about Peter because he was a failed human being who grew into a saint Peter was the outspoken one, he talked before he thought. He called Jesus the Messiah one minute and then told Jesus he couldn’t go to Jerusalem. He rejected Jesus just before Jesus was crucified. And yet, Peter loved Jesus and had great faith. He was changed by the resurrection and he became a speaker for the entire community. Peter was able to perform miracles and escape prison. Peter stood up for Jesus until he was martyred. He inspires me.
Susan Smith Allen reminded me about Saint Polycarp. He is not well known. He was born in the first century and may have been a follower of the apostle John. He became bishop of Smyrhna. Along with and , Polycarp is regarded as one of three chief . He lived a long life. On the day of his martyrdom, Polycarp said this about Jesus, "Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong." He also said, “How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of that is prepared for the wicked.” He died a , bound and , then stabbed when the fire failed to consume his body. May we be as passionate about our relationship with Jesus as Saint Polycarp was.
The Hispanic community celebrates the day of the dead, a remembrance of their relatives who have gone before. In this congregation we remember those who died in the last year and whose memorial service was held in this church. We remember Roz Cope who brought energy and joy to all of us. We remember Levita Doherty, the mother of Elena Little and we are thankful that Elena was reunited with her mother and they were able to experience each other for some years before she died. We remember Barbara Milton with her strong personality, her dedication to her faith and the wonderful family that she raised mostly by herself. You may have a loved one who passed away this last year that you remember today. I am saddened by the loss of a cousin who died two weeks ago. I hadn’t seen him in a long time but I remember his gentle and caring heart and times of joy that we had when we were children. So, we join together in community to share our feelings of sorry and thanksgiving.
In our gospel today we hear Jesus offering blessings to those who are suffering. I read a reflection by David Lose on the word blessings. He suggested that we have lost sight of its meaning; it no longer has value. When I write a note, I will often end it by writing the word Blessings in closing the note. I mean, “May God bless you” but I wonder if people understand. When Jesus told people they were blessed, he wanted them to feel God’s presence. We also translate that word as happy. Perhaps it would be better if we thought of the word as “unburdened” or “satisfied.” Not many of us are poor or hungry that Jesus blessed but I think all of us have wept and all of us have been hated or reviled or excluded or defamed. Each of us has the opportunity to be blessed by Jesus. We may also find ourselves identified by one of the woes that Jesus described. It might be better to think of the word woes as watch out, rather than condemned. Our instant reaction to the blessed and the woes is to assume that they indicate what will happen to us in the future. The blessed will go to heaven and those who have the woes will go to hell. It must be why we have this reading on All Saints Day.
But Jesus most likely also meant for the blessings to be given to people while he was still on earth. Jesus brought with him a ministry to the sick and the outcast. He fed the hungry. Jesus dealt with the problems of the poor and hungry. I think that when Jesus told them they were blessed, he meant that if people joined him in his ministry, they would be filled with good things. Jesus went about fixing the problems in his time, not just encouraging them to wait until they got to heaven. For those that were wealthy or well fed or laughing or well treated would one day understand that those things are illusory, they don’t give us permanent happiness or fulfillment. Only the love and grace of God can do that. He warned those people to be cautious and follow God. When Jesus spoke about the blessed, he invited people to join him in a community of love and solidarity. Just as Jesus built that community, we are called to come together in community to bring God’s blessings to those around us.
Paul wrote about the importance of Christian community in his letter to the Ephesians. The people came together in community to share the love of Christ with each other. They were the first to set their hope in Christ. Because of their faith in Jesus, they would know the greatness of God’s power. And they would obtain an inheritance as children of God. They would be redeemed as God’s people and they would receive the benefit of eternal life in heaven. And we sure hope that we too will join the saints in heaven.
I ask you to think for a moment about this Christian community. We have the sick and the suffering in this congregation. We have the poor with us and those who weep or are mistreated. We also have the wealthy and the successful. We come together as one family in Christ united in his love.
On this All Saint’s Day, we may feel many different emotions. We are inspired and joyful, we are sad and reflective. Let us also hear the message of Jesus and of Paul. Let us live in Christian community, sharing God’s love and being in solidarity with each other. We are called to be the holy ones of today, the ones who have faith in Jesus. In today’s Christian community, Jesus calls us to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Let us be inspired and thankful for the saints who have gone before us and let us celebrate the love and grace that each of those saints have given to us. Let us look forward in hope to the coming of God’s kingdom. Amen.
Last modified on Saturday, 07 December 2019 20:33
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