SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 51: 11-16; Matthew 5:1-12
"In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. "Amen.
Several years ago a student at a large university went inside the memorial tower
that was located in the center of the campus to play the carillon. When he was ready to
leave he discovered that he was locked in. He tried several things to get people's
attention, but nothing worked. Finally, he began playing, "Oh, Dear, What Can the
Matter Be", over and over again. His repetitious rendition caught someone's attention
and he was freed.
Today we celebrate All Saints' Day. It is the church's Memorial Day, if you will, a
time to remember and give thanks to God for those persons who have died in the faith,
for the influence and impact they made with their lives. We do so because we believe no
Christian believer is self-made. We celebrate All Saints' Day to remember the believers
of the past who made us what we are today.
You and I believe today only because someone lived the faith before us, and told
us the story in such a way we were able to join them in the journey of the faith. They
are with us, empowering us.
Fred Craddock, one of the great preachers of today, tells of returning to a little
church of his childhood in Tennessee. He had not been there in years. Walking into the
sanctuary, he noted that the congregation had purchased new stained glass windows
since he had been there. Admiring the windows, he noted that at the bottom of each
window there was the name of the donor. But he did not recognize any of the names.
"You must have had many new folks join this church since I was a boy," said
Fred to one of the members."I don't recognizea single name."
"Oh, those people aren't members here," said the member. "We bought those
windows from a company in Italy. They were made for a church in St. Louis, and when
they arrived, they did not fit. New windows were made for the church and we bought
those windows that did not fit."
Craddock then asked why they did not remove the names. And the member said,
"Well, we thought about it. But we're just a little church. So we like to sit here on
Sunday mornings surrounded by the names of people other than ourselves." That is
what this day is all about. We sit here this morning surrounded by people we have
known and people we have never heard of before.
What are we to make of this? Are we called to be saints? Now? In this world?
The answer is a resounding YES! The Biblical answer is ABSOLUTELY! Given this
revelation, let me offer a working definition of the word "Saint." It is not a textbook
definition, not a dictionary definition, but an understanding from Scripture and our
A genuine saint is simply a person who makes goodness
attractive, a person who has a winsome, radiant, contagious
commitment to God.
This is what Evelyn Underhill, one of the great spiritual forces in the Christian
faith in the twentieth century, was saying when she wrote:
"We have saints to show us that it is actually possible that one
human could rescue and transfigure another, and can endure
for it redemptive hardship and pain. We may allow that the
saints are specialists; but they are specialists in a career to
which Christians are called.
"A career of rescuing and enduring for others." Not a bad life's vocation. It is the
essence of what the Gospel message is about. It is loving God and neighbor.
Jesus' Beatitudes are part of a message, that in God's will things will be
surprisingly, shockingly different than they are now. In the Beatitudes Jesus lists a
number of qualities of life the popular culture said points to losers, but Jesus says are
qualities of those who are blessed. We can see these qualities in the character and lives
of those we rememberthis day as our saints.
Think of the saints in your life who "rescued" you from time to time by giving
you encouragement, direction, love, affirmation, and helpful criticism; who challenged
you to reach beyond your self-imposed limitations; who did kind things for you or made
sacrifices for you that allow you to enjoy the fullness of your life.
Now, stop and realize that you are someone's saint today, and you may not even
know it. When you call someone who is having a difficult time, you are performing a
saintly function. When you visit someone in the hospital, or run an errand for a
homebound person, you are behaving as a saint. Could there be any nobler task?
Being a saint does not mean that we have arrived or we are perfect. It means
we are committed to an ideal. When the poet, Maya Angelou, appeared on the "Today
Show" a number years ago, she was asked about her lifetime goals. She answered, "I
want to become a Christian." This surprised the show's host who asked,"But aren't you
already a Christian?"To which the poet replied, "When people come up to me and say
they are Christian, I think, "Oh my, already?'"
She makes a valid point. Those of us who call ourselves Christians do so because
we are followers of Christ, and following Jesusis a journey that lasts a lifetime. We are
always on the way! We are in the process of becoming. It is what the founder of
Methodism, John Wesley meant when he spoke of "moving on to perfection." This is
what it means to be a part of the Communion of Saints. We have not arrived. We are far
from perfect. Our identification as a saint is simply that we are on a journey.
There is no part of life that is not connected with politiCS. I am not talking about
the partisan feeding frenzy like we are seeing in this pre-presidential election season. I
am talking about politics in it is true form.
Politics is about people and the relationship between people or groups of people.
The word "politics" comes from the Greek word polis, meaning people or citizen. Politics
has to do with the way in which we live in society and order our lives for the common
good. Life itself is political, and there is virtually no decision I can make, nothing I can
say, no action I take that does not have political consequences, for I do not live in
isolation from other people.
So the question becomes, not will I be political, but what kind of politics will I
practice? How will my words, my actions, or my decisions affect the lives of other people
around me? What message will I be sending? The same question applies to groups and
organizations as well as to individuals.
All Saints' Sunday is a good time to think about polltlcs in this broader sense. For
on this Sunday, we take time to remember that Christians are not isolated individuals
who live in this world alone, passing through it untouched by anyone or anything and
not having any impact or effect on anyone. We are a people, a polis, a city, and a
community. A communion. We are connected. We affect each other and we affect the
world around us in so many ways.
But it is also a day when we pause to remember those of our polis, those fellow
citizens of the household of God, who are no longer present among us in body, but
whose memory we hold dear and who have now joined that larger city, the City of God.
In remembering those of our fellowship who have died in the past year we call to mind
their impact on us, and our own impact, as the people of God, on the world around us.
A number of years ago a group of Christians from the United States visited war
torn Nicaragua. While there, the Contras killed a young man from the group. This left
the group confused and full of questions.
On the next Sunday a memorial service was held. From the altar the priest said,
"The peace of the Lord be with you," and the Nicaraguan congregation began to
embrace these Americans and saying, "Paz", meaning peace. These people who had
suffered in so many ways were passing the peace of Christ.
During the Communion service there was a pause. The congregation was silent
and then someone called out a name. In one voice everyone responded, "Presente!"
The congregation was silent and then someone called out another name. In one voice
everyone responded, "Presente!" A third name was called out. Once again the response
was, "Presente!" At least twenty names were called out and each time the same
response: "Presente!" The priest leading the worship service did not understand what
was happening until he heard the name Bishop Oscar Romero. Then he realized that all
the names were those persons who had died. From that moment on he joined in boldly
calling out, "Presente!"
Just as the children in school call out "Present" when their name is called, so,
here this morning, on All Saints' Day, we gather at the Lord's table and symbolically call
out "Presente!" meaning "in our midst" or "present with us".
Our celebration of Holy Communion is far more than just a little private affair
with Jesus. It is the incredible gathering of all the saints of the faith who are with us
today. They are "Presente!" They are in our midst. They are present with us,
Sisters and brothers, we gather today to bear witness to the great multitude of
those who have gone before us in the faith. From them we gather our strength to live
faithfully in the world. Thanks be to God for the saints, for they not only keep us alert,
they give us power so that we do not have to sit trapped in the tower playing over and
over again, "Oh, Dear, What Canthe Matter Be?"
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH