A sermon for All Saints
Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44
Wythe and Margaret Payton were staples in my home parish. They were elderly, with that silver grey hair the denotes a deep – deep wisdom. During his career in the Navy, they worship in the Episcopal Church. After his retirement, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister and they worshiped there. After that retirement, as agreed, they returned to worship in the Episcopal church. They seem to have a knack for negotiating what could be difficult issues, they were worth listening to.
As I was preparing to go to seminary Margaret gifted me Wythe’s Interpreters’ Bible Commentary and Dictionary. (Wythe had died some years before.) It was a very generous gift, not to mention useful. Having packed all 15 plus volumes, I thanked Margaret for her generosity. She had a final word of advice: Just remember, the closer you get to God the harder the devil pounds on you.
You may have heard that returning from Little Rock Wednesday evening the timing belt in my Sportage shredded. I made use of our new AAA membership and was towed to the North Little Rock Pep Boys, which was still open, on the advice of the tow truck driver. By 8:15 Thursday morning, the prognosis was shared, and the expectation was I’d be on the road by 3 or 4 that afternoon. I got a call at lunch, there was more damage than first knowable, and parts would not be available until Friday morning. Having a funeral to do Friday afternoon, Angie and I decided she would come to get me.
As we were next to a Michaels, which we never pass by; we took advantage of this opportunity. On the way out of the parking lot, a car turning in misjudged the turn and smacked us driver front to driver front. After all the usual and customary reports and exchanges and being a bit leery of the drive home we stopped by Pep Boys, which is right around the corner, and by now a trusted entity, to get the car checked out. The manager’s expressive “Oh No!” was curiously supportive. The car was safe to drive, and we began our long drive home, that was safely and timely accomplished. At some point in retelling the story, I started saying: I must have it all wrong or be really close because someone is pounding on us.
Now I know I am no capital ‘S’ saint. I also know I was tended to by a host of little ‘s’ saints, all of whom we remember today. There was the 70-year-old tow truck driver, the Pep Boy’s manager, and service counter folks. The staff at the Holiday Inn who were such generous hosts allowing me spread out in the lobby to work while I was waiting for repairs and for Angie to arrive. And the unaware waitress and waiter who took care of my lunch and our dinner needs. Our children expressed concern, disbelief, offered sage counsel, wished us safe travels … and oh yes they requested we let them know when we got home. And of course, there is my full-time little ‘s’ saint Angie.
This whole experience and the occasion of All Saints Day got me to thinking why we remember all the saints. I’m sure you know the saints we remember today are all those who have gone before, and all of us. Yes, there are those whose lives are spectacularly inspirational; but none of us see ourselves as living into that sort of expectation. The truth is it is for easy us to feel as if our own personal battles, tragedies and losses don’t really matter in the big picture. Today we are reminded they do. They matter because each of you matters, to the rest of us, to the whole of the Church, and to God in Jesus. Today also helps us to remember that none of us is alone. We share our griefs, our losses, our burdens and tragedies, with each other; even if we don’t know the details (Rice, 2015).
In this morning’s read from John we hear Jesus remind Martha: Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God? In today’s world belief has an empirical implication; belief and fact are closely related. This is not so for Martha and Jesus. For them belief also means faith and both have an implication of trust. The English is poor, but we could hear Jesus says, “if you faithed?” or “if you trusted?” Part of our lives as saints shows others our belief, our faith, our trust in God in Jesus. In addition to supporting each other, just by being in the same boat, we also support strangers who see how we choose to act and be in the world. Such a vision reveals glimpses of the presence of God’s love. Others witness the nitty-gritty of Christian life, as opposed to the too often projections of perfection (Lewis, 2015).
Today’s dominant view of the end of times and salvation is escapist. Those who believe they will escape to the Kingdom of God. There is better imagery in scripture, including the Revelation to John. It is helpful to know that from surrounding cultures, especially Babylonian culture, the sea is associated with chaos, destruction and death. John of Patmos’s vision that the sea was no more is not a vision of desertification; it is a vision of all things being made anew, the swallowing up of death (to borrow a phrase from Isaiah) (Carey, 2015). It’s also significant that John sees heaven coming to earth, and not the rapturesque escaping of the righteous. The divine spokesman is very clear:
See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them…
We are renewed with the world; we do not escape from it. As saints, we live in a new creation right where we are. As saints how we live our lives in ever day decisions shows others, the Kingdom of God is right here – right now. Perhaps not fully; but enough to believe, to have faith in, to trust God in Jesus.
So, on this fallback, All Saints, Commitment, Presiding Bishop Installation Sunday I’m thankful for all the saints and invite you to join me in trying to be one too.
Carey, G. (2015, 11 1). Commentary on Revelation 21:1-6a. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/
Lewis, K. (2015, 9 6). God Said Yes to Me. Retrieved from Working Preacher: workingpreacher.org
Portier-Young, A. (2015, 11 1). Commentary on Isaiah 25:6-9. Retrieved from Working Preacher: workingpreacher.org
Rice, W. (2015, 11 1). All Saints Day, Year B – 2015. Retrieved from Sermons that Work.