Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sermon for All Saints 2017

“Shining in the gift of our family”

            I remember:  There were just a handful of people at the visitation and at this particular funeral
            Two of them were adults with Downs’ syndrome.  One was a member of our congregation who was 101 years old.
             Just a handful of people, and her family was small, just her son and daughter and their children and grandchildren. 
            But her children told me some things I didn’t know (it’s always like this) – that she had actually borne five children.  One was a daughter borne with cerebral palsy.  Another was a son born with a hole in his heart.  He died when he was 9 months old.  Another was a little boy who had Downs syndrome.  Her daughter remembered that he was often sick and died when he was very young. 

            So much grieving in her life.  I think of her today, on All Saints Sunday, when I think about that small gathering.  She is one of the people I remember.  But not just her. 

            I remember my friend Melissa’s son, lost in the Mississippi River.  I remember my dad, who had Parkinsons. 
            And I remember Charles, who was a music teacher and who had Alzheimers and lost the ability to speak. 
            I remember Al Weddle and Sharla Biehl and Janet Faraone, and I remember my grandmothers Emma and Judy, and my father-in-law George, and how
             – when he invited us out to dinner, always said, “Order whatever you like!” 
            I remember Ella Brekke  and her well-worn Bible, and how her family drove through a blizzard to get to her funeral.

            Who do you remember?  That’s what All Saints Sunday is for.  It is for remembering.  Isn’t it? 
             All saints Sunday.  Every year we gather and we light candles and say names and we remember. 
            And that is what we mean by “All Saints Sunday.” 
            It is a day when we remember the saints among us, the saints who are no longer among us.   But even saying that, it seems odd.  Saint. 
            it’s an odd word to say.  What is a saint?  Are YOU a saint? 

            I asked this question at the Assisted Living Center on Wednesday.  And you know what? 
            No one there thought that they were saints. 
            Maybe because they thought that a saint had to be a lot holier than they were. 
            Maybe because they thought that you could only be a saint after you die.  But for whatever reason, they didn’t think they were saints.   

            What is a saint?   And what does it mean to be blessed?

             I think of the list in our gospel reading from Matthew.  
            The word ‘saint’ doesn’t appear anywhere in this passage, but we read it often on All Saints Sunday, and some have come to believe that these passages somehow describe saints. 
            “Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are those who mourn.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Blessed are the merciful.”  
            Blessed.  This word appears over and over.   Blessed.  
            And the word blessed is used with some pretty odd statements, if you think about it.    Would we ever – for example – say that someone who is grieving is blessed? 
            How about those meek?  How are they ‘blessed”? 
            And poor in spirit—I’ll confess that even after all these years of studying I’m still not exactly sure what it means to be poor in spirit. 
            But it doesn’t sound like a positive thing.
             “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” 
            It’s sort of like saying, “Blessed are the failures.”  Blessed are those with low self-esteem.  Blesssed are the needy. 
            Those would not be the blessings of our culture.  
            We would say instead, blessed are the successful who had made it on their own! 
            Blessed are the popular!  Blessed are those who never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from! 
            Not “blessed are the needy.” 

            But what is a saint?  We remember them today.  Maybe we want to be a saint. 
            Maybe we are sure that we are the farthest from sainthood.  Martin Luther said that we were both. 
            Both saints and sinners at the same time.    And blessed.  We are blessed.  And so we remember.

            Today is a day for remembering.  It is a day for remembering the saints, famous or ordinary, holy and imperfect.
            It is a day for remembering the stories of people in our lives, those who lived long lives, those who died too soon. 
            And it is a day to know that we too are saints, we too are blessed, we are the needy and the poor in spirit – we are the ones who mourn and need comfort. 
            We are God’s imperfect holy ones, saint and sinner at the same time, called to reflect the mercy of God, called to reflect the grace of God. 

            Today is a day for remembering – not just the people, and not just the stories, but the promises too. 
            Today is a day for remembering the promises of God that those who grieve will be comforted, that the meek will inherit the earth, that the merciful will receive mercy. 
            Today is a day to remember the promises of God that the poor will be lifted up, and the dead will be raised, and the hungry will be fed.          Today is a day to remember that we live by those promises.  That’s what it means to be a saint.  
            To trust God’s promises.  
            To trust God’s goodness, rather than your own.  To know that the light you shine is the light of Christ.

            All of the people I named before:  I saw the light of Christ in them.            I saw the light of Christ in my dad, and my father-in-law, in Emma and Judy, in Al and Janet and Sharla. 
            I saw the light of God  in Jean and in Jan, in Melissa’s son Chris, in Charles  and in Ella and in so many others.
             I saw the light of Christ in them, not in their perfection, but in their humanity, in their weakness, in their need. 
            In whom has the light of Christ shined for you? 
            Who showed you Jesus?   Who showed you the wideness of the love of God, the depth of the grace of God, the breadth of the compassion of God?

            Esther.  That was her name.  the one with the small family.
             At her funeral there were just a handful of people.
             Just her two adult children, and their children and grandchildren.           And two adults with Downs Syndrome, and a member of the church who was 101 years old.  After all,  She had a small family.  But she showed me Jesus.
            She showed me Jesus and she showed me that despite what I could see – she did not have a small family. 
            That is another thing we remember on All Saints Sunday. 
            We remember the stories and we remember the promises, and we remember that by those promises of God, we have been given a gift – the gift of one another. 
            We have been given the gift of all of those who have gone before us and all those who will come after us, all of those who are here, and all of those who are not here – all of those claimed by the promise, living in the Grace of the crucified one.   

            See what love the father has given us
            That we should be called children of God.
            And that is what we are.
            That is what we are.

            Let your light so shine before others
            That they may see your good works
            And give glory to your father in heaven.

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