Tag Archive | All Saints

All Saints Sunday, 2016

All Saints Sunday, year C, preached 11/6/16

first reading:  Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

Psalm 149

second reading:  Ephesians 1:11-23

gospel reading:  Luke 6:20-31


There’s been so much negative going on in the world right now that I hate to turn on the tv or check my computer. But the one thing I think most people DIDN’T mind paying attention to was the World Series.

I watched, and not having a real “fan” stake in who won, I rooted for the Cubs since they had gone over 100 years without a win.  I rejoiced with their true fans when they won.

Ever since they won I’ve heard interviews with fans, many wishing that deceased relatives could be here now to celebrate.  Then I read an article, purely satire, about the ruckus being caused in heaven by all the Cub fans there that were partying over their victory.  And of course the pastor in me, when hearing and reading these things thought, “Communion of Saints!”

These sports fans were experiencing a smidgen of our belief in the communion of saints in heaven and on earth.  For the sports fan it’s the sport that connects them to one another.  It can be profound.  There are people who STILL grieve over the Brooklyn Dodgers leaving New York.

But here’s where the communion of saints is different.  Because it isn’t some sport, or other “human” thing that connects us to each other as Christians – it’s GOD.

We don’t have to worry about our team moving and leaving us, or folding, or us dying before winning a championship.  Jesus NEVER leaves us no matter where WE go.  Though churches come and go, THE Church is forever.  And it is precisely IN dying that we receive our crown and final victory.

In our second reading this morning St. Paul tells us “In Christ we have… obtained an inheritance…” and that we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…”  He tells us about the “immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power for us who believe” – the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.  That power is in us, to “enlighten” us so that we may know “the hope to which he has called [us].”

hqdefaultJesus names, claims us, and connects us forever to himself and to one another.  We are connected to those saints “above” who have gone before us, and to the saints “below” among whom we live and breathe in the here and now.

THIS is the Communion of Saints we confess every time we say the Creed.  And this “blest communion, fellowship divine”* is formed by God through the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

On this All Saints Sunday we take special care to remember those saints who have gone before us, especially those who have died in the past year.  But the communion of saints also refers to US as we live and breathe.

The communion of saints of which we are a part through Holy Baptism connects us intimately to one another. Through Holy Baptism we become sisters and brothers in Christ, and this is a tremendous gift but also a tremendous responsibility.  We are called to rejoice with one another, but also called to carry one another’s burdens.

When a church is leveled by an earthquake like the Basilica of San Benedetto in Italy, and when a church is burned by hate in Mississippi this week, we grieve and ask what we can do to help our brothers and sisters.  Because through Holy Baptism we have brothers and sisters here in _____, all over New Jersey, our country, and the world.

And in Christ our calling to love and care actually goes BEYOND our brothers and sisters.  Christ’s command to love goes beyond the inner circle of our immediate Christian neighbors.  It even goes beyond our outer most circle of the communion of saints.  Our call to love goes out to ALL.

And this is all the more poignant and good for us to remember this week, as our divided country goes to the polls. The rhetoric has been nasty.  But Jesus calls us to a different path.  His words challenge us to be as HE was, to follow his example.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also…  Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

So as we remember the communion of saints on All Saints Sunday, we will name our beloved dead, but we will also pray for one another who are here right now.

We will pray for those in our congregation, in our community, in our nation and in the world who are struggling in body, mind or spirit.  And we will pray for ALL of those seeking elected office this week – those we wish to win, and those we hope will lose (and not JUST that they’ll lose!) – because that’s what Jesus calls us to do.

We will pray for those who we have hard feelings against, and for those we know have hard feelings against us.  And we will pray for ourselves, that we grow ever more in our ability to love as Jesus commands us to love.  Because this love is NOT easy.  The communion of saints to which we belong can be a frustrating and infuriating thing.

This is why in his preaching, teaching, living, dying and rising Jesus constantly brings us back to LOVE. Reminding us of the commandment to love, but primarily of HIS love for US, despite our failure to love. Back to the seal of the Holy Spirit given at Holy Baptism.  Back to the hope to which he has called us – the hope of forgiveness, reconciliation and eternal life.

AMEN.


* From the hymn, “For All The Saints” written by Earl Nelson, 1864.

Advertisements

All Saints’ Day, 2015

All Saints’ Day, year B, 2015 (preached 11/1/15)

first reading:  Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 24

second reading:  Revelation 21:1-6a

gospel reading:  John 11:32-44


One of the things I love about the Bible is that it meets us where we are.  The Bible is filled with stories of REAL people, confronting the realities of life and faith.

Take today for example.  Our readings today are FILLED with tears, sadness, and mourning.  They are perfect readings for the festival we celebrate today – All Saints’ Day.

This is a day when we are called to remember the Communion of Saints – our bond through Holy Baptism with those who have died in faith, and those of us who still live in faith.

Most of the time we use this day to remember those who have died.  Again, the Bible, and our faith, meets us where we are.  There is NO expectation of us never experiencing pain or sorrow.  NO expectation that we be able to “rise above” those basic human emotions.

And God even VALIDATES our pain and grief when Jesus weeps over the death of his friend Lazarus.  Jesus weeping at the grave of his friend tells us VOLUMES about the love of God us US, and who God meets us where we are.

That being said, All Saints’ Day isn’t just about grieving our dead.  It isn’t just about keeping them alive in our memories and in the work of the Church now.  All Saints’ Day celebrates the WHOLE “Communion of Saints.”  The communion we confess every time we say the creeds.

The Communion of Saints is the spiritual union of the members of the Body of Christ, living and dead, those on earth and those in heaven.

IMG_0007The Communion of Saints is the Church of the past,

 

IMG_8315but also the Church of the present.

With this in mind, I’d like to do something a little out of the ordinary today.  I want us to remember those who have died in the faith, as we usually do, but I also want us to honor those who are with us in the here and now.  I want us to remember and honor those who have impacted our faith, who have made us stronger in faith and been an example to us.

And I also want us to pray for the Church that is beyond us, in a time we’ll never see – those future generations who too will be a part of this mysterious union in Christ.

I’ll go first, and then I’d like to ask all of you about the people in YOUR life and faith journey you’d like to remember and honor today.

I honor the person who played the “human” part in bringing me to faith – Nancy.  She started out as my babysitter, but became so much more.  She invited me to help her out at her congregation’s Vacation Bible School and the rest is history.

I honor and remember the folks in my home congregation, where I learned and began to live the faith, some still with us, others with the saints in heaven:  Pastor David and Sandra, Nana, Shirley, Susan and Lori – folks who not only talked and sang about God’s grace, but showed it to me when I was an awkward and lonely teenager.

I honor Violet, who I met in seminary, who helped me pass Greek, and has become an example to me of fierce yet gentle strength, as she has braved serious chronic illness AND now leads a ministry to the homeless on the streets of Philadelphia.

[***at this point I had the congregation share some people that have been important to them… they included parents, great-grandparents and pastors among others.]

Thank you for sharing.  It’s good for us to remember and give honor to the people who have shaped us in the faith.

With our memories of past and present saints right before us, I also want to take the time to think about the Church “to come.”  We are as much a part of them, as the folks we just mentioned are a part of us.  It’s our job, our call, to make sure there is a Church for them.

For while we shouldn’t flatter ourselves that the survival of the Church is dependent on us (it’s up to GOD), we DO have a role to play in being good stewards of the things of faith to which we’ve been entrusted.

So let us pray:

Lord God, we thank you for the Church.  We thank you for the bond we have through Holy Baptism with Christians everywhere, both living and dead, even those yet to be born.  We hold them in blessed memory, we give them honor, and we pray for their welfare.  And we pray that all of us together, as the Communion of Saints – past, present, and those in the future – may share your love and salvation, now and forever.

AMEN.

All Saints’ Sunday, 2014

All Saints’ Sunday, year A, 2014 (preached on November 2, 2014)

first reading:  Revelation 7:9-17

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

second reading:  1 John 3:1-3

gospel reading:  Matthew 5:1-12


water and the Word

water and the Word

In our adult forum this morning, we continued our discussion about the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  We reviewed what is taught in our catechism regarding this most precious gift of Christ – that through it we receive 1)forgiveness of sins, 2)deliverance from death and the devil, and 3)eternal salvation, as the Word and promise of God declare.

We are taught that it signifies that the “Old Adam in us… should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance and be put to death, and that the new man should come forth daily and rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in God’s presence.”

Baptism is that THING, the promise, that we return to again and again throughout our lives – that though it happens only once, is drawn upon continuously.  Every time we are bold enough to ask God to forgive us, we are doing nothing less than returning to and remembering the promise God made to us in Holy Baptism.

One of my favorite passages from Luther is found in his Large Catechism in the section on Baptism:  “To appreciate and use Baptism aright, we must draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and we must retort, ‘But I am baptized!  And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life….  No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than Baptism…”

You may be asking yourself, “Why all this quoting Luther, when Reformation Sunday was LAST week?”  “Why all this talk about Baptism on All Saints’ Sunday?”  “Why talk about the happy occasion of Baptism on what many consider to be the very somber day of All Saints’?”

Well, we need to start by remembering the true meaning of these things.  I stated a few moments ago that the gifts of Holy Baptism are forgiveness, deliverance from death, and eternal salvation.  Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is our only key to the gate of heaven.  The feast of All Saints, while somber in remembering those we have lost for now, is really a celebration of their passing through that gate of heaven.

We may approach this feast with grief, but it is grief mingled with hope and comfort.  The hope and comfort written in Revelation, when there is no more hunger or thirst, and when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  The hope of the psalm that the Lord delivers us, and that we will lack for nothing that is good, and not be punished.  The hope written in the first letter of John, that we ARE God’s children, and we will be like him.  The hope we receive from Jesus himself in the beatitudes – receiving comfort, mercy, blessings and the kingdom of heaven.

The feast of All Saints is also a day NOT just to remember the blessed dead, but the saints of here and now – celebrating the life you and I and all the baptized live in faith.  And we live that life beginning with our baptism.

We remember all those we loved who have gone before us, and it is good and proper to do.  But to completely observe the feast we also need to hold up a mirror and see ourselves – for we too are saints.  Saints who still sin, but saints nonetheless.  We are made saints through the water and the Word – in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

For this reason, All Saints’ Sunday is one of the principle baptismal feast days of the church’s liturgical calendar – along with the Vigil of Easter, Pentecost and the baptism of our Lord – it is a time the Church says is especially good to bring people into the kingdom through the sacrament.

The gift of baptism we receive through Christ unites us with St. Peter, St. Lucia, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Martin Luther, St. Henry Muhlenberg, St. Anna Obernier (my great-grandmother), St. Aaron (my father-in-law), and St. Harold – our brother in Christ who entered the Church Triumphant in February.

Our baptism unites us to all these saints of the past, and unites us as believers in the here and now, as we gather together to worship, learn, and serve God and one another.

All Saints’ Sunday reminds us that we are part of this great communion of saints that we confess in the creeds.  It also reminds us that our faith is more than a one-on-one relationship with Jesus, but that our baptism also connects each of us to the other.

Our baptism intimately unites the past with the present AND the present with the future.

What tremendous gifts Jesus has given us, to forgive and free us, and to promise us a place with him forever – to reunite us with those who have gone before, so that as St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians, even though we may grieve, we do so with HOPE.

Today, we remember those who have died in the Lord, not with despair, but with a sadness mixed with joy.  Today, we look at our own lives and are strengthened by knowing that even though we still sin and fall short, we are part of a forgiven people, each one of us saints in the here and now.

And we are made saints through the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  For in this great gift God binds God’s self to us, and we are bound to one another as brothers and sisters – now and forever.

As we sing in today’s great hymn:  “Oh blest communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine.  Yet all are one within your great design.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!”

AMEN.