It’s interesting that in doing preaching here it might be useful to notice what one is wearing. I had picked out a black tee shirt with a large owl on the back from Camp Victory, but I decided that the black did not give the right message on this All Saints Sunday—one of celebration of loved ones from our past. So, I’m instead wearing this shirt I got from the Quinaults a few months back, very colorful and the message on it is about water and life.
I really am glad to have gotten this week’s special readings for All Saints Day to preach on. You know why? Because it was 9 years ago this Sunday in 2008 that I gave my first sermon as a lay preacher for St. Mark’s, which was also on these All Saints readings. Furthermore, it was just one day after Bonnie had been ordained a priest here at St. Mark’s among about 60 of our people, other family and friends, and about 20 clergy gathered here on the actual All Saints Day (November 1). I was so excited for her, after all her years of hard work, and also for my first chance to try out what I had learned from the year plus training I had received for this role from Rev. Tom Holbrook (deceased about a year ago). This talk today is mostly from that first sermon, as we remember those who have moved on from this life to one of joy and happiness, and it is as relevant now as it was then.
Have you ever wondered what it will be like to be in heaven? I wonder about it from time to time when I hear bible verses such as the one read today from Revelations 7, or when I think about my dad who is in a nursing home and in poor health (he actually died a little over 2 years later!), or hear about the passing of a friend or acquaintance. As a child whenever I read or heard a passage like this, I was really moved but I was also confused because the images are so different and incomprehensible from anything we know about on earth.
This reading today gives us an image of what it will be like to go to heaven when we physically expire. Images like: “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb (Jesus Christ).” And “They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” And “All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
And, For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
How powerful is that! We hope to transcend to this new state of life when we die and also when our loved ones do so. On this celebration of All Saints Day, we remember those who have gone before us. In that past year (2008) we remembered especially those church members who had passed—Joan Jones, Beth Adams, and Edna Krystek. In this year (2017) we will remember in a little bit with the lighting of candles those loved ones who were close to us. Today we remember all of God’s faithful people.
The passage from the gospel of Matthew is a very familiar one—part of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. On our Israel trip in September of 2008 we were able to experience how maybe this message was delivered by Jesus. Near Capernaum next to the Sea Galilee one priest in our group walked up the hillside about 150 feet from us and said this reading from the entrance of a small cave in the hillside. This could have been the setting of Jesus’ message to the many people following him and his disciples. Jesus likely covered almost everyone with his message to:
the poor in spirit,
those who mourn,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
the pure in heart,
the peacemakers, and
those who are persecuted because of righteousness.
In every case He proclaimed great things for his people. They will:
receive the kingdom of heaven,
inherit the earth,
will be filled (fed),
be shown mercy,
and be called sons and daughters of God,
and finally, the kingdom of heaven is theirs. That same fantastic kingdom of heaven I talked about in Revelations earlier.
What is our response to this wonderful message we have received from God? At this time of year, the church usually has some kind of stewardship event, a sermon, handing out of commitment or pledge cards, and asks everyone to think and pray about what their giving to the church will be for the next year. This is that time in our church this year. By next Sunday I will have prepared our annual stewardship newsletter and commitment cards and will be sending those to everyone in our church asking you to consider your support to God’s work through our church for 2018. We will have our ingathering Sunday for these cards on November 26th, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, to me a very appropriate time for this blessing and dedication of these cards.
What is this stewardship that I speak of? Just think about what you do that reflects being a steward of God’s gifts to you, not just in our church but in the world around us.
I’m keeping this short because I am really tired from our last two weeks of moving followed by our Diocesan Convention the past two days. And because I know of no better way to think about All Saints than this reading from the second reading from 1 John: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” AMEN!