Parts of this sermon are from one I gave a few years ago at St. Benedict’s, Lacey, to tell them about St Mark’s and our hopes and thoughts around All Saints Day. I mention this because even though we have a special set of Lectionary readings for All Saints Day this Sunday, I found it hard to come up with a great common theme that covers the All Saints message. In fact, other than the very familiar Gospel reading from Luke about the blessed ones, these readings seem more useful for Christ the King Sunday in 2 weeks than for today. I thought that while we were studying them during Bible study, and nothing changed as I prepared for this talk today. I will talk some about our readings today, though, as they are interesting in their own ways. You might also hear a reference or two about Stewardship, as it also is that time of the year to remember what has been made by those who have come before, and what we have to be stewards of.
In Daniel 7, we get an abbreviated description of Daniel’s horrific dream/vision of 4 beasts (as bad as any horror movie creatures you might think of! A more detailed version of these beasts is in the verses skipped in our reading (verses 4 thru 13). Three involve creatures like a winged eagle/lion, a devouring bear, and a winged leopard. The last beast he couldn’t even describe, and it was easily considered the worst of the four). Daniel then told in again abbreviated form what the dream said. “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.” This is where we might tie this reading to All Saints—with the message that Christ will be here forever, and from what we know about Christ from the Bible, we also will be part of his kingdom as his saints.
Our second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, talks to a church that he has high regard for. They have been truly faithful and he tells them he prays they receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation. He also tells them that Christ has been given the place at God’s right hand in the heavens, and put all things under his feet and made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body. I guess a tie to All Saints might be where he tells the Ephesians that they may know the hope to which they have been called –the glorious inheritance among the saints, and redemption as God’s own people.
Our Gospel reading from Luke is a mini version of the Sermon on the Mount found in the Gospel of Matthew. Luke points out all those who are not in the best situations in society and that they will be greatly blessed in heaven, while those who have everything now will find out they already have received their inheritance and their future will not be so great—in fact awful! Then he tells those listening what they do not want to hear-- “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; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” What can I say—these are tough teachings for all of us to hear!
Now back to our day of celebrating all the saints! We have our memories of our dear ones, those who loved and followed God and Christ before us--family, friends, and neighbors--in our celebration of All Saints today.
Many Protestant churches refer to all Christians as saints, and if they observe All Saints Day at all, they use it to remember all Christians both past and present. In the United Methodist Church, All Saints' Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in November, like we’re doing today. It is held, not only to recognize saints everywhere, but also to remember all those who have died who were members of their local church congregation. In our Prayers of the People every Sunday, I actually say to myself--I pray for and recognize all those who have gone before us at St. Mark’s. In many congregations, a candle is lit as each person's name is called out. Often, the names of those who have died in the past year are listed on a memorial plaque. Here at St. Mark’s, we bring pictures of loved ones to display together along with lighting candles to visually remind us of those we remember.
With all this said about the saints who have passed on and their glorious place in heaven, I do like the idea of calling living Christians saints also, as it gives me hope of being a saint for God. I remember a catchy Episcopal hymn from my youth growing up in a church in central Indiana, and attending Summer Vacation Bible School. It was called, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” This hymn was written in England in the late 1920s, but did not catch on there; instead it became very popular in the United States and first appeared in the 1940 Hymnal. It is found now in our 1982 Hymnal, number 293. This three verse hymn talks of saints of the past as everyday people we could have known in glowing terms, but the last verse is about saints of the present, possibly all of us here:
“They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.”
How can we respond to these wonderful saints who built up and represented the body of Christ everywhere, and especially in our church, those that we remember today? One way is to think about our church, its community of saints, and the work for Christ that it does during the year, and ask for a commitment for its future work. We live together in our Christian communities (we are not isolated believers!)—and through worship, prayer, study, and the support of other saints--we can witness and administer to those who need our message of hope and love.
We stand on big shoulders here in this building. So many have poured their time, talent and treasure into this place. Without them this church building and community of believers would not be here. You are blessed over and over by these great saints who passed this way before you. As you give of what you have received let’s remember these saints of God. Amen.