November 6, 2016
All Saints Day (observed)
Anthem: Sing! Shout! Alleluia!Senior Choir - Altos and Sopranos
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Halloween gets all the press. The stores are full of candy and costumes and decorations. The schedule fills up with parades and parties and events. By the time we got to Halloween itself, Mira had already had four events to which she wore her costume and got candy. Of course, recently, Halloween has become the last bastion against the onslaught of Christmas stuff that comes out right after it.
But Halloween is the short form of All Hallow’s Eve. It is the day before All Saints Day. And the day before gets all the press.
Now some of this is probably due to our Congregationalist forebears, the Pilgrims and the Puritans, and on back to the Protestant Reformation. We ended all that saint stuff in church. In fact, if you see and United Church of Christ church with “Saint” in the name, you can be pretty sure it came in from the German side of the family.
Who would Congregationalists lift up as a saint? The inventor of the casserole dish and the first roasters and grinders of coffee? Perhaps Major Henry Martyn Robert, the author of the first Robert’s Rules of Order?
Our popular view of saints is probably more influenced by caricatures of their use in Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal and Lutheran churches than anything else. We might know that in the Catholic church there are certain rules for how someone gets the title of saint, and that saints can lose the title, like Saint Christopher did a few years ago.
This morning, I do not want to spend time with formal definitions and distinctions. I want us to think of saints in the older sense, the one Paul used in his writings. When he wrote to the saints, he meant those who were following Jesus. He meant those who were part of these new groups of the Jesus movement popping up all over the place after Pentecost.
I want us to think of the saints of our lives.
Now, I come from Tennessee, where saint is often used to describe someone whose spouse one cannot abide. “Oh, Lord, she must be a saint to put up with him.” “Oh, he has the patience of a saint.” It has the distinctly southern charm of insulting one person indirectly by praising those who put up with them.
But by saint, I mean who showed us what it means to be faithful? Who demonstrated the courage of the faith that changed lives around them? Who opened our eyes to a faith that is not just about us and ours but about them and theirs as well?
We read with Mira just about every night. Sometimes she reads and we help with the big words. Sometimes we read and she pretends to pay attention. And sometimes she asks questions that let us know she was listening all along.
Recently we have been reading some books from the “Ordinary People Change the World” series. We have been reading “I am Rosa Parks.” It is a kids book, with great illustrations. But the language is taken from Parks’s autobiography. And listening to Mary read it to Mira, or Mira read it to us, I get tears in my eyes.
I told Mira that the bus in the book she has seen and she has sat in. She doesn’t remember that when she was a toddler we visited the Henry Ford Museum and saw the bus from Montgomery, Alabama.
Rosa Parks did not just get tired one day and decide not to give up her seat. She had been the secretary of the NAACP for many years, documenting people’s stories of what it was like to have to go down the block to find a water fountain or a bathroom labeled “Colored.” What it was like to be separate and distinctly not treated as equal.
Why do I, a white man from Tennessee, call Rosa Parks one of my saints? Because my parents taught me that people are people. Because my Sunday School teachers reinforced it with stories of Jesus going to the outcast, the outsider, the ones not given a place at the table or on the bus. Because my friends and family showed me examples of the courage to be who they are, and to stand up for what is good and right, not what is popular, to take on systems that dehumanize in ways big and small.
So today, as we celebrate All Saints Day, remembering our collective saints, and maybe Rosa Parks is one of yours as well, I want us to think of our own personal saints.
People we love, people who loved us, people who changed us by being a part of our lives, people we have lost.
Who showed you what it meant to live with integrity?
Who saw those gifts in you that you did not know were there before they said something?
Who opened your eyes to a life of faith as a source of hope, and love, and courage?
Who are the people you want to remember and celebrate?
We have a board up here, and some cards, and markers, and push pins. I invite you to come up and write down the names of your beloved ones who have passed from this life.
I invite you to come forward and place their names upon this board of remembrance.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Thanks be to God