November 1, 2015
All Saints Day
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
All Saints Day. Not one we often celebrate in the United Church of Christ. Perhaps especially on the Congregationalist side. The old rule is, if a UCC church has the name of a saint in its title, it is from the Evangelical and Reformed side. Congregationalists usually reserve the term “saint” for people whose spouses are particularly troublesome.
“Oh, did you hear what he did? She must be a saint…” “What has she been up to? Oh, he is some kind of saint…”
But All Saints Day is important, and not just so we can haul out the red paraments for more than Pentecost and Confirmation Sundays. The religions of the Bible are religions of memory, religions of telling the story, religions of witness. We remember the ones who made faith possible: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah, Isaiah, Amos, Peter, James and John, Paul, John of Patmos, from whose revelation we read this morning.
We might not remember the saints of the early church: Tertullian and Perpetua and many others. In the protestant church, we add Calvin and Luther and Zwingli to the list.
But what about our own saints? Who are the people, more recently, who have shaped and challenged and helped our faith to grow?
We could mention well known saints. Mother Theresa touched lives far beyond the sick and the poor in India. Martin Luther King, Jr., leaves us a legacy of challenging the powers that be without playing their game of violence.
In recent discussions of everyday saints, one name kept coming up again and again. A Presbyterian minister in whose neighborhood so many of us grew up and learned the values of friendship and kindness, helping and imagination. Fred Rogers. His gentle wisdom and kind demeanor carved out of television a safe and warm and loving place. When the great jazz trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis, made an appearance on Mr. Rogers, Mr. Rogers welcomed him and Wynton said, “Mr. Rogers, I grew up in your neighborhood.” Lots of us did.
But now I want us to bring it a little closer than the television. Who are your saints?
Through all three readings this morning we read of tears.
And [the Lord] will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 25:7-8)
See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3b-24)
God will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
In our Gospel reading, it is Jesus himself who weeps at the death of his friend Lazarus, at the grief and pain felt by his dear friends Mary and Martha. So in some way that we do not understand, Jesus takes upon himself the tears of all people and God will wipe those tears from our faces. In some way, that we have yet to comprehend, God is making a new heaven and a new earth, and all of those things for which we are rightfully and justifiably weeping, shall be made right.
And the way God is doing this has everything to do with Jesus coming to us, sharing our common lot, hurting with our hurts, crying with our tears, dying our death, and the power and grace and love of the resurrection.
Which brings me back to my question: who are our saints? Who are the ones who have:
- Given us hope in the promise of a new heaven and a new earth
- Given us comfort by sitting with us, by listening to us, by wiping away our tears
- Given us an example of what it means to live a life worthy of our calling to do this for each other
- Given us strength by lifting our burdens with us or for us
- Shown us what it means to live fully, to love unconditionally, to laugh joyfully, to shine with the love of God
- Given us a better sense of our worth, our place in the family of God’s children, allowed us the room and the love to grow
Maybe some of the names we might say are the same as those around us. But some of them will be personal. A parent. A child. A family member. A friend. A spouse. A mentor. A teacher. A student. Whoever they are.
I invite us to take a few moments and whisper the names of those saints who have touched our lives, grown our faith, gathered us when we have been scattered, or sent us out when we were too closed in. Let us take these moments and say their names, with thanksgiving:
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.