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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I Want to Be One Too!

All Saints Sunday 2016
O blessed communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine. Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia! Alleluia! (For All the Saints)
When I was growing up, I was fascinated by the lives of the saints of which we sing today. In those days, for me growing up in the Catholic church, “saint” meant one of those people who indeed shined in glory, who had been canonized by the Catholic church and set apart for remembrance.
Many of their stories are remarkable. They are all very different. There are men and women, young and old. They come from all corners of the world, and all walks of life. There are many martyrs but there are also those who lived and died long lives committed to God’s work who were not necessarily persecuted or killed for their work or their faith.
Most of them lived austere lives, by choice. Some had been born into poverty, but more often it seemed they had been born into lives of comfort, if not outright wealth. Most had a benefactor, or someone who had been an example of faith, someone who had brought them to the faith, or otherwise taught them about the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. Each of them had made a conscious decision, often against the desire and counsel of their families and friends, to dedicate their lives wholly to God. Some were disinherited, and others were killed for that choice. Their stories made for juicy reading.
When my kids were growing up in the Lutheran church we belonged to, we had “Parish Night” on Wednesdays, when children’s choirs, Confirmation and other studies and activities took place. On the Wednesday night prior to All Saints Sunday each year, we held a churchwide activity called “Search for the Saints.”
Various members of the congregation would dress up as particular saints and would “hide” throughout the church building and grounds and after a brief service of prayer, the children and adults who had come would go and “search” for them. Once located, each saint would tell his or her story. One year, I was St. Lucia, another year, Joan of Arc. Bob and Mary made a great St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare. Gary was perfect as John the Baptist.
Each year on that night, we sang a hymn called, I Sing a Song of the Saints of God. This is a song of appreciation for the stories of the saints, whose lives God gives us as a lens through which we can see God’s gracious acts. The first verse goes like this:
I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green:
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
            Today is a day the church sets aside to remember the saints. But not just the ones I studied as a girl, or the ones we dressed up as all those years, to tell their stories. Today isn’t about just some of the saints, it is about all of the saints of God.
Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber writes, “To be clear, this isn’t like a cult of saints or anything…we don’t need special saints to intercede for us because God listens to them more since they were just basically better Christians than we are. 
“What we celebrate when we celebrate All Saints is not the superhuman faith and power of a select few but God’s ability to use flawed people to do divine things. We celebrate all on whom God has acted in baptism, sealing them, as Ephesians says, with the mark of the promised Holy Spirit.
We celebrate the fact that God creates faith in God’s people, and those people through ordinary acts of love, bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer to Earth. We celebrate that we have, in all who’ve gone before us, what St. Paul calls such a great cloud of witnesses and that the faithful departed are as much the body of Christ as we are.
The second verse of I Sing a Song… goes:
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and God’s love made them strong;
and they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake,
the whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
and there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn’t be one too.
            The truth is that in baptism God did indeed make each of us saints. We each have our own stories to tell. We each have our own struggles and demons to wrestle, and we each have our flaws. And yet, God has made each of us a saint and strengthens us in our walk as saints for Jesus’ sake, regardless of our vocation: doctor, student, nurse, social worker, teacher, business woman, sanitation worker, policeman, shop worker, househusband, researcher, real estate broker, banker, fashion designer – you get the picture.
Our sainthood has already begun, it already happened, on the day when we were carried to, or walked to the font. Some of us cooed sweetly on the day when water was poured over our head or we were immersed in the waters of baptism. Others of us met the water and the words “You are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” kicking and screaming. How apropos. Jesus takes us and claims us either way, and makes us saints of God and then uses our lives to show others about new life in him. Despite our failings and frailties Jesus takes us and, granting us mercy and grace, plunks us down in a particular place and time to serve as his saints on earth.
            The context in which we find ourselves may not seem as fearsome as the lion’s dens or holy wars or poverty and famine-stricken lands, that many of the saints of old faced but in many ways as we live out our lives today, we may be challenged to hold on to the faith and reassurance these texts give us.
In today’s First reading, from Daniel, we are reminded that in the midst of a highly troubled and dangerous world, God is present and God is more powerful than all the beasts that threaten and terrify us. God is stronger than the fear-mongering, terror-producing words and actions that surround us in our world right now, today, and on a daily basis.
God is stronger than the fear and wrath that we will likely witness regardless of the outcome of this week’s presidential election.
We cannot deny the great divisions this election has created, and the election results will produce winners and losers. But in the midst of the tumult, my friends, we are reminded by these verses that God is indeed present, and God continues to be a God who loves and nourishes rather than a God who devours and destroys.
God’s Word is a Word of hope and life and salvation forever and ever. In the midst of whatever assails us, our Gospel bids us to live as the Christ-followers we are, the saints of the God of peace and grace.
The words of Ephesians speak of the inheritance that we received as God’s sainted ones, so that we live with our hope set on Christ, and therefore live for the hope of his glory. Not our own. We are not made saints for our own good, but for the good and the glory of God in Christ Jesus, and for the kingdom he has come to bring into this world, a kingdom that reflects the goodness, love, light, peace, mercy, forgiveness, and grace of God.
Many of us have come here today to remember someone who has died. Your hearts may be heavy with that loss, whether it is recent or occurred years or even decades ago.
We would rather not have to remember the names of our deceased loved ones today, we would much rather they be standing right here beside us. The words from Ephesians, however, reminds us that God gathers all of us up in this grand inheritance of the saints, and joins us together in a body, together; sainted, together; for God’s own glory, together.
The sting of death may threaten to mute our celebration, but the reality is that death is meaningless to God because God has defeated death once and for all. It is not that God is impervious to the pain of death. But in death we find God’s ultimate victory, for us – the promised resurrection. 
The reality is that the promise of the resurrection is real. The blessing of the resurrection is for all those who have gone before us, and it is for us today, because we, too, are the saints of God.
Just as we earlier lifted up the names of the saints who died recently, when you came in today your name was placed on a band, along with the name of someone who has been an example of God’s love in your life.  These names were then joined with the names of many of the other saints of our community. A chain composed of all these names now encircles the baptismal font, as a reminder of the sainthood conferred on each of us in baptism, and a further reminder of the strength formed by this community of saints when we are joined together for the sake of Jesus Christ.
May this chain of saints serve as a visual reminder for us of the common mission of all the saints, living and dead, to praise and glorify God through all we do and say.
As we go forth this day, let us be inspired by the final words of the hymn:
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 now, people of God, repeat after me,

and I mean to be one too.

By the grace of God, it is so.


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