Sermon transcript for November 10, 2013
Belmont UMC—November 10, 2013
District Superintendent Harriet Bryan, preaching
Sermon transcript for November 3, 2013
Belmont UMC—November 3, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching
A couple of years ago we visited the small hillside town of Assisi in Italy. It’s a beautiful town with historic buildings, narrow streets and a rich history. It was the home of Francis, the rich young man who gave away all his belongings to enter the priesthood and lived his commitment to serving the poor. It’s also the home of St. Clare, a woman who joined Francis in this calling. Both Francis and Clare experienced the rejection of their families because of their commitment to Christ. Their lives have been sentimentalized in stories and their images are recreated in beautiful reliefs, statues and stained glass. (and bobble heads in the gift shops). They are two of the people I admire in the Christian history, and when I think of saints, I think of them. I suspect the word “saint” causes us to think of those heroes of church history.
But All Saints Sunday is not about people who have achieved stained glass status. They are the ordinary persons, women, men and children who have lived their lives in a way that allowed us to glimpse something of God in them. Tom Long wrote that a saint is a person whose life manages to be more than a “cranny through which the infinite peeps.” (“Preaching in the Middle of a Saintly Conversation,” The Journal of Preachers, Lent 1995, pp.15-21)
We are the saints of God--we who have given our lives over to God and seek to follow God’s plan and purpose in the world. We are not perfect and maybe our life has been characterized more by failure than success, more by false starts and faltered steps than winning races, but we are God’s children.
The word “saints” means “holy ones” or ones who are set apart for a purpose. We may not be comfortable being associated with those ideas either, but even though much our lives seem mundane and ordinary, there is that part of who we are that is set apart for God’s purposes instead of our own, and we remain fully aware that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.
The Gospel text today is often called The Sermon on the Plain as opposed to Matthew’s version of this text which is called The Sermon on the Mount. It’s been noted that in Luke the mountain is always the place of prayer. Jesus has come down from the mountain of prayer to where the people live. This sermon is for the crowds, for the people, for everyone like you and me. It was for people from the north and the south (Tyre and Sidon), for everyone no matter where they came from. It is a call to living the holy life and it is a call to all of us.
And as we consider the names of people that will be read this morning and the list of names we carry in our hearts and minds, these are those people who lived in such a way that we were able to glimpse the eternal and infinite God in them. They lived the values expressed in these beatitudes.
On All Saints I always remember my loving grandparents, kindly aunts and uncles, faithful Sunday School teachers, generous friends and neighbors, quiet church members and prophetic preachers, compassionate senior adults and smiling children, persons who are no longer among us, and others whose continued presence blesses us even now and in this place.
On one of my first Sundays in this church I said that church is where we hold each other in love and we hold each other accountable (Bishop Carder used to tell us that.) We are held accountable to being better than we might be otherwise. I noted that the mere presence of some persons in this church raises the bar higher for all of us and simply being around these persons will make us better people, better saints.
It is good for us to be here, gathered each year, to remember the saints, all the saints of the church--ordinary saints like us, for it is the saints who make us who we are today. And we shall never forget them. And that’s why it’s a little difficult to speak the names of our dear friends without getting a little choked up.
All Saints reminds us of kinship and family. It reminds us that we are part of a beloved community where we share in our love for God and in our love for one another. It reminds us that we are not, have not been, and never will be alone in this world.
At funerals and memorial services I often try to imagine what those who left this world would say if they could speak. I thought about our list of saints this morning and I could imagine them saying something like this: “You might want to take a moment and look around the room this morning, look at the people who love you, who brought casseroles to your house when your husband had surgery, who took care of your children when you were out of town, who listened to your stories (even when they’ve heard them before), who encouraged you when you were out of work, who wiped your tears when your best friend died. They are the ones who do not share your DNA but they are closer than family. If you are new to this church look around and make yourself at home among people who want to be your family.” All Saints is about kinship and kinship is one of the great blessings of the church.
I love these words of Frederick Buechner, describing an All Saints Service in Whistling in the Dark:
“At the altar table, the overweight parson is doing something or other with the bread as his assistant stands by with the wine. In the pews, the congregation sits more or less patiently waiting to get into the act. The church is quiet. Outside, a bird starts singing. It’s nothing special, only a handful of notes angling out in different directions. Then a pause. Then a trill or two. A chirp. It is just warming up for the business of the day, but it is enough.”
“The parson and his assistant and the usual scattering of senior citizens, parents, and teenagers are not alone in whatever they think they are doing. Maybe that is what the bird is there to remind them. In its own slapdash way the bird has been part of it too. Not to mention “Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven” if the prayer book is to be believed. Maybe we should believe it. Angels and Archangels. Cherubim and seraphim. They are all in the act together. It must look a little like the great jeu de son et lumeire (great day of sun and moon) at Versailles when all the fountains are turned on at once and the night is ablaze with fireworks. It must sound a little like the last movement at Beethoven’s Choral Symphony or the Atlantic in a gale.”
“And “all the company of heaven” means everybody we ever loved and lost, including the ones we didn’t know we loved until we lost them or didn’t love at all.
It means people we never heard of. It means everybody who ever did—or at some unimaginable time in the future ever will—come together at something like this table in search of something like what is offered at it.”
And so all of us ordinary saints gather around this table today, but we are not alone. We are in this together. We are the communion of saints.