November 4, 2018

All Saints Sunday  November 4, 2018  Psalm 24, Isaiah 25:6-9, Revelation 21:1-6, John 11:32-44

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In the process of preparing for our parish annual meeting tomorrow night… Reading over all our various reports that together become our annual report –  running even a little later than usual, due to three funerals in a week and a half…. Last Thursday night as I was finally reading over the minutes of last year’s annual meeting, I was reminded – how last year we prayed for the families and communities of those martyred a few days earlier in a Baptist church in Texas.

Now this year we’re praying for the families and communities of the eleven martyrs of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh… And for the families of those murdered in a Kentucky supermarket when a man shot them after first trying but not being able to enter a nearby African-American church.

Praying also for the people who had pipe bombs sent to them by a man who didn’t know them at all, but regarded them as mortal political enemies…

On All Saints Sunday we remember all the saints – saints meaning all Christian believers. All Saints day is a reminder for us – that by faith, we are all united in life that cannot be extinguished, even by death – thanks to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All Saints day is a joyful celebration of life without end.

All Saints is also a time when we weep with Jesus for this world’s addiction to the power of death. Weep for this world’s refusal of the true life Jesus offers.

We’ve lit candles of remembrance for loved ones and members of our congregation who, in the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn – have crossed over the narrow stream of death. As that hymn we’ve sung this morning also proclaims – we, too, expect to die. We, too, hope to be reunited in resurrection life with loved ones and all the saints from all ages, times and places…

We’ve heard again today the visions sent by God to the prophet Isaiah – sent anew hundreds of years later, to John, author of Revelation. Powerful visions, sent by God – God swallowing up death, removing the shroud of death from all the earth – God abolishing death and wiping every tear from every face – as God makes all things new…

In the beginning God created all things, and God sees that it is all good. Now God is making all things new again in the resurrection life of Jesus, our Savior. Christ’s resurrection is our new beginning. The new start of God’s new story, in which the power of death is defeated.

We don’t and can’t know yet the details of how this new life unfolds. We know God will wipe away every tear. But I wouldn’t be surprised if once God has wiped away our tears, we now shed tears of joy… And tears of compassion. Heaven’s not likely to be dull. I don’t think we’ll be watching re-runs. I’d actually be surprised if God doesn’t keep offering us opportunities to continue to love and serve God… And since God is not God of this earth alone, but of all the universe, there’s probably no shortage of places and ways where we can continue to love and serve God… When we look up and see all the stars on a clear night and realize – what we see is only our very nearest neighbors in the cosmic neighborhood. Surely it seems more likely than not – we’re not the only planet with life…in need of redemption.

But… we don’t know much at all about daily life in the kingdom of heaven from sacred scripture – as opposed to human conjecture – except we do know we will all be singing God’s praises… And money, power, fame and material things will all be recognized as meaningless… While the hope, faith, love and beloved community Jesus teaches… will finally be fully-evident… to all…

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All Saints Sunday is an excellent time to pause – and consider our own mortality – and ponder anew our individual and congregational situations – reflecting on where we are in our walk with God… and our walk with each other. Not a great time for problem-solving… but an excellent time for just listening for God…

In our bible study group last week we talked about how hard it can be to give good answers when people ask ‘what should we think, speak, say or do’ kinds of questions about all sorts of specific issues…

And I was reminded of Christian author Philip Yancey’s online remembrance of Eugene Peterson, one of our saints who passed to glory recently. Peterson’s best known for his The Message translation of the whole bible into contemporary vernacular English, which has now sold 20 million copies. Peterson wrote 30 books in all, many while serving as a pastor and later as a seminary teacher. In his tribute to Peterson, Yancey talks about how he was once asked to be moderator of a meeting in which Christian leaders gathered to appreciate Eugene Peterson and ask him questions. Peterson’s most frequent reply to difficult questions was “I don’t know.” Question after question, he’d answer with “I don’t know,” without a trace of embarrassment. Wise and humble enough to know it’s a good thing to know… what we don’t know.

I’ve been a life-long slow-learner… Way too often I’ve given my opinions, while actually seeing or knowing only a little of the big picture. Over time, I hope, I’m becoming at least a little slower to speak… more willing to wait and give God more time… to get in under my radar… where I can actually hear God’s nudging…

The specifics of how to love God and neighbor are not always obvious. Of course we need to keep asking what would Jesus do? And keep asking what we should do as followers of Jesus. Which should always start with our relationship with Jesus… but which isn’t always going to be exactly what Jesus did. (For example, I suspect Jesus probably wouldn’t vote – since as King of Creation – voting, even voting for himself, could seem like abdication of his throne. But that’s a concern really only for Jesus.)

The rest of us are not off the hook from making difficult decisions – including voting. (And if voting doesn’t involve any difficult decision-making for us – probably we’re not paying enough attention.) We’re interim citizens of this town, commonwealth, nation and world – permanent residents (should we choose to accept the offer) of God’s kingdom – where our commandment from God is always to remember our citizenship in heaven comes before even our most dearly held opinions, and our most nearly enlightened-self-interest on earth. Something we Christians have historically often forgotten or overlooked…

All Saints Sunday is a good time to pause –  reflect – consider long-term perspectives – and remember – forever can be a long time…

So let’s pray always – and be careful in all we say and do in the heat of all our here and now battles….

And keep remembering how Jesus weeps… even as he calls his friend Lazarus out from the tomb… Weeps, still, today – even risen from the dead, offering life eternal, freely, here and now, for all… Weeps for our failure to love God, heart, soul, mind and strength – and love our every neighbor as ourselves.

Yet at the same time, surely… Jesus weeps, also, with joy –  when he sees us loving as he has taught us…Sees us living together in love – good neighbors on earth as it is in heaven….Loving God together, forever. May it always be so.

Thanks be to God. Amen.