November 6, 2016 – For all the saints

All Saints Sunday   November 6, 2016 Ephesians 1:15-19, 6:10-18; Luke 6:20-31 

For all the saints

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We actually know very little about what life after this life is like from scripture, as opposed to human speculation… But the bible does let us know – if we are alive in Christ now – life continues without end…

In all our memorial committal services we pray, “Gracious God, we thank you for those we love but see no more. Receive into your arms your servant… and grant that increasing in knowledge and love of you (she or he) may go from strength to strength in service to your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Our prayer expresses our faith that we will continue in service to God’s heavenly kingdom… We won’t be just sitting around plucking harps… We will continue to serve God in love…

And at the risk of sounding ridiculous – one of the first images that comes to mind when I think of the saints in heaven goes back to a warm day in December when I was in seminary. It had been cold, but on the day finals were done, it was nearly fifty degrees, and the forecast was for a few more days of warm weather. So I called my fishing mentor and friend, Kevin McCarthy, who at the time fished the Swift River in Belchertown three times a week on average, year-round. He said, “Go to the Hatchery pool… The retirees will be there.” He named three or four guys who fish every day when the weather’s decent. “Tell them I sent you.”

So next morning I drove to Belchertown, and went to the stretch of river downstream from the state fish hatchery… Sure enough, three or four older gentlemen were there, fishing and catching trout… I introduced myself and told them Kevin told me to check in with them… They were taking turns fishing the most productive fishing spots… They worked me into their rotation, recommending what flies to use… The water was cold, the fish were slow and selective… But soon enough I was catching fish…along with the retirees who knew the water intimately…Thanks to their generously guiding me…

This, of course, is a parable. I don’t even know if these guys were believers yet, but – I still imagine the saints in heaven as a bit like these retirees. Like most retirees I know, retirees in heaven are also probably busier than ever… But I’m pretty sure they also make time to go fishing… And guiding those of us who are learning to fish… for fish… And especially for people…

For many centuries Christians have been celebrating All Saints Day in many and diverse ways. And of course, there are saints and there are Saints – small s saints and Capital S saints… The Catholic , Orthodox, and some Anglican churches commemorates capital S saints – who must be deceased and officially canonized – recognized as an unusually devout person through whom a certified miracle or two has been done.

In many predominantly Catholic countries however, local customs of remembering the dead have also become part of All Saints Day… In Mexico, All Saints Day has merged with indigenous traditions of the Day of the Dead, with families getting together at the graves of deceased family members, celebrating with much festivity. In the Philippines, also, families go to cemeteries to visit graves of loved ones, cleaning grave sites, having family reunions with the departed and those abiding here.  (A picture of some of our family making an All Saints visit appeared this week on Face Book.)

There are Saints and there are saints, and while Protestants generally don’t recognize capital S saints as a special category, we, (at least we Methodists) do celebrate All Saints as a day of remembrance for all the saints. The New Testament names all believers in Christ as saints, meaning “holy ones…” Holy means sacred – of sacred worth – because we’re all made in the image and likeness of God… Something we need to remember…. Especially in this election season… where too often we’ve seen denial of our common-ground humanity…

All the saints of old in all times and places remind us of our calling to be saints – meaning faithful loyal witnesses for Jesus Christ… People of God who try always to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind… And love all our neighbors as ourselves…  Hearing and heeding the word of God above all other words, all other voices, in this, and every season…

The letter to the Ephesians is addressed “to the saints who… are faithful in Christ Jesus.” The apostle Paul then thanks God for all the saints, having heard of their “faith in the Lord Jesus and love for all the saints…” All is inclusive…

In our second reading Paul says our battle is not against other flesh and blood humans, but against spiritual powers, authorities, and rulers in the heavenly places… Our proper weapons are the spiritual weapons of truth – righteousness – the gospel of peace – salvation – the word of God – and constant prayer… St Paul concludes by entreating us to “… always persevere in supplications for all the saints…” Again, I hear this all as a very inclusive all

And we listen in again, as Jesus preaches his Sermon on the Plain – his gospel of reversals and leveling of worldly distinctions. The rich are brought low, the poor lifted up… A mega-theme in St Luke’s gospel… And Jesus sketches in bold strokes how to be ready for the kingdom of God, by loving everyone inclusively.

(Meaning–) Love our enemies. Do good to those who hate us. Bless those who curse us. Pray for those who abuse us…. Give without expecting anything in return… Do to others as we would have them do to us…

Which is often difficult… Yet this is what Jesus tells us. These are his kingdom rules. If we’re to be ready for the life after life he promises… We’ve got to be getting ready by living here and now as Jesus instructs and coaches us…

My fishing mentor Kevin was also a high school football coach last I knew… He had a habit of saying “we” even when he was talking about himself. When I asked about this, he said ‘coaches say we a lot… It’s part of learning team play…’

The bible is for the whole team of all the people of God. The New Testament is especially for all Christians, and for all who will ever become Christ followers. And we understand the bible best when we study and seek to apply it together.        We need the company of all the saints in our walk with Jesus. We need human role models and human companionship, to live well by Christ’s gospel of peace…

Most of us, to be sure, need a mix of time with others and time alone… I usually fish alone and write sermons alone… But even while I’m fishing alone I’m remembering all I’ve learned from all who have taught and coached me over the years… Even when I’m practically locked tight in my office preparing a sermon, I’m still relying on all I’ve learned from all the saints who have taught me, mentored me, prayed over me, watched over me, encouraged and corrected me patiently…

We all need the company of other Christians – other small s saints – to counsel, correct, encourage and strengthen us… I know from experience my faith can easily go off track if I try to go it alone… (And the bible tells us I’m not unique. This is the human condition.)

We need each other’s help to be faithful… And we need all the retirees – all those saints who have been here before us, and who now live and pray for us… from another shore…

And we need each other, here and now… Many of my favorite saints are right here in this building… and in our sister church of our Cataumet-Bourne-hyphenated parish… and in our sister churches all around us…

And again, I’m reminded that all those in Christ who have retired from this world are truly present with us still… And all of us together have been told by Jesus to do unto others as we would have done unto us… Meaning – be the saints we would like the other person to be…

And we can do this because we’re all made in the image and likeness of God – redeemed by Jesus Christ. Yet in this world of troubles and woes we must be wise to understand, that along with our God-given potential to soar to the heights of holiness, we also have, courtesy of what Ephesians calls the rulers, authorities and powers of spiritual evil, the ability to descend into the depths of depravity…

And as Christian author CS Lewis has said – how we treat each other has incredible power… both for good and also for evil….

Lewis writes (quote): “It is a serious thing…. to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship – or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” (End quote.)

Jesus tells us – Whatever we’re doing, at work, at play, in church, at home, at school, voting, or fishing,  wherever we go, whatever we’re doing – we should be doing all in the love of Jesus Christ…

For there are no ordinary people. Only God’s holy saints… And those called to be saints… For all of whom we give thanks. For all of whom we pray.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.