Our All Saints Day sermon:
The headline read: Cops say man without family dead on kitchen floor for a year. My first reaction was neither sorrow nor disgust. No, my initial reaction was complete and utter fear. Irrational fear, sure. But fear all the same. Here is this man with so few connections that he died and no one noticed for an entire year. What if that happened to me? What if I died? I live alone. This is, for me, an irrational fear. It’s irrational for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I don’t know that I could go missing very long at all without someone investigating. In fact, this summer when I traveled with the youth to SIFAT, I didn’t have any cell service and so my dad couldn’t get in touch with me. He called the church office to check in on me. The truth is, there is no way that this scenario could have happened to me. And yet, my reaction was fear. Why is it that, rather than empathy, I experienced fear? What is wrong with me?
I was sitting in the lobby of an auto shop getting ready to spend a lot more than I wanted to on tires and the television was set to one of the 24 hour cable news channels. It doesn’t really matter which one—they’re all pedaling the same thing, just from different political perspectives. And as I sat there I couldn’t help but listen to the television. And their message was essentially this: Be afraid. Be very afraid. Things are bad and they are not getting better. Death and destruction are all around and we should be afraid.
I say that it doesn’t matter which cable news channel it was because that isn’t the message of one particular cable news channel. In fact, that message isn’t even unique to cable news. All around us the message is fairly consistent: be afraid.
Let me clear, I don’t really blame any particular person or group for this and I freely admit that I’m part of the problem. And furthermore, it is absolutely true that things are bad. There is absurdly terrifying violence at home and abroad. There is PLENTY to be afraid of.
But here’s the thing:
If we truly believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, what in the world are we afraid of? Are we afraid that somehow we can live in an alternate universe where the reality of the resurrection is untrue? Seriously—what are we afraid of?
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
We talk about heaven and we get really caught up with golden streets and family reunions. But the apocalyptic vision we get in the book of Revelation is something completely different. Turns out that these streets of gold and family reunion images are all fine and good, but they don't even come close to expressing the great joy of what is to come. What's coming is a new heaven and a new earth. The old earth is passing away. But, then again, maybe it's more comfortable to ignore that part. After all, we kind of like things the way they have been. We're comfortable in this earth and we work very hard to make this life the way we want it.
I've heard it many times, in fact, I probably hear it weekly. “This country isn't what it once was. We are ignoring God. I'm afraid of what's going to happen to us.” It is true, things here and elsewhere are not what they have been. We no longer live in a world where we can assume that people are Christians. We no longer get to operate as if we are in the majority. And I think it is natural for us to mourn this loss of power. The church doesn't get to be influential simply because it exists. People aren't willing to give the church the benefit of the doubt.
Is that scary? Well, if that's he whole story then yeah. It’s incredibly scary. Terrifying in fact. But please hear this-- that's NOT the whole story. The one seated on the throne says, “Look! I am making all things new!” That can be hard because it means that what we have known is passing away. But it's also the very best news. And I love how he says, “write this down.” Basically, “hey, this part is important! All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
Living in a world where God is making all things new is not easy. But God is perfecting the world and God is perfecting us too. And sometimes that hurts. On this day we celebrate the saints. Those people who have shown us what it is to live life as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, to grow in sanctifying/perfecting grace. We are surrounded by their great witness. My favorite hymn tells the great story of the saints:
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
They loved their Lord so dear so dear and His 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
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, on the street, in the store, in church, by the sea, in the house next door
They are saints of God whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too (United Methodist Hymnal, 712)
Saints become so by fearlessly living in the knowledge of God’s victory over hell and death and acting like that matters. Sure, God is still in the process of making all things new, but we know how the story ends. No tears, no sorrow, new heaven, new earth. What does it look like for you to live fearlessly? How have the saints in your life shown you to live fearlessly? Perhaps it means inviting someone to hear the gospel who doesn’t know what that means. That can be scary. Live fearlessly. Maybe it’s following a call to something God has been pushing you towards but you’ve been ignoring. That can be scary. Live fearlessly. Maybe it means volunteering in the soup kitchen, joining a small group, or mentoring at the elementary school. Those things can be scary. Live fearlessly. Maybe it means turning the 24 hour news cycle off and calling someone up to talk about all the hope in the world. Because, by the way, there is all sorts of hope.
We are not doomed. Jesus conquered the grave and invited us to be a part of that. What the heck are we afraid of? Saints of God know this truth—God is in charge and we have nothing to fear. God uses the saints to declare victory over death. The saints cheer us on and remind us to fear not.I think a lot of those who have fearlessly lived lives that point toward Jesus Christ. What are you going to do? These people are our saints and I mean to be one too.
Reverend Samantha Lewis