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Revelation 7:9-17

Matthew 5:1-12

God of our weary years; God of our silent tears

thou who has brought us thus far on the way;

thou who has by thy might led us onto the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God,

where we met thee; lest our hearts drunk with the

wine of the world, we forget thee;

shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand,

 true to our God, true to our native land.[1]

This morning in the liturgical life of the church is “All Saints Sunday”; a Sunday of remembering and looking back but also of looking forward to the future.  We locate our lives and our story in the context of those who have come before: parents and grandparents, teachers, neighbors.  From some of us, friends as well as enemies because without enemies, we would not know ourselves as fully as we do.  We might not have striven nearly as hard as we have; or been drawn to the arms of faith in quite the same way.

We affirm that all of our experiences, struggles, and joys – all have shaped us and are shaping us into the person we are and are becoming.  We are shaped by race and gender; socioeconomics, religion, sexual orientation, privilege, education, politics – conscious and unconscious realities.   We are shaped by families that we were born into without any say at all on our part; their values and proclivities.

At best, we remember the good that we have been taught even when they did not appear like lessons at all.  Some of which we have outgrown; we had to leave behind because let’s face it, some of the people who taught them directly and indirectly had their own issues to work out; demons to confront.  Other lessons though, other lessons and other people will remain for us forever in the very best ways; and even though at other times we may have been kicking and screaming against them, their very words and ways have become the wind beneath our wings. Their words and their proximity have ushered us on; steadied our course; gotten us back on track; challenged us to live into our best selves.

We have lessons that have stood the test of time; anchored us in the wind-tossed ship of life.  Little trinkets of wisdom that have kept us when we have been fumbling around in the dark and could not find our way: “Treat people right.” “Do not hold a grudge”. “Love God and neighbor.” “Don’t hate.”

We remember the unconditional affirmation of a father; the determination of a mother’s love; what it was like to hold a grandparents hand; the warm embrace of a lover long past (or current).

We also pause to remember as a congregation those whom God has sent before us.  One hundred and eighty years’ worth of pilgrims have traveled this way.  Hundreds and thousands of people.  Some now gone on to heavenly reward; others relocated to other states and cities having made their mark.

We are reminded that All Saints is also about those who are coming after and the kind of church and world we are shaping and the future we hope will exist.  It’s about the kind of legacy we wish to leave behind.   Do you ever think about that?  The kind of legacy you wish to leave behind.  The kind of future you are envisioning: void of terror, of the crippling ravages of things that divide.  A future where men and women can travel the world and be safe and we can be safe with one another; loving, caring, and treating one another with mutual regard and respect.

I love the image John presents in the book of Revelation, in the passage that Lisa read.  It gives us a marvelous portrait of the great multitude of saints gathered from every nation and every tribe; and from every time and they will be wearing white robes and carrying palm branches; standing before God’s throne crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belong to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”[2]

I love the image because it signals the great affirmation that we are all hoping for; that our faith was not in vain.  That all of our striving and all of our sacrifice meant something.  It is a portrait of the Beloved Community – finally being as one.

“These are they who have gone through and come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.  They will hunger no more – hunger no more for truth and righteousness; hunger no more for justice and mercy.  And thirst no more because God will have the final word.  The sun will not strike them and they will not be burned by the scorching heat.  For the Lamb will be at the center of the throne and he will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”[3]

Today is also Commitment/Stewardship Sunday; a day in which we make our financial pledge for the next year.  Hopefully, you have been thinking and praying about it: how you give; why you give.  How far are you willing to stretch?  What does loving this place look like in the here and now with regard to the things that matter most like with our money, our attitude, our willingness to get our hands dirty, to take the high road?   What can love do?  Is our love big enough?  Strong enough?  Deep enough?

Today, we recommit ourselves financially but also spiritually.  Ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred years from now, will the saints know that we were even here?  That we came along and looked out for their day?   What is the legacy that we are writing for those who will come behind?

It’s daunting to think about, isn’t it?  Our little part co-mingled with other little parts of others making a difference not only for now but into perpetuity.

I think it’s probably true that if I were to ask most of you about whether you are a “saint” or not, you would quickly shake your head “no”.  Quickly disavow any notion of such a thing.  We are not saints or so we tend to think; barely claiming to be Christians at all or members of a church and I get that.  I really do.  We are afraid that our faith may not hold up; that we don’t have enough.  We live in a culture and at a time when religious affiliation is not something to always be proud of or boastful about.  We think it means perfection as in I’s dotted and T’s crossed; and we know that we are certainly not capable of living up to such expectations.  And so, all too often, the tendency is to make no claim at all.

But All Saints Sunday reminds us that our perfection is not in ourselves but in Jesus Christ who died for us all.  It’s about those who see God present and active in their lives and in the world come what may; and our participation in it.  Anyone can do good things; there is goodness in even the worst of us, I believe.

But All Saints Sunday is about staking our claim on the things and ways of God and the work God is doing.  It is about faith.  We remember those who persevered in faith as we ourselves also endeavor to persevere in faith.

 

[1] Johnson, James Weldon, Lift Every Voice and Sing, United Methodist Hymnal, p. 519.

[2] Revelation 7:10b

[3] Revelation 7:14b-17