Sermon Delivered on 11/04/12Isaiah 25:1-10
Well, it seems we have made it through the historical time of warding off evil spirits by spending around 2.4 billion on candy and around 8 billion in holiday related items. You can champion industry or you can challenge excess, but those are the numbers according the Christian Science Monitor.
As we all find ways to discretely consume or get rid of the spoils of All Hallows Eve, we are presented today with the opportunity of All Saint’s Day. In some ways this day began an attempt to Christianize the pagan celebrations of All Hallows Eve. In some ways – I believe – it also became a way to make sure none of the Saints were left out. As Christianity spread through the West and martyrs and inspiring souls became known as sources of faith, certain saints may not have been known in certain other regions.
The term, Saint, also became more of a title than a category. In his letters, Paul refers to the Saints as leaders in the church who were very much alive! And so we, in the Reformed Tradition, stand very much opposed to the idea that there are Saints who act as intermediaries between us and God. For that, there is only Jesus.
We do, however, affirm that there are men and women who have, who do, and who will help us to experience and respond to the grace of God. In fact we expect God to work through each of us that way, because we believe it to be within God’s character to do so.
I want each of you to take a moment and think on one person who can be described that way in your life – someone who has helped you to experience and respond to the grace of God. Although there are likely to be many of those influences in each of our lives, I also want you to imagine what it might be like to have none of them.
For me, I will choose this day to speak of my grandmother Margaret Johnson Sasser – a.k.a. Mom. Many of you know that she is 92 and lives with relative independence. She has an attendant, whom she regularly kicks out. Last Thursday night she fell and broke her hip as a result of her independence. I do not fault her for this. I admire her for it.
On Friday night she had hip surgery, which was risky because she has a faulty heart valve. It seems reasonable to say that she has a weak heart – unless you know her. She was given 6 months to live about 2.5 years ago. As a young woman she served the Baptist Home Mission Board, since women could not go overseas as her daughter, my Aunt Clair, now does routinely.
Mom is a special lady, because she loves Jesus. There is only one time I can ever recall treating her with anything less than reverence. I had stopped through during a break from seminary and was, apparently, full of myself enough to make a sarcastic comment to her that result in her dismissal with a chuckle, a shake of her head, and a disgusted, "Ugh...Zachary! Fix your own coffee."
This was also, mind you, not too long after my divorce. Somehow she knew that I was coming from a place of pain, and that was a saving grace. Somewhere later in that conversation she wanted to let me know that she approved of the direction my life was heading as I moved forward. She is not of a generation that uses phrases like, "I am proud of you." She is of a generation that perceives struggle and honors tenacity. What she did say I will never forget. She looked me in the eyes with a soul piercing clarity that never lasts long when it happens but is more effective than any lie detector known to humanity. She looked me in the eyes and said, "Zachary, I know you love the Lord, and I'm real happy about that." She smiled, crystal clear, then asked if I wanted some ice water. And that was that.
And so today we come together with our sarcasm and faithfulness, with our struggle and our tenacity, and we hear Isaiah's promise that God will swallow up death, John's Revelation of a new heaven and earth where God is active and present, and Jesus letting Lazerus die and raising him from the dead – demonstrating that God’s love is more powerful than death.
Could it be that the promises of the first two passages are fulfilled in the Gospel Lesson? Could it be that God has swallowed up death in Jesus Christ? Could it be that the Kingdom of God is in our midst here and now? I’m not suggesting that God is not capable of ripping open a new metaphysical reality, but I am saying that our timing might be a few thousand years off.
The media and the propaganda of politics during this presidential election tell us that the world is on the brink of chaos and destruction. They tell us that this guy will save you and that guy is just waiting to push you over the edge. And in the midst of all of this there are people proclaiming Jesus as Lord. There are people who gather to pray for God’s will to be done, even when it is not what they want.
There are teachers who teach in schools they would not want their own children in. There are people who take other people’s used toys home and clean them to give away. There are people who take meals to home bound community members in costume on Halloween. There are college students right across the street that are being encouraged to share their faith with others – some of them have even come in to work as elves in our basket ministry! There are choir members who sing to the glory of God, faithful givers, and caregivers that pray for and with one another. There are Deacons serving communion in homes, and members coming together to support ministries of Spiritual Development and the maintenance of Divine Fellowship.
Have you figured it out that I am talking about you? Have you figured it out that the doors of this sanctuary cannot contain the gospel that wells up in our souls when we come together as the people of God? Have you figured it out that someone, somewhere will yet see a glimpse of the Kingdom where God is active and present because of you?
As for me, I proclaim the gospel today because God used my grandmother as one of the great and powerful voices that proclaimed it to me. Mom never told me I needed Jesus. She never made me feel anything less than valuable. She has always remained true to herself, and she has always loved me.
Please be assured, I do not mean these thoughts to be eulogistic. I mean these thoughts to be Eucharistic! Do you know what that word means? It means thanksgiving! And so these reflections on the Saints are a type of thanksgiving for the present moment and all the past moments that have allowed this one to be as it is right now. Every moment is a chance for Eucharistic living, but some are easier to see than others.
The other night, as I was tucking her in, my daughter (age 8) and I talked a little about Mom. She said she wanted the surgeon's name. I thought it was for prayer, but she wants to send him a thank you letter instead. As I marveled in this moment she said, "You know what I think prayer is? I think it is sending warmth from inside of you that goes and surrounds a person. That's what love is – warmth." I agreed and assured her that even if the person never knows it or feels it, that warmth is there, and it is real. I kissed her forehead and I left her to read, dream, and be held in the sweet embrace of God. And I realized that for that moment – even though there were times throughout the day that I fussed at her for this or for that – I had been in the presence of a Saint.
It kind of makes me think of that old camera add, “It’s so simple - anybody can [do] it!” Of course many of you are already responding to God’s grace and living as residents of the Kingdom that is both present and yet to come. But I do want to leave you with an opportunity you may not know of. Norma Jean Luckey sent me an email about a mentoring opportunity at Moss St. Preparatory School. Many of these kids fit the description I mentioned earlier – having no one to demonstrate God’s love for them. If you are interested in becoming someone who be sober and will show up consistently for about 30 minutes once a week to talk with them, that will be more than they have from anyone else. Not everyone in our congregation is physically capable of doing this, so in the very least, I encourage you to surround them in the warmth of your prayers.
Last story – some time after seminary Mom gave me my Great-great Grandfather's Bible. I am his namesake, as he was Zachary Lumpkin Scott. The Bible has passages underlined, dated, and checked off as memorized by my Great Grandmother. At the time, Mom had noticed my need for a watch and slipped a $10 in the front for a cheap-o from that place I don't like to shop. It was just enough. Amazingly, she did not know about the quote that was just behind the money in my Mamma Sasser's handwriting.
"The Christian should be like a good watch: open-faced, hands busy, well regulated, and full of good works."
You see, sometimes seeing is believing. I know what I have seen. I know what I am trying to demonstrate, and I hope you know what you are working toward too. Thanks be to God for strong men, women, and children of faith. Thanks be to God for a legacy rooted in the love of God. Thanks be to God for ongoing struggles and the promise of sweet release from everything except for the sweet embrace of God – in which we are all held both now and always. Amen.