Because I Am Blessed! Part II

Because I Am Blessed!  Part II

Psalm 34: 1-10, 22

Revelation 7:9-17

Today is All Saints Day. There are perhaps a few of you out there that are wondering what a Congregational church is doing celebrating a liturgical holiday that honors “saints.” And now that I just said liturgical… you might be wondering what that means. These are terms that don’t get voiced very often around here.

So, let’s take a moment to parse out some of these terms first… You have probably heard the word liturgical before and some of you might had brushed it off as something that is associated with a “High church” kind of denomination like Anglican or Episcopalian or Catholic. Well, liturgical or liturgy simply refers to the rhythms of how we worship. Such as the process and order of worship that we follow, the fact that we celebrate advent, and that we honor 40 days of lent before the glory of Easter…this is all liturgy. A process.

Well, All Saints Day, is just a reminder that in the rhythms of life, we have to set aside time for gratitude and remembrance.

Some people like to boast in the fact that their church is a liturgical church or a non-liturgical church. But it’s all the same, really. We just have different rhythms, different beats that we dance to…

So, to move on a bit…   Saints! “What is a Congregational Church doing honoring saints?”

Well, what is a saint?

Perhaps what comes to mind are old icon images of disciples that have a halo like glow painted around their flawless head. Or maybe you think of some ancient guy whose bones are buried beneath an old European church. Or maybe medieval stories of miracles like stigmata.

There is St. Mary, St. Chrysostom, St. Briget, St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori… Or Saint Dymphna. Who was pretty cool, she was the daughter of a pagan Irish King and his Christian wife back in the 7th century. She was murdered by her pagan side of the family. But before her death she was said to have built as home for all of the physically ill and mentally ill persons in her father’s kingdom. It was said that the ill would feel better around her and that the disturbed would be calmed in her presence. Very cool. So today she is named the patron saint of the nervousness… among other things.

So the term “saint” brings up a lot of different images, and stories, and thoughts.

Well for us, and most of the protestant church, a saint is simply the person sitting on your left, sitting on your right, standing in front of you today. Your mother, your father, your childhood coach who you remember well. A saint is a follower/ a disciple of Christ. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, opens it saying: “Dear saints of Ephesus.” That was everybody.

And so one Sunday a year, the church universal pauses to honor the saints! All of them. As the united body of Christ. But here is the twist… both living and dead.

The Saints on both side of eternity.

Nadia Boltz Weber said that: “What we celebrate [in] All Saints is not the superhuman faith and power of a select few but [what we celebrate] is God’s ability to use flawed people to do divine things.” People like Mary and Chrysostom, Dymphna – people like you, me, and those that we prayed for earlier… All vessels for God’s redeeming work in this world. And all a part of what Paul refers to beautifully (in Hebrews) as the great cloud of witnesses. Together as the body of Christ.

Now, it is no mistake that All Saints Day is celebrated alongside Halloween, which was derived from the pagan holiday Samhein which is when it was thought that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead are the thinnest.

Well today, we are in fact honoring and giving thanks for those people and moments in this life when the kingdom of God was, indeed, brought very close to the Earth in what St. Paul refers to (in Hebrews) as a great cloud of witnesses that is made up of the faithful who are departed just as much as the body of Christ as we are right now.

Our scripture passages today probably sounded familiar to you. But they are not typically read in a regular Sunday worship setting, because these passages are typically reserved for funerals and memorial service. And for that reason I’m really glad that it came up in our schedule of Scripture readings, because it offers a sort of glimpse at the picture of the fulfilled promise that God has already made to us in the Kingdom of God.

St. John writes, “… I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

There in the Kingdom of God is a gathering of our brothers and sisters! Just as God told Abraham to look at the stars and try and count them… and so will be your people. God is telling us the same thing.   The Kingdom of God is filled just like the stars fill the sky… “There is no limit to the scope of this multitude, be it geographic, ethnic, numeric, linguistic, economic, and on and on the list goes. This multitude is a blow-your-mind kind of multitude that no one can fully grasp.”[1] Gathered together for the sole purpose of worshiping and serving God!

But this crowd isn’t just standing around. They dressed for the party in robes of white with palm branches in hand. Arms raised in worship and praise and celebration.   They are active, moving, dancing… being!

We have been taught to look at the pictures of Revelation as snap shots of what we have to look forward to in the afterlife. Or what the end times will consist of. But that’s not quite accurate. A lot of what Revelation “reveals” for us is timeless. And more than that, it isn’t here nor there, but both. The kingdom of God on earth and in heaven. And this is one of those pictures. What we celebrate on All Saints Day is a party that is going on in heaven and is going on right here as well. It was going on when St. John was exiled to that Island where he wrote this. It was going on during St. Dymphna’s era as she built her home for the mentally ill. It is going on today. And will most likely be going on for the next hundred years and more. Because, as Paul said, we make the great cloud of witnesses – together the whole body of Christ. This is what connects us.

So, now for the instruction part of the sermon. If the party of the kingdom of God is happening here and now. If the kingdom of God is something that is active and alive and worshiping God. If the kingdom of God is made up of the cloud of witnesses- you and me both. What does that mean for us?

It means that we have to join the party.

All Saints Day is about honoring flawed people who did and are doing divine things.

So that is your task. Be a saint! Commend your flawed sainted self over to God for Kingdom work.

[1] Working Preacher: Commentary on Revelation 7:9-17. Eric Mathis


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