University Congregational Church
Nov. 2, 2014
“For All the Saints”
Today is All Saints Sunday! It is a day set aside to remember – not the ghosts and goblins of Halloween – but the saints of our past and our present. When I say “saints”, I’m not only speaking of the venerated saints of the church;
- I am speaking of those souls who bring the light of God into our lives.
- I am speaking of those loved ones who bring us joy and laughter.
- I’m speaking of the prophetic voices of our communities who challenge the status quo.
Paul Hammer wrote, “In the Bible, faith is never a matter simply for an isolated individual. It involves a community of persons that stretches back into the past, embraces people in the present, and anticipates a fellowship in the future. Faith involves a “cloud of witnesses” to God’s continuing faithfulness.”
Last weekend, Eric and I saw a new movie “St. Vincent”. It is a comedy starring Bill Murray as a crusty old man who ends up caring for the son of his new neighbor. Although Murray’s character is a cynic who gambles, drinks, and frequents strip clubs, he turns out to be exactly the mentor the 12-year-old kid needs as the young one adjusts to his parents’ divorce, and life at a new school. It is a cinematic parable of spiritual transformation. A number of spiritually themed blogs and writers have commented about the spiritual truth in this movie and how this old curmudgeon can possibly qualify for sainthood.
The truth is, as Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “Saints are sinners who keep on trying”. I’ve asked the families of those in our church who died this past year to bring pictures for our communion table of the saints they have loved and lost this year:
As I read their names, let us remember and thank God for their lives:
- Nancy Cochener
- Betty Poppe
- Debbie Becker
- Corlee Mason
- Bill Park
- Lloyd Meshew
- Gary Barnhart
- Dennis Waugh
- Geraldine Johnson
“There’s an old sermon illustration about the young boy whose pastor asked him, ‘What is a saint?’ He thought about the stained-glass windows in his church and said, ‘A saint is somebody whom the light shines through.’”
I’m a sucker for a good saint. And by “good”, I really mean “bad”. I have a calendar of saint days on my desk and I love to read about the lesser known people who were a bit edgy with their lives. For example, St Dymphna. You haven’t heard of her? Saint Dymphna was the daughter of a pagan Irish king and his Christian wife in the 7th century. Sadly, she was murdered by her father. But before her death she is said to of founded a home for the ill and many crazy people reportedly became a lot less crazy around her.
That’s right…St. Dymphna is officially the patron saint of the nervous, the patron saint of the emotionally disturbed, the patron saint of the mentally ill, and the patron saint of those with neurological disorders. In other words, she seems like the kind of saint some of us might relate to!
I don’t necessarily believe that we need special saints to intercede for us because God listens to them more since they were just basically better Christians than we are. But what I want to celebrate on All Saints Sunday is God’s ability to use flawed people to do divine things. I celebrate the fact that God creates faith in God’s people, and those people through ordinary acts of love, bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer to Earth. We celebrate that we have, in all who’ve gone before us, what St Paul calls such a great cloud of witnesses and that the faithful departed are as much the body of Christ as we are. Our traditional word is from Hebrews 12:1-2
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and the perfector of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and is seated at the right-hand of the throne of God.”
It is quite a thing, really. We are connected to so many….Connected to so much faith…. So many stories…. So much divine love. Especially in this day and age of alienation and trying to find community and belonging in smaller and smaller ways. What connects me to the body of Christ is not my piety or good works or theological beliefs. It’s God; a God who gathers up all of God’s children into the church eternal.
Robert Benson in Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, said: “All of the places of our lives are sanctuaries; some of them just happen to have steeples. And all of the people in our lives are saints; it is just that some of them have day jobs and most will never have feast days named for them.”
So, today let us remember all the deeply faithful and deeply flawed saints of God’s church through whom the glory of God has been revealed is being revealed and will be revealed.
- Traditional saints such as Francis of Assisi, Therese of Lisieux, and Joan of Arc;
- Lesser known saints such as Edith Stein, Juan Diego, and Elizabeth of Hungary;
- Contemporary prophets as saints — Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Gandhi, Raoul Wallenberg, Dietrich Bonhoeffer;
- Artists, poets, and scholars such as Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and G. K. Chesterton,
- Finally, we remember our own saints, people who we’d frankly rather still have here in this room as a living person and not as a photo on a white table at church the first Sunday of November. And yet, we give thanks for them because they continue to be light in our lives.
Whether it is a crusty old curmudgeon named Vincent, or Dymphna, who helped struggling people, or the child who gives you a smile with the light of God in it – let us give thanks for the great cloud of witnesses around us!