Saturday, November 04, 2006

All Saints Sermon (my third sermon at this church)

A couple years ago, the world said goodbye to one of its saints. I had the privilege of being by his bedside as he took his last breaths. He was a man whom I had never met before. To this day, I cannot remember his name; but I know he was a saint.

Earlier that day, this man was walking out of his home, as he did every afternoon, to check the mail across the street. His age slowed him down a bit, but that did not stop him from maintaining this daily routine. The house he had lived in most of his life was built at the crest of a ridge, which made it difficult for on-coming cars to see what may be happening at the top. This unfortunate location was the cause of this man’s death. As he was headed back to his house, a car struck him.

When I arrived at the hospital that day, this gentleman had already been to the surgery, and his family was waiting outside the intensive care unit for news of his condition. It was a larger family, all of whom came together to pray for and physically be there for their loved one.

I spent the evening with them, waiting, telling stories, and praying. I learned of this gentleman’s background, how he was a hard worker who loved his family dearly. His first wife had passed away and just months ago he had married a very sweet woman. There was nothing spectacular that stood out about him, other than the love that was so evident in the room.

He was a man of strong faith. The family shared with me some of his favorite Bible verses and hymns. We sang those hymns around his bed with his ministers from home, nurses, and doctors. As we continued to have what became a worship service, this saint slowly took his last breath. And there, at around 5:30 in the morning, we said goodbye.

Today is the festival of All Saint’s Day. It is a day in which we remember the saints that have gone before us, and the ones living in our midst. The Greek word for saint is hagios, which means holy. The word Holy literally means to “be set apart”, some paraphrase this as “special.”

In the Old Testament, something became holy when it came in contact with holy things. An example of this is in Exodus 29:37 where it says: “For seven days make atonement for the altar and consecrate it. Then the altar will be most holy, and whatever touches it will be holy.” Contact with holy things was limited solely to the priests. This created a separation and hierarchy among the priests and common people.

For us, there is no longer this hierarchy or separation. Jesus changed all that. We come into contact with holiness all the time through our contact with God. Our Holy God makes contact with us through the Word, the waters of forgiveness in Baptism, the body and blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion, and the fellowship we have in the Body of Christ. Through all of this, we are made saints, because God’s love for us is so great that he has come into contact with each of us.

God has given each of us the title of saint as a gift. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we were given grace, so that, in baptism, our old selves die to sin and we are raised to new life. Daily, we are called to repent and God forgives us, bringing us to a new life beyond all our sins. We are now not labeled as sinner in God’s eyes, we are labeled a saint. Not because we live a great life, but because we are in contact with the Holy God.

All Saints Day is a day to remember the saints that have gone before us, but it is also a day to remember the gift God has given us in making us all saints. We are saints here and now because we are connected with the Holy God here and now. Sometimes it is difficult for us to realize this. The focus is not on the new life we have been given as a saint, but on the life of the sinner.

In our Gospel text, we hear about Lazarus. He is there, dead in the grave. There is nothing he can do to get himself out of his situation, he is complete dependent upon the power of God in Christ to give him his new life. When he is raised and comes out of the tomb, we have this image of Lazarus still bound in the grave clothes, which Jesus proceeds to tell him to remove.

The question is, are we not just like Lazarus, coming out of our baptisms, raised to a new life yet still hanging onto our grave clothes? It can be difficult to leave the old sinful life behind and take on the title of saint. We recognize that daily we still sin, there is no way to get around that. Yet recognizing that our Holy God sees us as a saint is hard to grasp. We tend to keep our grave clothes on, holding onto those sins Jesus freed us from.

The humanness we all possess makes it difficult to move beyond the sins we have done. The way we hurt our best friend, the loud harsh words we said to our child when we were just too tired to deal with their never-ending questions, or possibly the time I hit someone I love? How can we ever let these things go, when we, the one who sinned, hurt just as much, if not more, then the victim? Letting go of our sinful past can be so hard. Accepting the present and future title of saint can feel nearly impossible. Yet Jesus still calls us to take off our grave clothes and go.

There was a great quote handed to me earlier this week from a Jan Karon book entitled “Light From Heaven”. It states “Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future.” Yes, all have pasts. Every single one of us in this room is guilty of being a sinner. Every one of us has lied, cheated, stolen, or done some kind of wrong. We all have a past and we all continue to do wrong things in the present. The marvelous thing is, we have been forgiven our past and will continue to be forgiven our wrongdoings. We all have a future. God has claimed each of us as his own and given us the title of saint. We have that reality, and we have the hope that comes with it.

The gentleman in the hospital was just like each of us. I am certain that he had hurt most of the people who were by his bedside at one time or another. Yet, in the last hours of his life, each of those people were there by his side, holding his hand stroking his hair, telling him how much he was loved. To them, no matter what he had done, he was still perfectly loved. That is how our Holy God is to us. We are loved, perfectly, by the God who has deemed us as saint. And, like the saint in the hospital bed, all have the hope of the resurrection awaiting us in the future. Amen.


Sue said...

Thank you so much for sharing your "All Saints Day" Sermon. It really spoke to my heart tonight. I lost my dad in May 05 to cancer and I miss him every day; he was my saint. I have missed him a bunch the last few days and this was just perfect right now. One day you are going to go from being Laura the Vicar to being Pastor Laura and whatever congregation gets you will be very lucky. I continue to pray for Asher everyday and hope he is home in the arms of his parents soon. Again thank you for sharing such a moving sermon.

Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,

I just finished reading "Light from Heaven" by Jan Karon this week, so was amazed to see you include in your sermon some of the very words that had been impressed on me as well about "every saint having a past and every sinner having a future." You write very poetically, passionately, and articulately. May the Lord use the words you say (and write) to honor Him and bring His love to others. Thanks for sharing your sermon online.

Continuing in prayer for Asher...and others,

Debby Cushing said...

That, my dear friend, was an AWESOME message - thank you so much for sharing that!

Anonymous said...

Laura, You are amazing with what you do on this site.
Please keep Matty and his family in your prayers. They found 15 more lung tumors today and they are out of options.

susan said...

Hi Laura.
I can not say how much I appreciate all you do to link these wonderful families to each other in prayer and faith. You were so kind to have added my nephew Marc to Ashers friends list. However, there is some confusion due to it being, I need to change it to Marc's name but I do not know how, so, could you add his name to mine in the friends link. I think it is a wee bit confusing, and I hope to have it fixed real soon.
Thank you so much Laura.
God bless..susan