given on Sunday, November 1, 2009
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Today begins November. November means Thanksgiving to me even though there is a day devoted to elections, another day for remembering a war and our veterans. I even have three generations of birthdays to remember—my sister-in-law, husband’s son, and now my granddaughter’s–and all of that happens before Thanksgiving. This year the first Sunday in Advent concludes November.
All of this and today, the first day, the calendar reads: All Saints Day. I decided there was only one way to connect all of these pieces into one sermon: Today we thank God for the earthly saints which have guided us through our lives and helped us grow spiritually.
No set of requirements or great feats is required for us to identify those unique individuals who have introduced us to Christian life. Each one of us has someone who has taken us to church for the first time. In most cases that person is a parent, but not always. My own mother was Presbyterian, but when she agreed to marry Dad, she also agreed to join the Methodist Church. She did put in one stipulation: She would not go to the small, rural church that all of his family attended. Rather she insisted that they go to the church in town so her children would have a broader social group—at church.
I am sure that Mom was not thinking about what a dramatic decision that was at the time; but in my analysis of that decision these many years later, I am sure it was instrumental in my faith journey. While attending the non-family rural church, I attended one that brought me into contact with a wider range of individuals. I stepped away from the two-mile radius of aunts, uncles, and cousins, into the one in town—a full eight miles away. Today that sounds almost ridiculous, but 55 years ago, the difference was a cultural leap and bound difference. Today, living in Johnson County, that eight miles is about how distant the house is from one side of the community to the other, and the distance between my house to our church here is twice or three times that.
Still the decision my mom and dad made to change the location of their membership brought me into direct contact with an entirely different set of mentors. Among them was Mrs. Jean Jones. [Now I have struggled all week to bring her full name up into memory and I just could not. It took three days just to get her husband’s name to surface, and then last night I added her son and daughter’s name, but it was not until Saturday morning that the name literally popped up as I started typing the Mrs.] Jean Jones was a middle school teacher, but while she waited to get into the school system, she took on the teaching of our high school Sunday School class.
I am sure she has no idea the importance of her decision; I just know that in terms of my spiritual development it was a monumental decision. Until then my ideas about God and faith were pretty much determined by Mom and Dad—along with the basic Methodist curriculum for elementary kids. Mrs. Jones really shared and demonstrated her faith very simply but in a manner that a teenager heard.
What makes a saint? According to the Life Application Bible’s concordance, a saint is “those declared righteous by God:” such a simple statement, but one that is packed with potential. Is it not possible for us, right here on this earth, to identify earthly saints? I did not find a list of qualifications, but the Merriam Dictionary on-line outlined the various definitions of a saint as:
1: one officially recognized especially through canonization
as preeminent for holiness
2 a: one of the spirits of the departed in heaven
b: angel 1a
3 a: one of God’s chosen and usually Christian people
b(capitalized): a member of any of various Christian bodies;
specifically : latter-day saint
4: one eminent for piety or virtue
5: an illustrious predecessor
I think we can identify saints right here with us as well as those who have preceded us into heaven.
When I take time to look back over my list of spiritual mentors, I know that they have been “one of God’s chosen,” I know that they have exhibited piety and virtue simply by the example they live right here beside me. I do not think it is necessary for them to be evaluated along some long list of qualifications to determine whether they are saints or not. I know that Mrs. Jones quietly but very deliberately taught me about living a Christian life in this part of the universe. She opened up an understanding for me that stuck. So did my mom. So did a long list of everyday people who demonstrated faith in action.
I have asked others who has been instrumental in their spiritual development. BJ talked about her aunt:
The person that inspired me the most was my Aunt Bessie in Poteet, Texas. Every year when school was out I would go spend the summer with her and my cousin Julia Ann who was 3 months younger than me.
Aunt Bessie made sure we were at Church every Sunday and Wednesday evenings. She took us to Choir Practice and made sure we attended Vacation Bible School.
Everyday she fixed a huge lunch for her husband and field hands. As she prepared the food she was always singing “What A Friend We Have in Jesus”. To this day I think of her when that song is sung, and sometimes I cry during it. She was a blessing in my life.
Now each of you are sitting there thinking about your own childhood. Each of you are going back to your summers and thinking about what you did. You start hearing the words of that hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and suddenly you are triggering all these thoughts about others in your life that have indeed taught you something about faith.
I remember a summer youth minister who came from the Office of Creative Ministries and spent a summer in my hometown. We really were not that far apart in age. She was in college and I was going into my senior year. I have lost her name, but I remember she came from the boot heel. She spent her summer working with our MPYF even going on our summer campout. My summer experience with her led me to work for the Office of Creative Ministries while I was in college.
As you start remembering your own saints today, I ask you to also think about your role as a Christian in other peoples’ lives. Do you think they will stop and have stories about how you helped them along in their spiritual journey? Do you think they see you as living out your faith so that you might be described “declared righteous by God”?
Sue identified one of her family as righteous:
My grandmother was very influential with me. She was a devote Baptist but really a great lady. She always had the entire Sunday School come out to the farm in the summer for a Day on the Farm. They went to a large church in the Quad Cities so there were bunches of kids. She never lost her temper and always loved kids.
As I read over her email, I realized that my mom shared a dream with Sue’s grandmother. Different generations, I know, but the same love for nature. They loved this world so much that they wanted everybody, especially those trapped in the concrete jungle of the city, to experience the earth in all its glory—dirt, grass, trees, animals, flowers, and even the toil it takes to work this Garden of Eden, so to speak, that God has provided us.
Such a simple concept, yet today more and more does not see the role of protector of our earth. Mom, including many others such as Sue’s grandmother, knew we are to care for this earth as it cares for us. That seems like a qualification for a saint to me.
Oddly enough, the individuals we have shared are not preachers. No where in the definitions does it say that one must receive a degree in divinity or complete any other formal training to be a saint. I would gather we have all seen “holy” individuals who we would never consider adding to the list of saints in our lives, but there are some who demonstrate saintly qualities in the pulpit but more importantly outside the church’s closed doors.
Stop and think about who has served as your pastors in the past. Each of you has at least one who pops into mind as being special in your life. There are qualities about that individual who reached you spiritually and has left lessons that stuck into your long-term memory. Maybe that individual was a leader in the community and lived out a Christ-like role that you chose to immolate.
Today’s scripture from Revelations may not seem to connect to well to the idea of earthly saints, but read them one more time:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
These first three verses spoke to me as I thought about the earthly saints in my life. I know that those individuals created a world for me that is very similar to the one described in those first few verses. My new Jerusalem is actually the world in which I live. It is a world that I see through God’s eyes. The people are those who deserve God’s love. The earthly saints I know are and have lived right there among God’s people caring for them.
Today may be “All Saints’ Day” where most focus on the people who have left this earth and have already joined God in eternal life. We see in Revelations that the image John had for us is full of concrete images. We believe in that picture of beauty and blessings which await us, but while I am waiting, I am living in a world filled with beauty and saints which brings such joy to me.
5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
Let us leave today with all the memories of our personal, earthly saints. Let us thank God that we have been blessed by their presence in our lives. Let us work to follow their examples as we try to live our lives following Christ and looking at this world through God’s eyes. Let us quietly work to preserve this earth so its beauty and its fruits may sustain others.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for leading us through this earthly life. Thank you for the guidance and the service of your followers who serve as earthly saints. Thank you for allowing us to experience the joy of living on this earth. Thank you for walking with us in our lives so that we may see this earth and the people on this earth through your eyes. May we follow in your footsteps and help guide others to the New Jerusalem.