For all the saints

The text of the sermon, based on Isaiah 25.6-9, Revelation 21.1-6a, and John 11.32-44, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, November 7, 2021.

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The words of a spiritual constitute one of my daily prayers: “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.”[1] For, in my life and experience, Lord, it’s hard to be a Christian!

A primary reason or so I believe is that each of us enters and journeys through this world with a family of origin and upbringing, ongoing life-experiences, personal observations and opinions, preferences and prejudices, and an inherent predisposition to act in accord with all of it.

And we, living in this world unavoidably engage with individuals who believe and behave in ways we don’t like and who don’t believe and behave in ways we do like.

And sometimes that person who does what we don’t like and doesn’t do what we do like isn’t anyone else, but rather one’s self.

Whenever I have that experience of not liking what another person does or doesn’t do or not liking what I do or don’t do (and, honesty compels my confession, therefore, potentially not liking that person or myself), it’s hard for me to be a Christian in my heart. It’s hard for me to love that person or myself unconditionally and impartially, in my thoughts and feelings and through my intentions and actions.

Nevertheless, on this Sunday after All Saints’ Day (since the 10th century C.E., November 1 being set aside in Western Christendom to honor all those through the ages who follow Jesus as Lord), we are reminded of our calling to do, to be as God who loves all, always and in all ways.

This I know, for the Bible tells me so.

The prophet Isaiah paints a beatific portrait. A mountaintop banquet for the hungry where the tears of cheerless eyes are dried and the fear of death forever removed. This is a lofty vision for the disenchanted and disenfranchised. For what is another table of food and wine for the overfed? What is a consoling hand for those who do not weep?

Yet who among us, with our bellies full, is not aware of spaces of emptiness within us? Who among us, courageous in the face of trouble, does not cry for comfort? Who among us, knowing life in this world always ends in death, does not, sometimes, fear? Therefore, this is a vision for all of us! A vision of salvation. From the Latin, salvus. Wholeness. The healing that comes only in the acknowledgement of brokenness. Brokenness that all of us share with all people, for all people are broken.

Isaiah prophesies and the Book of Revelation resoundingly replies with another portrayal of salvation so all-encompassing that heaven, earth, and sea are gathered up. Mourning and crying are no more. Pain and dying are no more. Life is made new in a holy city with open gates to all people.

Jesus, in raising Lazarus, neither paints nor portrays salvation. He performs it! Jesus calls forth new life from death and enlists the aid of all to unbind Lazarus. And, as Lazarus represents all of us who, in any way, are bound, so, Jesus saves us that we, too, are free!

These biblical texts help me to see what the celebration of All Saints’ Day can be. The Jesus-movement is that two millennia-old-and-counting historical procession of all who follow Jesus. And any movement, over time, when evolving into an institution, falls prey to the temptation of losing sight of foundational ideals. Thus, the necessity of reform.

So, with the church, which, through history, is replete with periods of division; bearing countless definitions and disagreements about what it is to be Christian and, with its various hierarchies, often wedded more to earthly principalities than the theological purity of faithfulness to God Almighty as revealed in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.

This need for reformation is true in our age as we sorrowfully behold the renewal and rise of fighting and mourning, crying and dying all in the name of partisan, exclusive political ideologies.

So, on this Sunday after All Saints’ Day, let us be numbered among all the saints; “saints” being a New Testament title for Christians.[2] May we be saints who love first and foremost not Episcopalianism or Anglicanism or any other denominational affiliation. Not the church. Not a particular form or style of worship. And, God forbid, not a given bishop or priest. Let us be saints who first and foremost love Jesus.

Saints who follow the Way[3] of Jesus of unconditional and impartial love for all.

Saints who believe in the word of Jesus that greatness is service.[4]

Saints who can and will confess our brokenness, our inability and, at times, unwillingness to be of service by loving all people.

Therefore, saints who, in our brokenness, cry for salvation, healing, wholeness: “Lord, by your Spirit, make us Christians in our hearts!”

© 2021 PRA

#lordiwantobeachristianinmyheart #beingachristianislovingasgodloves


[1] From the traditional Negro spiritual, Lord, I want to be a Christian.

[2] See, for example, Romans 1.7; 1 Corinthians 1.2; Ephesians 1.1; Philippians 4.21; Colossians 1.2

[3] A reference to Acts 9.2, “the way” being the designation for the earliest followers of Jesus before they became known as Christians (see Acts 11.26); a designation that inferred more a way of life, a way of being than an intellectual assent or adherence to an ideology or, even, theology.

[4] See Mark 9.33-35, 10.42-45

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