Sermon for All Saints Sunday:
Today we are celebrating the Festival of All Saints. This is a time to remember the saints who have gone before us. The word saints is used in the New Testament to mean all Christians.
The good news for us today is that because we are all saints we are all God’s beloved children. We are all blessed by God.
Who are these saints who have gone before us? In our worship we remember especially all the saints from our congregation and all the members of our families who have died in the past year. We commend them to God and light candles to remind us that we are surrounded by this cloud of witnesses to the faith.
Around us all are the memories of those who took you to Sunday School, stood beside you in church singing the hymns, read you Bible stories, served with you at church potlucks, served as drivers for the elderly, and helped their neighbors whenever they were needed. We give thanks to God that we were able to know them and love them while they were with us in this life.
We at St. Mark’s have a lot of saints to remember this year. One of the original reasons for this festival was to insure that none of the saints were missed. There were so many nameless saints and martyrs that the early church did not want to forget to thank God for them.
None of the saints had easy lives. They all had to deal with hardship and change. Their lives did not turn out the way they had planned. Yet they were God’s beloved children and God blessed them.
In the second reading today, we hear John say, “you are God’s beloved children.” You are blessed. You are cherished. You are one of a kind. God is doing great things through you.
In baptism, God claimed you and named you. You are marked with the cross of Christ forever. Of course, you know that. You expect to hear that God loves you when you come to church. You know that the most important thing you can say about yourself is that you are a child of God. God loves you the way an incredibly adoring parent loves a child.
It is easy to forget though. One of my mother’s expressions was, “I get so busy, I forget my own name sometimes.” Our lives can get so incredibly crazy and busy, that we forget who we are and whose we are. We don’t have time to reflect on the fact that God loves us enough to send God’s own beloved son to die for us.
It isn’t just that our lives are busy though… It is also that many, many times, we don’t feel like God’s beloved children. Or maybe we don’t believe we should be, could be, or really are. We know what we have done. We have said things and done things that aren’t loving, that don’t reflect God’s love for us, that don’t seem to invite God’s love.
John reminds us today that God loves us anyway. Not because of what we have done or not done, but because of who God is and what God has done in Christ.
God doesn’t love us because God sees so much potential in us either. God doesn’t love us because we have promised to try harder or do better. It isn’t conditional. God loves us just the way we are.
God will never love you more that God loves you this very moment. God will never love you less either.
That isn’t all John says to us today either. Listen to the next verse. “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
It almost sounds like we have a secret identity, doesn’t it? Our true identity is a mystery, even to us at times. We forget we are saints. Most of the world can’t see it. The world only sees what is on the surface. They can’t see beyond our accomplishments and failures, our wealth or poverty, our abilities or disabilities, our superficial appearances.
Our true identities are established by God’s unconditional love. We can claim them. Do you see what that means? No matter what we have done, or what has been done to us, or what has happened to us, or how much we are grieving, we are God’s children.
No matter where we have been or where we will go, we are God’s beloved children and God will be with us and bless us. No matter what we have said, or what has been said to us, we are in God’s heart now and forever.
This true identity we have can be a mystery to us at times. We have no idea what God might call us to do. We don’t know how God might use us to bless someone else. We don’t know what future is in store for us.
We do know that as saints we are beloved and blessed. Here is what Jesus said about being blessed. It is a paraphrase from the Cotton Patch Bible.
You’re blessed when you live humbly,
for then you belong to God’s new order.
You’re blessed when you experience loss,
for you will receive strength.
You’re blessed when you are content,
grateful for what can never be taken away.
You’re blessed when you ache for God’s justice;
you will receive what you seek.
You’re blessed when you are generous;
generosity will be shown to you.
You’re blessed when your motives are pure;
you will meet God face to face.
You’re blessed when you labor for peace;
in this you resemble your Maker.
You’re blessed in suffering for what is right;
for yes, then you belong to God’s new order.
You’re blessed when people harass and malign you.
Keep up your courage, for the advantage is already yours.
This is how people of conscience have been treated from the first.
[Based in part on Matthew 5:3-12 in Clarence Jordan, The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John (Association Press, 1970).]
Whatever it is that God has in store for us, we know that God can use us to be a blessing to others. Whatever our characteristics and experiences, our strengths and limitations, God will use them for the good of the world and all the other saints God loves so much.
This is what it means to be a saint. To be a saint is to recognize that God calls us beloved children and blesses us. That’s why we can face the loss of our loved ones on this day – because we know that God loves each one of them. And we know that God has brought them through the door of death into new and abundant life with God and all the saints in the church triumphant.
May God go with us this week as we live in this world as God’s beloved and blessed children and use us to bless others. Amen.