Sermon, All Saints, 11th November 2012.
Remembrance Day and Memorial Rite, St Petri
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
I remember being in absolute awe of all the saints as a kid. When we little grade ones and twos at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic primary school in extreme NE of the WA Wheat belt (about 450km’s NE of Perth) went into the big (it seemed big then!) dark dome- topped church next to the school in the town of Mullewa (population – about 1200) for Mass I could feel the eyes of the saints looking at me in those statues and icons – and I was worried!
I felt a great distance between me and the saints. They were holy and eternal and I was not. They were wise and great achievers – obviously – to be named “saint”! I was not those things in my opinion.
Monsignor O’Brien, a great old priest, led Mass in full vestments and he and the other priests lived in the cloisters attached to the church and that was mysterious too. What did they eat? “What did they do? They probably prayed all day and tried to get close to God….” They were on their way to being a “saint”, I thought. I wasn’t on my way to sainthood. Maybe I was on my way the other way!
So, for me, and I suspect for most people these days, especially those not too connected to a church, the saints were “other people”, dead people, but people that really had “made it” in religion. They had not sinned – not much at least – not as much as us!
In their life-time, they were obviously really close to God. As a result they had done amazing things – including miracles. And this just proved that they were the very “special people” way beyond the average Joe and Josephine. I reckon I felt that there was no way that I could ever be a saint. I reckon most average Australians would feel the same – and many would not even bother to care about saints and all of that stuff.
But I then, like lots of people now didn’t mind not being a saint. Especially if it mean i had to pray all day and not eat a Rump steak or drink a red wine! I liked my family and our house, and school and if I couldn’t be one of God’s very special people, then I would just do the best I could and hope that this would be good enough to avoid that “other place” sometimes mentioned by adults in the school…..”Hell”!
Looking back, I am amazed at how off the mark my young belief was. Looking back I also feel some disappointment at what I was taught about being a Christian as a kid. I have to say that I really did not hear that I was a saint because God had already made me one. I had no certainty of God’s approval. And as we know, when this approval is not given, it makes you either want to give up and resign yourself to the fact that you’re no good or fire up – developing a rebellious kind of stance against God and all his so called “saints”. “No thanks God. No thanks Church. I’ll live it my way and hope that’s good enough” is where you can end up when you are not sure of your status and a saint.
But on a day like today, All Saints day, I hear much more about saints and whether or not I am close enough to God and whether or not God approves of me enough to let me live beyond my grave like “all the saints”. I hear that I am a saint in God’s books. I hear that the only reason I am one of God’s “holy ones”, one his “specially called and chosen people” is because of his lavish love in making me a saint. I am not a saint because I achieved the status. I have been given the status when Ii was not holy, not good enough.
“See what love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God; and that is exactly what we are, says the Apostle John.
“Lavished”. Not just given but “lavished” upon us. When do you “lavish” someone with self-giving friendship, care, protection, love?
• When it is your wedding anniversary.
• When it is your child’s first birthday or their 21st birthday?
• When your child is confirmed or graduated from School or uni or gets their ticket for their trade…..
• When your best friend gets very sick.
• When your friend or your partner is suffering
• When someone you highly value and love is dying…….
This is when you lavished love on another and/or are lavished love upon! This is the kind of self-sacrificing love the Creator has lavished on us by adopting us suffering, weak, idol chasing, idol making sinners into his own family and giving us his own name – “child of God”, “Holy Ones of God”, “Saints”, chosen, called, appointed, loved….
Surely one of the great longings of our time is for belonging. Surely so many people, even in the prosperous Barossa are lonely and feeling un-adopted, disconnected from their families, the church, all the other people around town that seem to be doing so much better than them. And this is not just the people we might expect – the “needy” or the “poor”, but the wealthy, the people of means – any kind of people….
We talked about this Friday night with a group of parents of our children and young people – While the pressure, temptation, overwhelming choices, high expectations in body image, academic success, earning power and etc are increasing among our young, the structures around them of extended family and ongoing relationships with adult mentors is decreasing.
Kids are feeling isolated. Parents are feeling isolated. Grandparents can feel isolated.
Jackson Browne, the great singer-songwriter of the 70’s and 80’s said it well, “There is a God-sized hole in all of us”.
Into the breach comes us – the local church – not just a community of everyday people like everyone else – but a holy community of every day holy, chosen, set a part people, lavished by God’s love and named by him as his very own people; A community with divine connection. A local community with eternal links to the heavenly – the God-like.
So, you see, now I know that the distance between those holy saints represented in statues and paintings and spoken of with great respect is not very big. Now I know, by God’s choosing and his great love for me that I am a saint.
Now I know that my baptism day was my adoption day into the great hall of saints – the long room in God’s MCG – my name is up on the mahogany boards. I have my place in the annuls of God’s community achievements – beforeIi even knew my own name he did this for me through my parents…..
Now I know that the reason I am a saint is not because I am good, but because I am new.
Now I know that being a saint is being good, but it is dying to sin and rising to life with Jesus everyday – and that is new enough.
His love is enough. As we sometimes sing, “His grace is enough for me” or ‘Amazing Grace that saved a wretch like me”.
Break out the chisel and get to work on the statue. Pick up the paint brush and start painting! Not me, but yourself! We are lavished loves of the Lord of love – Jesus.
Even better, lets paint a picture of God as we love others in the way we have been lavishly loved. That will be a picture worth seeing one day when all the saints come marching in. We will be in the long line of joy with that old lady we heard about today too, who gave her very self into the hands of her Lord at the temple that day when Jesus was watching and approved of her for her true giving.
John was famous for many things. This letter, the great letter called the Bok of Revelation, for being one so close to Jesus and naming himself, “the one whom Jesus loved”; Quite a title to name yourself, “the one whom Jesus loved”.
But he is famous for something else…..
The story goes that in his old age (he was the only one of the twelve to see old age), he would preach in his little Mediterranean church community. He would rise slowly and shuffle his way to the little pulpit. People would be waiting with baited breath for the great loved one of Jesus t speak in long words about what he had seen and heard.
You could imagine all the “heaven seekers’ there; people wanting to touch the supernatural and experience “the third heaven”. People itching to experience the immediate and powerful presence of God and see the crystal sea and the cherubim and etc….
And the great man of heaven would get up and say, ‘Little children. Love each other”. And sit down.