Tag: saints

Living the Story

Sermon, All Saints Day, 3 November 2013.All Saints Sunday

St Petri

 Daniel 7:18

But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever–forever and ever.”

I remember the first time I came across Lutherans en masse. My sister had married a Lutheran farmer and I used to go and stay on their famer on school holidays. So, I was in their home and this meant that I would go to worship with them at the local Lutheran congregation in Geraldton, WA. I was about 12 and the drive was 80km each way. We never missed worship in Geraldton.

Pastor Ken Schmidt was the first Lutheran pastor I ever met. He would lead the Service in the black cassock and white alb from the Hymnal page 6 service order. The local farmers, teachers, medical people, homemakers and all the rest, with their various kids, would sing along as best they could as dear old Mrs Kowald played the electric organ as best as she could.

After the Service I would eagerly listen to the cockies bang on about the weather and the fencing and cropping and etc until we eventually would head into town to have a BBQ with another family or go to the beach or buy fish and chips or just head back out to the farm.

Whatever happened in that little Lutheran congregation must have been significant for me because it stuck and I stuck and I am still sticking!

I don’t think it was the quality or lack of quality of old Mrs Kowald’s organ playing. I don’t think it was the grandeur of the building that helped me stick to the community. It was not grand. It wasn’t Pastor Ken’s sermons. I can’t remember one moment in one of them! What was it?

I reckon it was the Story. It was the people and the story they were living that made me stick to the church. My brother-in-law, my sister, old Mr Nitschke, a great bloke named Andrew and his wife, Joanne and etc…..all living the story of Jesus out in their daily lives at worship, at home at work – living story boards of the good news and God’s community, the church.

Before that, I didn’t have much of story to belong to. My family was mostly non-churched, so there was not much or at least not a personally connected God’s story for me to know or tell. My family was disconnected, so there was not much family story to be proud of and learn about. My school story was disjointed and pretty unspectacular. We lived all over the place, so there was no home story or place story to sing about. Part of my story was painful. So some of it was not something you would want to speak about anyway.

These days I wonder we are in the company of more and more “storyless” people (like I used to be). There are kids and adults just like I used to be right here in our town. They don’t have much of a story to tell – so they think. They have hardly any connection to anyone else or a larger community’s story. They have no connection to the gospel story and gospel people story; no community to which they can belong. They are alone most of the time – the company they find is mostly digital, not human, several steps removed from reality.

If there is a disease of our day it is storylessness. People are so disconnected, sometimes by choice, other times by circumstances.

Plenty of people ignore God’s story – often with great pride in their intentional deafness. Others just have never heard the story. Still others are only concerned about their own little story believing that that is all that matters …. until tough things happen, grief and loss visit or tragedy strikes..then the search is on for the bigger story to try and make sense of what has happened and why.

I think those 40 people at Hope Lutheran Church in Geraldton WA gave me a story to be part of. They in their ordinary and faithful way gave me The Story to which I belong. I became one of the “All Saints” then and there and here and now.

All Saints day is all about belonging to this mysterious and yet very human story of God’s people. All Saints Day is celebrating the actual living out of and the speaking of that little line in the 3rd part of the Creed, I believe in…. the ‘communion of saints”. Luther suggests it should be translated “community of saints or “community of holy people”.

What’s your story? I wonder whether you have ever felt what is like to have no story bigger than yourself to belong to and share? I wonder whether you have ever felt cut off from community; cut off from a bigger story – alone in the world with nothing much to say and no particular place to head?

All Saints Day is for you. It is an invitation into God’s domain, God’s community – visible, and on the journey with you; invisible but heard with the ear and received by trusting his Word for your life here.

If on the other hand you have deep roots, big family and big story to enjoy and tell, then All Saints Day is a day of praise to the Lord for all of it. All Saints Day is a day to thank God for dear old Mrs Kowald, faithful pastor Schmidt, imperfect mum and dad, boring Mrs Smith who was the Christian lady who taught you in grade 3….

Thank God that you have his Story intertwined with yours and that you can hand over those you love to a gracious God who he is the One making this story happen all the time.

By God’s design, we all belong to our story here; whether you have been here 5 minutes or 50 years.  You belong to the story of God creating, Jesus saving, the Holy Spirit gathering, lighting up our minds and making us holy; the story of those who have died for faith in Jesus – the martyrs, the story of the  pastors, theologians, preachers, doers of God’s grace in God’s world.

How will we include each other and the many strangers into The Story? How will we welcome people you know into the greatest story ever known or told – the story of God loving, seeking, caring for, providing for, gathering people together in love?

Friends we have been given a massive gift – a life-long story in which to live and work and relate and be ourselves.

With the story goes the telling of the story. We are called to tell His story and ours often and let the Lord of the gathering of holy people do his work.

We remember those who are now living the story of the resurrected life ad we thank Jesus for giving us this big story to live in and die in and live in and die in and live in and die in and live in.

Live God’s story as you love him and tell it. As you do…

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power”. (Ephesians 1:17-21)

CONVERSATION STARTERS

What’s your story? Take a moment to think about your life’s story in very broad brush strokes. When every one has had a few minutes to think about this, share your story (very briefly in very general terms!)

Reflect on God’s story in your story. Where is God, the gospel of Jesus and the church in your whole life’s story? Very present, or only later or only in your early years or all of your years?

What has All Saints Day meant to you in your church experience?

Have some fun by trying to outline God’s BIG story in the bible in the very broadest of terms in order. So start with Creation and Fall and then go from there – again only in the very largest chunks or very important events in the biblical story. It will surprise you because you know more than you think – especially when you pool your biblical knowledge. (Spend no more that 10 minutes on this!)

How has belonging to God’s big story of salvation in Jesus helped you in living our own life – particularly when you have experienced loss or tragedy?

Read Ephesians 1:11-23 (particularly verses 17-23) noting the actions of God in the text. What has God already done? Who did he do all this for? Where does all the fullness of God’s presence in the world dwell?

Have you met a “storyless” person – someone who just has very little to tell about their life, very little connection to anyone else or their local community; people who spend most of their time alone and fully occupied with their own needs and concerns?  How would you help that person find God’s big story of forgiveness and belonging in Jesus?

 PRAY Ephesians 1:17-19 together and for each other.

BLESSING:

You end by speaking this blessing to each other in pairs – each person speaking it to the other in their pair.

“Child of God (person’s name),Jesus give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him and his story”  

Lavished

Sermon, All Saints, 11th November 2012.

Remembrance Day and Memorial Rite, St Petri

 Lavished

1John 3:1-3

 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.