Rev. David Clark sermon: These are They
All Saint’s Sunday 2014
Revelation 7:9-17 November 2, 2014
Rev. David J. Clark
These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb…they will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Today we are celebrating All Saints Sunday. I looked on the ballot for the elections on Tuesday but I didn’t see anyone running for saint and from the ads I’ve seen, it’s just as well. Besides, anyone who put themselves on the ballot would be automatically disqualified. Saints are supposed to be humble, and virtuous, sort of like a Super Boy Scout: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, brave, clean, thrifty and reverent. Plus they should be able to whip up a miracle in a pinch perform some heroic witness of faith.
When we hear the word saint, we don’t usually think of people that we know. We’re more used to the way the Catholic tradition talks about it. They believe that some folks lead such exemplary lives here on earth that they can help you after they die. Different saints have different roles. Saint Valentine—is the patron saint of love; Saint Jude is the patron saint of lost causes; somehow folks believe that if you bury a statue of Joseph, the carpenter, upside down in your yard, he will help you sell your house. I’ve never understood why he has to be upside down.
The Bible gives a different message. It says that everyone in the community of faith is a saint. It also says you’re a sinner but that doesn’t take away from your role as a saint. Every one of you is a saint. Do you believe it? By the look on your face, I can see that many of you look skeptical. You are a saint. Saint means someone that has been set apart in this world to help do God’s work. The Come Holy Spirit Prayer we pray every week asks God to consecrate. Consecrate comes from the same Latin root as saint. We pray that God will use us for good purposes, to increase the love of God and neighbor in the world. You are a saint because you can reflect God’s love to someone in this world. You can tell the truth, spread kindness, advocate for justice and help others to stand up for themselves. You can do a good thing, even if you have done bad things.
I remember a woman, Pat, who was on a search committee that called me who wanted to know how I handled funerals because, she said, “If I have to go to one more funeral where they make some rascal sound like a saint, I’m going to attack the preacher.” A few months later her husband died and he was something of a rascal himself, a retired veterinarian who loved motorcycles and lived a carefree life. The funeral had an open mic time where people were invited to share a thought or memory about Rusty and a very pretty woman stood up and said, “None of you know me, and none of you knew Rusty like I knew him, but there is something you should know.” I held my breath along with everyone else in the sanctuary as we all (including Rusty’s wife and children) wondered the same thing: is this a lover or daughter?
She explained that she was a waitress at Famous Dave’s where Rusty hung out with his friends once a week. After a while, she said that they developed a “relationship.” But it turns out that it wasn’t the kind of relationship I’d assumed. He was interested in her school work and wanted her to succeed. He encouraged her, tipped far too generously and even helped her with some of her assignments and she was able to graduate could now fully support her two children. No one had any idea. Then of course we felt about this small for assuming the worst negative thing. But despite all the rascally things about Rusty, he was capable of this beautiful anonymous act. Saint Rusty. If Rusty can make it, so can you. Like Rusty, we are all simultaneously saint and sinner.
Today we remember all the saints and sinners how have been part of our lives. Our reading from Revelation is one of the few biblical verses that talks about a vision of people who have gone to heaven. The imagery is highly symbolic and difficult to decipher but we get the assurance that God’s love surrounds us even after death. The author inquires about some people praising God who are standing around the throne and the elder responds, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal” and they are in God’s care where no more harm can come to them.” These are they. I like the way that little phrase just rolls out. These are they who made a difference; these are they who live in God’s care, even now.
Today we have asked you to bring some symbol, some object that reminds you of someone important in your life, living or dead, who have been important in your spiritual journey. We look at this collection of interesting pieces gathered on this table, on this holy space around the throne of God and we wonder, who are these that are represented today?
These are they whom we love. These are they who took risks. These are they who were ordinary flawed people, but were important. These are they that didn’t have supernatural powers or abilities, but showed up, stood with us when we needed them. These are they that have shaped our lives and made us what we are as individuals and therefore shape what kind of community we are.
These are they that taught some of you to take risks, so you wandered into this church of strangers. These are they that taught some of you to be kind, to be fair, to reach out to the world needs. If these hadn’t had their influence those around you might not be here, so we give thanks for these and those.
I doubt that without the influence of my grandfather, that I’d be a pastor today. I brought these corncob pipes that my brother and I pretended to smoke with my grandfather—that was back when that was considered normal behavior. For me it was a time of innocence and it’s something silly to remember him by. I remember his silliness, his playfulness. Whenever we’d get grumpy he’d march us around the house chanting, “Grumper, grumper, grump” until we were giggling and in a good frame of mind again.
More than anyone else, he’s the person I try hardest to be like. Who is it for you? Grandpa was a very kindhearted man of integrity that had a lot to do with my becoming a minster. He was a farmer and excellent craftsman who helped build the UCC church where I was baptized. I think he’d be delighted to see me serving in a UCC congregation. When I was deathly ill during long hospital stays at the Mayo Clinic, hundreds of miles away from home, and my parents had to work to keep their jobs and insurance, he stayed with me. He had come through a long illness when he was in the service and he kept reminding me that every day is a gift, to be treasured and every person is a gift not to be taken for granted. More than anything else, that theme has always been a mainstay in my ministry. It’s all gift.
Who are these? These are precious gifts, treasures in our lives. And it is important to remember and give God thanks for them because they remind us of who we want to be and when we drift a little off course, All Saints Day helps us do a course correction and to practice gratitude that leads to a more joyful and less self-centered life.
I remember when my grandfather invited me to help him put in a drop ceiling in the basement he re-modeled. I loved cutting the tiles with him to fit the tight places, but I cut one of the tiles so that the grain faced the wrong direction. It was in an out of the way place, Grandpa said we’d leave it and it would be just our little secret. Maybe he didn’t want to hurt my feelings, maybe he wanted to drive grandma nuts with the one imperfect thing in their entire house. I don’t know. What I do know is that he kept it there, just like he kept me and all my imperfections.
Who are these? These are they who have stories, who have flaws, yet somehow touch us. Ordinary folks.
For all the saints we give thanks today. Amen.