Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sermon For All Saints

Christine, our church administrator, made a comment in the office the other day referring to marriage. She said, “the kids are the best part.”
There are many of us who would agree wholeheartedly and some of us who would just sigh. What she said is most certainly true, but I suppose what stage our children are in would determine our reply.
When they are first born they are cute and cuddly and though some of us wouldn’t know what to do with a newborn -- who doesn’t love a cooing baby?
However that stage doesn’t last long. Soon babies are crawling, then walking and then getting into everything. Yet it is wonderful watching them discover their environments, learn, achieve and develop their own little personalities. Then we arrive at that heart wrenching moment when we take them to their first day of school. We let them go to begin making their way in the world apart from us. Another stage done but then we move on. Certainly some of you don’t want to be reminded of what happens in those teenage years. These are the years when children start to think and behave as though parents don’t know anything, the time when they develop the ability to roll their eyes and smack their lips, slam doors and perfect that don’t bother me pout.
They get a little better in those pre-adult years, but you have to expect those phone calls from college to say that they are out of money. You guys know what I’m talking about--right?
Even when they are over twenty-one, when they are thirty or forty we are still their parents and they are still our children.
We were having a conversation in the office about children and I was talking about my son. I began describing what I love about him and what about him drives me absolutely crazy. I love that at thirty two he still calls to talk to me about everything--somethings I don’t want to hear. He asks for advice and even gets his friends to call me if he thinks I can help them. I love that he now thinks I am a pretty cool mom.
But you all can guess that wasn’t always the case. I remember a particularly rough time in our lives when the stuff of inner city life---mischief, drugs, gangs---threatened to pull my son under. We got into a heated argument when he was about fourteen and I just wanted someone to come and get him. I remember thinking that this is not who I want him to be, or the direction I want him to go. This is not what I taught him! He doesn’t resemble anyone I know or want to know. Sometimes I just wanted to strangle him and one day I found my hands around his neck. At that moment he looked at me with his big brown eyes and he started laughing. This brought me to my senses; I joined him in laughter and I thought--what am I doing? This is my child...
John addresses those who are listening as “children,” in our second lesson for All Saints Sunday. If we read the entirety of this first letter of John, we hear about God’s unconditional love for us. John was writing this letter to quell the tensions and schisms that were rampant at the end of the first century between a number of churches.
The conflict arose as the older generation was trying to pass on the faith to the younger generation. It was as though parents were attempting to teach their children -- the traditions that they held, the ways they related to God and the truth about Jesus the Christ.The whole book reads less like a letter and more like a testimony or a  passionate plea from an elder for those around to hold on to the faith, to live as those who believe.

And how hard it must have been for that second generation of Christians, they were being influenced by those big city folk and being influenced by Greek and Roman philosophies. This new generation was questioning Jesus’ humanity. They were buying into the gnostic belief that God couldn’t possibly have come in the flesh because flesh is evil.
And to top that off they believed that anything that they did, however they behaved, whatever mischief they got into or sin they committed didn’t matter because the flesh was going to be destroyed.
 And so the writer, using a conversational and loving tone like a father talking to wayward children says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God: and that is what we are.”
 On this All Saints Sunday, we remember that we are children of God. We are children that have been named in the waters of baptism even before we knew our own name, or even before we could say or spell it. But we can be wayward and let the stuff of life, greed, dishonesty, apathy pull us under.
We can be like those second generation Christians those who don’t resemble at all their parents.
As a society we often behave as if what we know about God isn’t real or if God is real, God isn’t relative to our lives and we certainly don’t live as children of God. Living as children of God certainly isn’t the first thing that comes into our minds as we wake up in the morning is it? How often as we go through our days do we think today I will behave as a child of God?
Today I will drive along the expressway, order my lunch, treat my co-worker not only as if I am a child of God but as if she is also. I will help feed the hungry, love the unloveable and do what I can for others. We go through stages of holding God close and pushing God away, of needing God and believing we are self sufficient.
I can imagine that we human beings--we who are called saints but behave as sinners--can infuriate God, enrage God so, that God might want to once again send a flood. Or perhaps send fire to get rid of such disobedient children. Instead, God sends Jesus who gives his life on a cross, is buried in a grave
and raised on the third day, so that we might understand just how much God loves us.
So what exactly are we celebrating today? What does it mean to be a saint? Well I believe being a saint means to acknowledge, to realize, to affirm that God has called us by name, in the waters of baptism, claimed us before the creation of the world, and set us apart to do great things. Not just for our sake, but  for the sake of all the other saints God loves so much.

We are children of God and we are blessed when we are like those in the fifth chapter of Matthew--who mourn, are persecuted, poor in spirit; blessed when we are those who pray forgive us our sins....
blessed when we are those who try to get it right but can’t.....We are the most unlikely of characters and yet we are the children God loves.
My son will be 33 tomorrow and I still remember that day over 19 years ago. After we finished laughing about my hands around his neck, my son and I talked. I told him I was so angry because I was worried about him, and I wanted more for his life because I love him. He didn’t quite understand then but he has learned through good times and bad I will be there for him. And though he struggles, he lives as though he has a parent who loves him in how he parents his son. For sure I know how to exhibit the love a parent has for a child but God’s love is so much more. So much more all encompassing--unconditional.
So what about thinking about how much God loves us on this All Saints Sunday, about the promises of God: the promises of grace, forgiveness, and mercy; about the promise that God will be with us always--through good times and bad-- even to the ends of the age, the promise that the loved ones we remember today have received--the promise of eternal life. 
And how about living as though we are God's children! That’s what John was trying to say to that second generation of Christians and to all of us. He believed our identity is inseparable from how we live as God’s children. And so he wrote:
“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we're called children of God! That's who we really are. But that's also why the world doesn't recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he's up to. But friends, that's exactly who we are: children of God. And that's only the beginning. Who knows how we'll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we'll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus' life as a model for our own.” (1John 3:1-3 The Message)

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