Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Mike Turgeon “For all the Saints” 11-7-2010
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.
For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. I Thessalonians 4:13-15
I All Saint’s Day
The Rev. Bob Olmstead relates this story. A seminary professor who had made major contributions to the academic world and to the church was asked what factors had influenced him to enact a life of service in the church.
“Miss Willa Brown” he said. Who was Miss Willa Brown? A wise teacher, a distinguished preacher? An author, a poet. “No” he explained. She was the little old lady who always sat alone near us in the pew on Sunday morning. During the service when I had settled in with my parents for that long, boring sermon, Miss Brown would secretly smile at me, quietly reach into her purse, and pull out a piece of the best tasting chocolate in the world. She always had it there just for me. Each Sunday, that was the most tangible, visible, sacramental expression of un-returnable love I had ever experienced. I’m here today in the church because of Miss Willa Brown.”
I want to say right now, there is a Miss Willa Brown in each of our lives. Who was Willa Brown for you?
Isn’t it funny how the smallest acts take on the most holy glow if we let them? Did you know that every act in your life counts, too? Yes there is a Miss Willa Brown somewhere in the mists of your life; but think on this--you have been Miss Willa Brown to someone along the way in their lives.
I know, I can hear your objections. Pastor Mike, certainly not me. I’ve not done any thing of major significance in my life. I’m not a preacher, politician or celebrity.
My point exactly!
You are not a preacher, politician or a celebrity. For that you can be very grateful. But you have been a parent, you have been a grandparent, you have been a friend. In spite of all the ways that TV portrays what life is, life is what happens whether you’re paying attention or not.
What might seem to you and I as a most insignificant act, gesture or word, may mean a lifetime of commitment to those we encounter, or a turnoff to Jesus forever. Our thoughts, words and deeds do count.
All Saint’s Day arrived a bit later than normal in the church calendar this year, six days after Nov. 1st, the traditional date; but in the church, the influence of our Saints is never far away.
In our text this morning, the Apostle Paul states the beginning formula for who is and who isn’t a saint. Paul was an encourager of the finest order, perhaps the greatest encourager there ever was. He is writing this letter about 20 years after Jesus died, so of course people were curious about when Jesus was coming back, would he come back before they themselves died?
Paul is saying here that, yes, Jesus is coming back and with him will be “those who have died.” Paul encouraged, but he didn’t predict the future so well.
But for as much as Paul preached about life after life, he was just as concerned about life during life. Paul preached sanctification, living the saintly life here on earth. That Jesus came the first time was enough for Paul in the final analysis. He knew that the business of finding holiness in every one of our actions was a full-time occupation.
As far as Paul was concerned, being a ‘saint’ was not an easy thing, but a simple one--be baptized. In fact, that is what it means throughout the New Testament.
Now, was the mere act of being submerged underwater enough to turn an ‘un-saintly‘ life into a saintly one? For some it was. For others, not so much. It is clear that Baptism is but an outward sign of an important inward step, but it is only a beginning step.
Are all baptized people saints then? Well, it is a good start. Maybe that sounds like a pretty low bar to jump over. But in one of its earliest definitions, to be baptized meant to die, be buried and be out of the way.
Much of our understanding of the saints is driven by Catholic understanding. To gain official sainthood in the Catholic Church is even today a lengthy process with many benchmarks to clear along the way.
Are all baptized people saints? If by saint we mean capable of influencing others for good, then count me in. Call it the theology of Paul, or of Miss Willa Brown. Unofficial sainthood is something both you and I are capable of.
Bob Olmstead also spoke one time about a certain man in his church who served by teaching Sunday School for years. He taught the boys fourth grade class and they met in the choir loft and there never were more than 2 to 4 boys in the class. (This was back when the boys and the girls met separately). This man traveled as part of his everyday job but he always cut his travel one day short so he could be home on Sunday in order to teach the class. This man’s actions defined the word ‘faithful’ without a doubt.
Ironically, as this man’s job picture changed, he found himself in a job interview in which he was turned down. Appealing to the interviewer for insight afterward, he was told that his resume was ‘frivolous.’ Upon further questioning, the interviewer told him that listing Sunday School teaching as an asset was frivolous.
In our throw away, disposable culture, in a world that gladly reduces human beings to numbers, the church stands as one of the few places that still believes that inspiration is not something that happens to you; but rather, inspiration is something that you enact upon the world for no other reason than you are here and you are one of God’s loving creation.
II Living ideas of the dead.
Isn’t it true that probably every one of us is here not because of some inspiration from some national celebrity, but because of the kindness, faithfulness or loving action of a Miss Willa Brown or a Sunday School teacher who cared, maybe a parent who followed their faith?
As the church, we know we are bound up in tradition and often mundane ritual; we know we sometimes subscribe to bad theology; we know we devolve into petty squabbles if we’re not paying attention. In other words, we are human.
But all that aside, we stand for something absolutely vital to this world; we stand for a love that changes hearts, starting with our own. We ascribe to a love that heals deep sadness. We profess a love that will never fail you.
We best honor the church’s dead and departed by bringing forward their living ideas. The two saints we’ll be memorializing at the Yearly Church Conference on Sunday, November 21st will be Wanda Mills and Denny Deegan.
Any one who knew Denny, knew that he spread God’s love through music; and if you spent any time around Wanda you would be nudged by her heart for justice.
Music and justice, two living ideas that the church trades in every week.
And were we to take an honest inventory, all the wisdom we ever need can be gained by studying the lives of the saints, saints just like these.
However, the living idea and reality of the love of Jesus Christ is what sustains us, what sustained the Thessalonians. The other scripture reading for today comes from Matthew’s Gospel, written probably fifteen years later than Paul’s letter. The prospect of Jesus coming back while those who actually knew him were still alive to lead some military overthrow of the Romans, that hope is all but dead by the time this next text was written. A new hope is now in order. Listen for it.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this: Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom; five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”
Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.
Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:1-13
The question remains before us: In the waiting, who will see you as Miss Willa Brown?