November 6, 2015
All Saints Sunday
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A good many of us have come here with “honor” on our minds. But how often, when we hear the name “All Saints Sunday,” do we create mental images of the gloomy, morose, unsmiling people portrayed in historic Christian art, especially in religious icons? Or maybe there are mental images of Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches and the statues of saints that adorn so many of them. If those are our only images, then we short-change ourselves.
There is a canonized, sixteenth-century Italian priest, Philip of Neri, known as “The Humorous Saint” - and I can’t believe I just found out about him. It is said that he posted a small sign over his door that read, “The House of Christian Mirth.” Once, while on his way to a ceremony in his honor, he shaved off half his beard as a way of poking fun at himself. He said, “Christian joy is a gift from God, flowing from a good conscience. A heart filled with joy is more easily made perfect than one that is sad.” We may well be celebrating the ends of earthly life today, but it is what happens between those ends that perfects our hearts and makes the ends so worth honoring.
It is easy to grab onto and hold Philip of Neri’s words about joy when thinking about babies and beautiful, sunny days. But when it comes to thinking about dear ones who have passed on to eternal life, or any other kind of loss, fostering joy such an easy grab.
Today’s passage comes from the second to the last book of the Bible, the book of Jude. In this book, there is one chapter; just twenty-five verses, one of which says it was written by Jude, a servant of Jesus and a brother of James. There are actually two different Jude’s referenced in the New Testament - the one that is known more notoriously as Judas, and another one listed among the relatives of Jesus. Since it wasn’t the infamous traitor, it is generally thought to be a relative - if not a half brother of Jesus, then perhaps a cousin of some sort.
Regardless of the writer’s full identity, this general letter was written to warn people about false teachers and the more sneaky of that group - the wolves with sheep’s clothing - that were infiltrating the followers of Christ.
A Call to Persevere
17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
Thank you, Robin. For those who may be wondering, this passage is one listed as an option in the celebration of All Saints Sunday. It was not chosen as a political statement, for all kinds of reasons. But I will admit, however, that there is irony; this passage for this Sunday, our election this Tuesday.
One reasons this passage was chosen was because of its call that begins in verse 20. That verse - and on to the end - is an encouragement that we do well to embrace throughout our lives, from our earliest years, learning about prayer and faith as we sit next to our elders, to our later years, in our life-long pursuit of learning about prayer and faith.
Building up our faith is not a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime event, but comes as a result of time spent sitting in the pew, week after week, checking in with folks during coffee fellowship and praying for those same individuals.
Keeping ourselves in God’s love is important for times of uncertainty, because it’s easy to get sidetracked from God’s love, especially when we worry: waiting the long hours or days before getting the results from an important test, wondering if the stock market will ever be a little less volatile or if the Minnesota Vikings will ever win the Super Bowl again, because I know you all are concerned about that, too. (Until last week, these would have been verses of encouragement for Chicago Cub fans, but now they’re just like regular people again.) Despite worry and fretting, there is nothing that can keep us from being in God’s love. No matter what happens, nothing will take God off God’s throne and God will always have the world in hand. Way back in the book of Lamentations, it tells us that God’s compassions are new every morning and that God’s lovingkindness will never, ever end.
As we struggle with times of worry and waiting, a great way of taking one’s mind off the worry is to look for ways of being merciful or helpful to others. It may not, according to this passage, be an attractive alternative when mixed with fear and hating of corruption, but I think that part has more to do with passion than actual fear and hate.
All this helping and keeping and building ourselves up, dear friends, is the noble part of life, the part that we spend our earliest years learning and the majority of our years living out, so that when we pass on to God’s glorious presence, we fully understand the height and breadth and depth of God’s glory, majesty and power. For such privilege and honor, so should we pray.
Gracious, Loving God, we are reminded this day of the honor of being your people. We are grateful that you care about and love us, in ways we maybe don’t even fully understand on this side of eternity. Thank you that you have made us not perfect, but perfectly human, all of us, throughout the generations. Help us to pass on passions and joy to those who will follow us, that we will all be able to live in all the richness that awaits us - in this world and in the world to come. And all your people say, Amen.