Monday, November 05, 2018

All Saints Sunday Sermon

              St. Augustine—the North African Bishop and early church father most instrumental in thinking through the Christian faith—recollects, in his biography the Confessions, his experience of loosing his best friend as a young man. In his mourning:
-He avoided the places where they used to spend time, because it felt like the places themselves were expecting his friend to return, but he wouldn’t return!
-Augustine toyed with the morbid thought of dying, perhaps even killing himself, so that he might join his friend.
-At other times, reflecting upon his friend’s absence—how completely he’d been erased from the world by death, Augustine would become so afraid of Death’s grand and horrible power over mortals that he couldn’t keep from shuttering.
              In another place, Augustine wrote, “Make me good, but not yet.” That is, let me enjoy a reckless and wanton life until I’m a hairs breath from death, and then I’ll be good, so I get that check-mark next to my name, so I am on the guest list at the end.

              And these two extremes, name clearly edges we so easily lean toward.
They say Orthodoxy—right belief—is not about extremes, but about navigating extremes—the proper faith in Jesus Christ is not way over here, nor way over there, but instead the broad center.
              And that is true of the faith regarding death as well.
On one side—despair and anguish
On the other side—indifference and escape.
May it not be so for us—instead let us always be Embraced by our Risen Lord, called by name to be his disciples.
Let us pray

              There are a lot of different things going on this All Saints Sunday. Reading aloud the names of those who’ve died—remembering aloud, naming, making it real through ritual. Former members of Cross of Life, by joining St. Stephen you are making the closing of your former congregation all the more real, Barbara, we’re going to miss you. And that’s not even mentioning all those things going on outside our church doors.
              There is a lot of change, a lot of loss, a lot of chaos floating around here—in scripture the ocean or the seas are often stand ins for that churning and overwhelming uncertainty that pulls us down to the depths.
              Death is often described as the twin of those chaotic waters, a sort of sea creature consuming the world—at the end of the day everything will be consumed by Death, it is an unstoppable reality riding uncontrollable chaos.

              In the face of all that, an impulse toward despair and anguish is natural.
Like Mary we may mourn Jesus’ seeming absence—Jesus if you were here, these things wouldn’t be happening,
the very scent of death would be banished from our presence.
              We just throw up our hands and say, it’s too much, I am defeated.

              Or, we slide to the other side of things—indifference and escape.
              I can no longer count the number of mailers I’ve received inviting me to attend opioid addiction conferences—in the rural west and the inner city we’ve been numbing ourselves to the chaotic waters and that monster Death for a while—but now even the seeming placid suburbs are suffering—the first time I buried someone younger than me it was just a tragedy, but at this point it has become a pattern. It’s a response, I guess, indifference.
              And it isn’t just young people—care givers often fall in this same lane—indifference and escape—they call it compassion fatigue, you care for someone or a bunch of people for so long you just get kinda burnt out inside.
              Or think of what we sometime do within the church—we seek baptism as fire insurance, see Christianity as nothing more than a get into heaven free card. We see the life of faith as a means of escaping death and chaos. The service becomes a waiting room and Vince, what you’re playing nothing more than elevator music.

              In face of Death and the Chaotic Waters, Despair and Indifference, Anguish and Escape can be our wrong steps—the extremes we wreck into, because it feels like we’re being chased.
              But let me tell you about the broad middle—the center of what God is doing on our behalf. In the face of Anguish and Escape—God offers a loving Embrace. We listen for Despair and Indifference, but God calls us to be his Disciples.
              The chaotic water will not drown us, but will be still—will be replaced by a living water, a life giving water, streams shining and flowing from the throne of God to slake our thirst.
              Death, that consumer of worlds, will be swallowed up.
              God is making all things new, for God was, is, and will be among us.
              Think about Lazarus, he’s called out of the tomb—he escapes death—praise God!
But not only that, he is unbound and freed and follows Christ (is his Disciple) and shares with him a meal—the last supper, where Christ says “Love one another.” Where he is embraced by Christ, leans against Christ’s chest and is fed. And then, Christ goes and dies and rises—that we all might share in his eternal life.
              We’re all connected—connected together in the life of Jesus Christ.
              And we shape that for one another—we all have saints who came before us, sometimes it is those big ones, right
Christ shapes Matthew, who shapes Paul, who shapes Augustine who shapes Luther…
but just as often it is smaller,
grandma sang the faith into me (had a voice about like I do, but she sang it anyway),
the Smith family down the street brought me to Sunday School,
when I wondered if God was calling me to the ministry Pastor Sarah said “duh!”
              Right… if eternal life in Christ really means eternal it doesn’t just mean in heaven—though that’s quite a promise too—but its here and now as well—our life together, following after Jesus together, being continually embraced by Jesus through our siblings of the faith…
For that matter, I hope that in some small way God will use my life to do the same for other people…
I pray that we might be surprised to learn one day, maybe on the other side of the Jordon, that we were saints as well, leaving footprints in place so that someone found solid ground as a disciple, that we held others in the faith as we ourselves were held.
              I started this sermon with an Augustine quote—illustrating the two extremes we face when faced with death—Anguish and Escape, but perhaps this last one will help us to arrive in the middle where we together may follow Christ and be embraced by him as well.
“Christ departed from our sight, that we might return to our hearts and find him. For he left us, and behold, he is here.”