Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sermon for All Saints Sunday Yr C

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened you may know is the hope to which he has called you, what the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.

While it's not always easy to love St Paul, I come closest to it when his own passionate pastoral love for those he has brought to faith shines clear in his writings. Conscious of his own direct experience of Christ on the road to Damascus, of the way his life was turned upside down, never to recover (what price Saul, the respectable lawyer, Pharisee and citizen?), he is ardent in his hope that everyone in the young churches he has founded will find their lives equally transformed, the eyes of their hearts enlightened.
You'll see it again and again in his letters – the fervour of the true missionary, which still sets hearts on fire almost 2 millennia afterwards.

Paul knows he has struck gold, - and he's burning to share it with everyone.
So he casts about for ways to convey the overwhelming gift that is on offer – and, ever the lawyer, opts for the familiar currency of wills, and inheritance.
Through inheritance the treasure accumulated by one is passed on, free and gratis, to another.
Through inheritance family titles and dignities move down the generations...Through inheritance those with little to hope for may acquire wealth beyond their wildest dreams...
without doing anything to earn it.
This, says Paul, - this is what God offers...,in the words of the old acronym for grace - God's Riches At Christ's Expense.
This is our inheritance as Christians – and today as we commemorate All Saints, we thank God for those men and women who have grasped their inheritance and have passed it on through the centuries...those whose lives help us to recognize what grace really means.

You see, when we consider the lives of the saints, what strikes me first is how very ordinary most of them were, at least at first....from that clutch of Galilean fishermen to a consumptive French nun,from a wounded soldier who spent most of his time dreaming of damsels in distress to a forthright Albanian with a genius for spotting Christ in the slums of Calcutta. None of them looked in the least remarkable – they didn't start out as super-holy beings, nor, I suspect, did any of them spend their days with heads surrounded by a heavenly glow. They didn't even aspire to outstanding holyness – but, like Paul himself, they recognized the value of the inheritance on offer and seized it with both hands.
And, as they accepted the gift of grace that God offers to all of us, they found themselves transformed.
All Saints Day....A wonderful festival – but one that could make us feel at least a little nervous...
I'm sure you can see where we're going, can't you? Ordinary people grasping the gift of God's grace??
Then let Paul furnish another clue.

Again and again he addresses his letters to “the saints” in a particular community
“to all God's beloved in Rome, called to be saints”
“to those who are made holy in Christ, called to be saints”
“to all the saints in Philippi”
and as he writes, it's very clear that he's not focussing on some inner circle of specially holy people.
He's writing to the whole church – and often, to a very troubled church at that – but still he addresses “the saints”.
In other words, every one of us, brought through baptism into the family of the church, bathed in God's grace, is called to be a saint.
There's no escaping it
“to all God's beloved in Selsley and Cainscross, called to be saints”

Does that fill you with joy?
Or with panic?
Quite possibly both...
If saints are ordinary people who respond to God's love with all that is in them – then surely, it's only right to aspire to sainthood.
As Isaac Watts wrote in his wonderful Passiontide hymn
“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”

When you come down to it, anything less is probably a cop-out.

But I'm personally very aware that I give God at best a token allocation of my time and my energy. I'm congenitally fond of my own way and, to be honest, I'd prefer to not to have my life shaped by the template for holiness that Jesus presents in the beatitudes that we heard morning.
I don't want to be hated and excluded. I like being loved and secure.
I may not consider myself rich (though you may remember that when I checked my stipend in the global rich list a while ago I discovered I was in the top 5% income bracket for the world) – but I certainly don't like worrying about money.
I'd rather laugh than weep, rather eat than go hungry – and goodness, I like to be approved of.
Jesus has strong words for people like me, doesn't he.
“Woe to you” he says...
Not much hope of sainthood then.

So, is everything lost? Perhaps not.
One of the many Catherines whose stories have acted as a spur to my own faith, Catherine of Sienna wrote long ago
“We are not called to perfection but to infinite desire” while the unknown author of that wonderful medieval work “The Cloud of Unknowing” suggested
“Not what thou art, nor what thou has been, but what thou wouldst be, beholdest God in his mercy”
In other words – to recognize our shortcomings and sins isn't the end of the story. That inheritance is still there to be claimed, that overwhelming love is still on offer

Living a life of contagious holiness has never been easy...but it is at least straightforward.
Jesus doesn't mince his words, but nor does he demand that our feelings always have to match our actions...Always, in the Bible, love is a doing word – solid, practical, nothing to do with passing emotions
We probably won't feel warm and fuzzy towards those who make our lives difficult but we can try and act in their best interests.
Praying for those whom we struggle with is a huge challenge – but one that can often transform a relationship.
Letting go of material wealth is easier when we realise that if we stand with empty hands, God will fill them with treasure we can barely imagine.

That's the secret of sainthood.
To empty ourselves so that God may fill us.
For some, that process is instantaneous. They fall in love with God, and from that moment nothing else really matters.
For others, - and I'd guess the majority, - emptying ourselves, getting our own desires, our sense of self importance out the way, - is the work of a lifetime.

But we're called to be saints – and our presence here today is a sign that we want to try, at least, to take our calling seriously.

I began with Paul speaking from the heart to his children in Christ...the Ephesians.
Listen to his words again, let him speak across the centuries
“to all God's beloved in Selsley and Cainscross, called to be saints”
“I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened you may know the hope to which he has called you, what the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

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