Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Joy with the Saints - A Sermon

As you know, Anna Mae Swenson is turning 100.  There are parties and celebrations all week long, it seems.  Come to think of it, we’re having one here in a little bit.  Another party was yesterday when many of her family and friends gathered.  Her niece talked about planning music and everything, and (although I might be getting the details a bit wrong), when thought they had it right, Anna Mae said, “Oh no, those are my funeral plans, these are my party plans.”  Apparently, the music was joyful enough that it was hard to tell difference.

Funeral or Bithday -- Dead or Alive.  Actually, in a good life, the line does become blurred because it’s not either.  Or it’s both.  Life and death all belong to God and are al connected.  We’re all saints, not just those who have died.  

Now, it is All Saints Sunday, and we are asked to remember the dead (In many languages it’s called “The Day of the Dead”). That’s why the lessons for All Saints’ are all used at funerals -- they remind us that we are not complete in this world -- not yet.  That we  have much to endure in life on earth but that in the end we will enter into eternal life and join those who have gone before.   It’s appropriate to call them saints.  But the lessons are also about living in the world right now.  And being a saint means living in the world where you are.

So a saint is more than just some dead person who did great things.  A saint is someone who is truly alive.  Someone who lives life filled with JOY.   As the famous Presbyterian minister and novelist Frederick Buechner once wrote “To be a saint is to live not with the hands clenched to grasp, to strike, to hold tight to a life that is always slipping away the more tightly we hold it; but it is to live with the hands stretched out both to give and to receive with gladness. …  Maybe more than anything else, to be a saint is to know joy. Not happiness that comes and goes with the moments that occasion it, but joy that is always there like an underground spring no matter how dark and terrible the night.”

Joy.  That’s how a life is lived despite the moments of good and bad that come and go.  Looking at the Beatitudes, we see the same thing.  When Jesus says “Blessed are those who --” the word blessed can be justifiably understood to be “Joyful.”   But NOT happy.  

The joy of a saint comes from knowing God’s constant and endless love.  It comes from the assurance that no matter what, God will be with us.  It comes from the awareness that while we work to spread God’s love on earth, we are participating in God’s kingdom right now.  And from the knowledge that in due time, we will enter into a life lived in the presence of God in a way we can only dream of right now.

There are a lot of saints running around the world right now.  Many of them are sitting in this church right now.  You are the saints.

I see it when you reach out to help celebrate a birthday -- or help a child read or a hungry person eat.  I see it when you give your all to keep buildings running so others can have a place to worship -- and a refuge to come to when all they need is a quiet garden or an open church to sit in.  I see it in those who teach and those who wash dishes.  I see it in you when you ponder your pledge cards and truly ask yourself what God is calling you to.  (I wouldn’t say pledging makes anyone exactly happy, but it certainly is part of a joyful life).

So today, let’s celebrate (Anna Mae,) God’s love, joy in our hearts, the fact that we are living among a groups of saints right now.  We love God, we know Christ’s love in our hearts.  It’s enough to make you give an alleluia.  So, Alleluia!  Amen.