Monday, November 4, 2013

All Saints’ Sunday, November 3, 2013

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-123; Luke 6:20-31
Preached by Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox 

At my house, the kitchen and the living room are one long open space, so I will frequently have the television on while I’m cooking dinner.  The other night—I think I was watching one of the DIY home improvement channels—when the commercials came on.  Twice as loud as the regular program.  (Why is that?  I mean really…)  I was not paying the least attention to whatever labor-saving product or gadget was being advertised, until the voice proclaimed, in a still louder tone:  But wait—there’s more! 

But wait—there’s more!  Whatever it was, was not all there was. 

Just wait—there’s more.

Our Wednesday Wisdom Study Group is currently reading the Rev. John Price’s book Revealing Heaven: The Eyewitness Accounts That Changed How A Pastor Thinks About The Afterlife.  It is not a long or difficult book, but it is deeply challenging to many of the notions many of us learned in Sunday School, or more probably from the pop culture images of heaven and hell we’ve picked up from movies and television.  Fr. Price served (and continues to serve) in Texas as a parish priest and hospital chaplain over several decades, and has collected these eyewitness accounts of persons who have died and returned to life (“returnees” as he calls them) which tell a consistent story—a story of profound hope, great peace, and reunion and restoration in God with those whom we love.  The story of our lives, and the lives of those we love, does not end at the moment of death.  Just wait, there’s more! 

It is a story that we as Christians know, but sometimes we need to hear it again.  Often we forget.  We are struck with a kind of amnesia, forgetting what we know, because we’ve been pulled apart, torn apart, dis-membered, by the powers of darkness and destruction and distraction.  And so we need to be re-membered, rebuilt, put back together, into the wholeness God intends for us.   We need to hear once again the old, old story, of the love of God revealed to us in the goodness of creation, in God’s call to walk in the ways that lead to life, in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and in the promise that the powers of darkness and destruction and death shall not have the last word.  That indeed, There Is More—Just Wait. 

Today we commemorate the feast of All Saints, remembering the “great cloud of witnesses” that have gone before us, showing us in this world what it means to be one of the saints of God.  Which does not mean they were without their own faults and shortcomings and imperfections. They were, and are, no less human, no less imperfect than you or I are.  Some of them are well-known around the Christian household: St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Martha of Bethany.  Some are known most particularly to us here in Augusta:  Mary Bragg.  Barbara Johnson.  Johnny Moak.  Neil Phelps. 

And one was a doctor and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green.  They were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.     

Because of this great community of love and prayer and spiritual companionship in which we stand, today is one of the great days for Holy Baptism.  We baptize not for fire insurance against catastrophe or damnation; we baptize because it is the way in which we say “yes”, however tentatively and imperfectly, to God’s welcoming us into that enormous, eternal reality even now.  It’s already happening, it’s already underway—we can only say “yes” and then learn to live into that “yes.”   

St. Paul talks about this in his second letter to the Christians in Corinth, when he tells them: “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been ‘Yes and No.’  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you… was not ‘Yes and No’; but in him it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen’, to the glory of God. But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.”  (2 Corinthians 1: 18-22) 

God makes a first installment.  God puts down a down payment.  On us.  Anointing and sealing us—with baptismal words, water and oil, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The beginning of something great, something huge, something we can barely begin to imagine.  Just wait—there’s more! 

And there is always more—more to learn, more to discover, more to do; more room to grow, more love to share, more people to greet and discover Christ already present in them.  With water and oil, candlelight and promises that we will:

“continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship…

…persevere in resisting evil…

…repent and return to the Lord…

…proclaim the Good News of Christ…

…seek and serve Christ in all people…

…strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being…”

we commit ourselves to a great and huge and all-encompassing undertaking. 

Always there is more.  Always we undertake these things together, for we cannot possibly do them alone.  And always, always, always—with God’s help. 

Your vestry, working together on retreat in October, stated of St. Augustine’s Church, that our vision for ministry is that we are, and we intend to be:

A singing congregation, a resource for children and families at risk in the community, and a place of profound fellowship and hospitality centered around God’s holy table. 

That is a high and lofty goal.  We cannot, any one of us, do such a thing by ourselves.  But we are not by ourselves.  Because there is, there are, always more. 

And one was a soldier and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast.  And there’s not any reason, no, not the least, why I shouldn’t be one too.   

In commemorating the Feast of All Saints we bless and give thanks for the whole of the Christian story and way of life.  It is among the most ancient of Christian festivals, this feast of All Saints.  From early on, it marked both The Ending and The Beginning, the completion and consummation of all things in God, and the renewal of all things in the promise of eternal and abundant life.  It both brings a conclusion to the story, and renews us in the knowledge that the story does not end merely because our perception is limited.  Just wait—there’s more. 

Today we begin our annual Pledge Drive for the 2014.  All that we have, all that we are, is by God’s grace and gift.  And there is much that we have been given, many gifts with which we have been blessed.  What we do with those gifts, and skills, and assets (remember the Asset Mapping?) is our thanksgiving, our “first installment”, our “downpayment” on the wholeness that we ultimately intend—body, mind and spirit; right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot, and whole self—shall be God’s.  Nothing held back; no fingers crossed.  All In.  Because after all, it is all God’s in the first place, every bit of it.   

There is cause for celebration, in this place, among our beloved saints and friends of God.  After mass, please go to the Parish Hall for fellowship and refreshments, and see what has been done there.  Go out into St. David’s Hall and look at the bulletin boards.  Walk through the memorial garden and remember those who have gone before us.  Give thanks for them; make an act of eucharist (which means thanksgiving) this day; watch your mailbox this week, and consider how you will support and contribute to the ministry of God’s kingdom in this place in the year to come.  For indeed, there is much, much more to come.

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea; in church or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; For the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too. 

How about you?

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