The Gospel: John 11:32-44
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Of all the things that we might wish to hear someone say to us on All Saints Day is: "Well done good and faithful servant."
Particularly after a year, almost two years, like the ones we have just been through. I am sure there are many of us who would be grateful to have someone come up to us unsolicited and without any agenda except to want to express their gratitude and say: "I want you to know that I have seen what you have been doing and I want you to know I think you have done a great job."
I want to say to us all this morning that I believe that this community, this church, has done a wonderful job in the past two years. Adapting, changing, and growing to meet the need that we faced. You all have contributed to that. I am very proud of who and what we are as a church. THANK YOU. You have been faithful and you have persevered through very trying circumstances. I am very proud of you.
I have found in my life that gratitude and affirmation are like refreshing winds that sometimes blow into our lives. To know that someone has recognized and then taken the time to acknowledge, what we have accomplished, is such a blessing.
So, on this All Saints Day, 2021 could you join me and turn to someone sitting beside or close to you and say: "Well done good and faithful servant. I want you to know that I have seen what you have been doing and I want you to know I think you have done a great job."
Unfortunately many times we don't say those words on a regular basis to one another. Many times they don't come, they aren't spoken until a person is no longer with us. In some ways that is one of the strange, or perhaps the ironic, things about All Saints Day isn't it?
At our All Saints celebration every year we acknowledge the life and the impact of those who have stood out in their time. We recognize the sacrifice, or the contribution, that they made to the community and the lives of the people around them. But we do it after they are gone.
Unfortunately, we sometimes do that with each other in our everyday living together in our community here at Christ Church, don't we?
I am sure we can all think of someone, who is no longer with us, who we are very grateful for. If you ask me this morning I could tell you Pastor Gene and Denny Lehner immediately come to mind as people who had an impact on my life and ministry and who I sorely miss.
Of course, then I stop and think about how often I actually thanked or affirmed them for their impact on me? I know I did sometimes but I am also sure there were plenty of other times when I could have and I didn't. I don't want to get morbid or dark and brooding here but I do want us to consider how often we express our gratitude and thankfulness for our sisters and brothers. Just taking the opportunity to say thank you.
So, let's try the thank you again. This time turn someone sitting beside or close to you and say: "Well done good and faithful servant. I want you to know that I have seen what you have been doing and I want you to know I think you have done a great job." Did you remember to wait until they were looking you in the eye?
This, tendency to not thank or appreciate people, got me thinking this week about All Saints Day and its potential to bring refreshment and joy into our lives. We have an interesting relationship with the concept of saints, don't we? The Saints sometimes seem like musty, old figures from times past. They seem like people who many times lived difficult and challenging lives or ended their days in very painfully sacrificial ways.
It usually is not on the top of our list of vocational endeavors, is it? I don't think many graduating Seniors from High School or College are likely to check the box: "I want to end my career life in the sainthood category." I don't think most of us if we were making an appearance on Jeopardy, would respond: "Ah yes Alex, I will take Martyrdom for Jesus for a Thousand."
The Saints sometimes feel like they are a group of quirky, eccentric, random folks who "unfortunately" found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and somehow managed to draw attention to themselves with rather disastrous results.
Like this image of Saint Sebastian who was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Which unfortunately didn't kill him. Later he was clubbed to death.
Perhaps we need to rethink our understanding of the Saints and what it actually means to be one. Maybe that would help us be more grateful and thankful for those other members of our community who are seeking to live into the call that they feel to follow Jesus. That call, that has them seeking to serve Jesus, in the here and now right here in the community of Christ Church.
In his sermon linked to the SSJE "Brother Give Us A Word" Meditation from Thursday, which is entitled Genus, Phylum and Species Br. Keith Nelson talks about saints. Specifically, he is talking about Saints Simon and Jude. But he uses them as the entrance into a broader discussion on who and what saints are?
Br. Keith helps us understand the Saints this way:
"To a certain extent, the saints we remember by name on specific days in the calendar have been grouped into genres of sanctity. Following this tradition, we remember the Prophet, the Virgin, the King or Queen, the Abbott or Abbess, the Monk or Nun, the Hermit, the Bishop, the Priest, the Deacon, the Theologian, the Missionary, the social Reformer.
He then goes on to broaden the discussion and brings a 20th-century twist by saying: "Increasingly, and thankfully, we remember the Scientist, the Artist, and the Educator. This is something like the attempt of a zoologist to classify creatures into genus, phylum and species; there are so many that some organizational schema is necessary, however imperfect. God is still inventing types of creature and types of Christian.
Then he brings right up front and personal when he says: "Our baptismal vocation is to pay attention to how God is calling us as unique, unrepeatable individuals but also to notice what genre, genus, phylum or species of sanctity we might belong to. We are saints here and now, practicing for our sainthood in heaven.
Now he recognizes that we aren't all on the same page or in the same place with our understanding of this concept of sainthood or our willingness to jump in: "Though we may be moving slowly and seem to make little progress, we are being transformed “from one degree of glory to another.” In the Sermon Br. Keith notes this comes from 2 Corinthians 3:18. Br Keith then links our service and our relationship with others in our community: "That is hard work, and we need companions who understand our particular path. Simon and Jude seem to have had that companionship in one another." He illustrates that we need each other and we need to share our gratitude and thankfulness for the work and ministry we see around us.
But in the end Br. Keith, along with the writers of the Old and the New Testament, deeply hope that we will catch a glimpse of what it is to hear and be prepared to follow the call of Christ He says in his sermon: "In the mystery of Christ’s Body, Christ’s organism, Christ’s web of interdependence, every genre or species of saint contains some glimmer or facet of the other. Woven into our particular vocations as monk or deacon or veterinarian or husband or advocate for racial reconciliation is a glimmer of the Apostle, a streak of the Martyr. How and to whom are you sent with the Gospel as you practice for your own sainthood? For what facet of God’s truth would you be willing to resist the world, and to give your life?"
On this All Saints Day of 2021, here in Huron Ohio, as we consider how good it is to hear: "well done good and faithful servant" what are we willing to do? How can we remind ourselves to encourage others as we recognize their loving service by saying thank you? As we remember to express our gratitude and thankfulness to each other this All Saints Day.
As we remember and celebrate the call that is on each of our lives may we consider and remember the words of the prayer from the end of the Baptismal service:
"All praise and thanks to you, most merciful Father, for adopting us as your own children, for incorporating us into your holy Church, and for making us worthy to share in the inheritance of the saints in light; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."