Sunday, November 1, 2015

"We who walk as yet by faith" All Saints' 2015:a sermon

“We who walk as yet by faith”
All Saints Day, Nov 1, 2015
St. Thomas’ Richmond, VA

Collect for All Saints’ Day: Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Today we remember. That is my prayer for us. That we remember.

Now you are probably thinking that I want us to remember the great cloud of witnesses, that surround the quick saints of God, according to Hebrews. But that is not what I want us to remember.

Last night I joined in the festivities,  All Hallow’s Eve, or All Saints’ Eve as it would probably be called now if we had not made it Halloween. The fun mix and mingle of the pagan, the profane, the terrible, the joy of childhood, and the candy. So much candy. And for the last few weeks we have been surrounded by the spirit of Halloween. Ghosts and goblins have been on our TVs, and the commercial costumes have filled our stores, along with the candy, so much candy. Last night I became Gandalf and had at least one hundred people say, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS! My children dressed as a knight and the grim reaper, and went from house to house collecting candy. So much candy.

And during the weeks leading up to Halloween, I have watched a couple of my favorite scary movies to help set the mood. There is a time and place to be scared, and this season as the days grow darker and the nights are so long it is natural to have our times turn to the dark.

Telling scary stories is fun, and some of my favorite memories are sitting around campfires spinning yarns and sharing tales. But recently, far from a campfire, I have heard some scary stories here at church, but they were not meant to be scary. So many of them have been shared in the most rational and concern-filled way. Sometimes the stories took the form of a pointed question, with the expected response obvious. Sometimes the scary stories were shared with me, looking for a quick and easy solution.

What were these scary stories? They were concerns and worries about St. Thomas’.

Why are the numbers so low? What are we going to do? How can we keep doing so much with so little? How can we meet budget next year? How can we scale back?

You see, no matter how we ask the question, or share the concern, or whisper our worry, these are all scary stories. They are not scary because of their content. They are scary because they are asked from a place of fear, no matter how good their intention. Fear. I said it. We are acting afraid. We are worried.

And soon as move out of our Stewardship season next week [BRING YOUR PLEDGE CARDS NEXT WEEK] and we begin the budgeting process, we may be tempted to act out of fear. And living in fear is a luxury that we cannot afford. FDR was right, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” In fact, let me give you the whole sentence from his first inaugural address because it is even better than the soundbite.  “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” He speaks to us today, too. St. Thomas’, all we have to fear is fear. Our future is bright. We need to act from our future for our future, plan for it, and live into our faith. No more. But definitely, no less.

Think of it this way, if we want to get somewhere we have our destination in mind. If we have a flat tire, we fix the tire, and continue on our way. We don’t stop, fix the tire, and then freeze with inaction. We keep on keeping on.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, I went with my scout troop for our annual week at Scout camp. It was a fun week of campfires, working on merit badges, and just spending a great week in the woods. I took a class to get my rowing merit badge. One of the particulars of the badge was to overturn a rowboat and right it. Unlike a canoe, overturning a rowboat is really hard. And righting it is significantly harder than a canoe, too.

I was with another scout, and after having to work so hard to flip our rowboat we decided to rest. And when I say rest, I mean goof off. And when I say goof off, I mean act stupid. Kids, do not try this at home. You see, an overturned rowboat makes an awfully good submarine. Flipped over there is a ton of space underneath the boat and a huge pocket of air is inside. We had fun going in and out, “while we were resting.” Now, like most early teens, we thought we were smart. We were wearing our PFDs, our Personal Flotation Devices, and they so drilled us I find it hard even today to avoid the name life-jacket.

So we were in our PFDs going in and out of the overturned rowboat. Inside was wonderful, the light from the bright sunshine filled the water and one could see well under the boat. Also, with its boxy aluminum hull it was as solid overturned as it was upright. It was not going anywhere. It was all fun and games, until it wasn’t.

One time going back under, in my PFD which was forcing me up, the oarlock came down at the moment I was ducking under. The oarlock is the funny horseshoe shaped thing an oar rests in while rowing. It caught me between my PFD and my shirt, but because we were upside down, it did not lock into place.It stayed loose, and went with me. As I was going under to get inside the boat, when it caught me, I also took a huge gulp of water before I realized I was caught. I tried to turn and get my mouth above water inside the but my mouth and nostrils just could not reach. So I tried backing out. I went back out, but outside the boat was even worse. I must have gone in and out two or three times. And by this point I was panicking.

Once again today, I will name it. I was drowning. I was drowning in the water, yes. But why was I drowning? I was drowning in my fears. How am I going to get out of this? What will happen to me? What about my family? My mind was racing, pinging in my terror from one bad scenario to another. And then I heard a voice. A calm slow voice. If you don’t THINK, you will die. I don’t know where that voice came from. May have been my common sense that I was not using at the time. It may have been that still small voice we have to slow down to hear. Where it came from I don’t know, but it was what I needed to hear.

What I do know was, I listened. And I remember saying in response, You’re right. So I stopped. I stopped struggling; I slowed my heart from its racing. Instead of struggling to get away, I dealt with the cause instead of reacting to the effect it had on me. I reached up, found the oarlock behind my head, found where it had caught under the PFD and was now twisted in my shirt, carefully worked it free and then went outside the boat, got a huge breath of air, and then spat up all that I swallowed in my time caught underwater. The other scout I had out there with me in the middle of that lake, was totally clueless that all this had happened. He was goofing around on the other side of the boat.

I get that same feeling sometimes when I hear these questions, that same tone of panic I had in my mind when I was drowning. The water and the oarlock were factors, but remember, what had me drowning was my fear having me struggle and go from one hopeless situation to another. If you don’t THINK, you will die. I find I need to remind myself of that at times.

The decisions I make in fear are not the best ones. The decisions and actions made from fear put us at our worst. I do not think it is an accident that angels always start with “Fear not!” whenever they show up to bring a message. We cannot be at our best when we are controlled by our fears.

One of the most poignant portrayals of the nature of Jesus happens in today’s Gospel reading. We are given the image of a Messiah who weeps.
John 11
32 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."
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see."
35 Jesus began to weep.
36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"

Jesus you see, did not deny what he was feeling. He was deeply moved. He was moved for Mary and her friends in their distress, as he was moved for Lazarus his own friend who had died. But even then, he looked with the eyes of faith. He looked beyond his sorrow, and the sorrow of those around him so trapped in their grief they cannot think straight. He looked to the tomb with the eyes of faith who saw “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrew 11:1) And in so doing called Lazarus forth from not only the tomb but from death itself.

Jesus and all those who have died in the Lord urge us to see with the eyes of faith, not at what is, but what could be. As Hebrews reminds us, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” (12:1-2a)

Halloween is over. Let us put away the Season of Fear. Today is All Saints’ Day. Think on the thousands that have helped get us to where they are today? Is there hard work ahead? Yes. Are there hard decisions ahead? Yes. But neither of those should be in our way of continuing to be the faithful, not fearful, servants of God in our time and in this space here at the corner of Hawthorne and Walton.

Yesterday I had the privilege and honor to help lay to rest two dear saints of God. And during the prayers one struck me. This one tends to do so. And it goes with what we are talking about here today. The best way to honor those that have come before us is not to celebrate the glories of the past in memoriam. But rather, the best way to honor that great cloud of witnesses that have gotten us to this time and to this place is to continue the work that they started in the same spirit and joy they had in their walk. The prayer from the Burial Rite:

Grant to us who are still in our pilgrimage, and who walk as yet by faith, that thy Holy Spirit may lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days.

I started today with saying I want you to remember. I still do. We have recognized the saints come before us, but they want you to remember as well. Remember this, my baptized brothers and sisters: you are the saints of God, joining the ranks of those who have come before us. Let us drop the fear that only trips us, and let us move boldly into what God has in store. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock