Year A All Saints Day, 1 November 2020
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA (video & in-person)
“Let Go, Dear Saints”
Collect: 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.
1 John 3:1-3
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
You may have heard this old joke, but I man pulls over to get directions after getting hopelessly lost in the middle of nowhere. Late, desperate, the man asks the gentleman sitting in his rocker on the porch if he had ever heard of his destination.
“Yessir, I have! Mighty nice place, that is.” responded the man on the porch. “Wonderful!” said the lost man, “Can you tell me how to get there?”
The man on the porch looked up and out of the corner of his eye, obviously thinking hard on it. And then he shook his head, “Well the way I reckon it, you can’t get there from here.”
I feel that way a lot these days. I know where I want to be. I feel at times lost and hopeless, and I wonder how we are ever going to get to that better place. And what I fear is that we cannot get there from here.
In life, that is so much of what it is.
Where do you want to be?
Where are you now?
What will it take to get from where you are to where you want to be?
Today’s Gospel reading is not a to-do list, as I have too often heard, and I have preached on that before. Today’s Gospel is a set of conditions, some great, others not, but notice wherever people start from, they can still get to Blessed. Jesus says it. I believe it. Unlike the man on the porch, no matter where you find yourself, you can get to the Kingdom of God from there. Poor in spirit, mourning, or meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, or pure in heart, peacemaker, persecuted, or reviled, no matter our starting point, in the Kingdom we can, we will, be blessed.
But that is in no way saying that the way will be easy.
We get hung up by what the Scriptures call “the sin that clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1). That image of the sin clinging to us reminds me of a story.
A little boy was over at his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving, back in the old days when we could get together. And he saw, perched up on the shelf, Grandma’s candy jar. Everything for Thanksgiving Dinner was in the oven, so the table was being set, or football was being watched. The little boy found himself all alone, with the step-stool and the candy jar. He carefully stepped up. Took off the lid, and stuck his hand in to get the precious candy.
At that moment, in walked Mom and Grandma both, and out came, “WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING UP THERE!?!?” The little boy jumped straight down, but stuck on his hand was the candy jar. His mom came over and tried to pull it off his hand. It would not come. Grandma and Mom both pulled. It would not come. And they used oil, butter, and everything they could think of, forgetting dinner in the oven this became such an issue. Dad got involved, and WD-40 or a doctor, or both, came up. Then the little boy finally said, “Mom?” He had remained quiet amongst all these very worked up adults. “Mom?”
“My hand is stuck.”
“We know, dear. That is why we have been working so hard to get it off.”
“But Mom, maybe I should open up my hand?” And he did, letting go of the candy that had cost him quite the worry and the stern glares. And out of the jar his hand slid.
That sin that clings so closely, is bad, but for me it is not as much a worry as the sin that clings so closely that we will not let go of. We are stuck, like the boy, but we want the prize when letting it go will set us free. We want that thing that will keep us in its snare, so we will not let go. And letting go is the only path to freedom.
Picture a toddler not wanting to be left in the nursery, wrapping herself around your leg. It helps if you do not hold onto her while she holds onto you.
Today is All Saints’ Day. And why do I bring up sin? I mentioned this verse in my article last Tuesday, the verse that always comes to mind on All Saints’...
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1
Friends, as we remember those who have come before us, who we believe are in the loving hand of a loving God, for their sake we live the faith NOW. “The race that is set before us…” and it sure is hard to run if we are dragging a lot of baggage around with us. It might cling to us, but we need not cling back.
Like the Disney song from Frozen, “Let it go, let it go…” These days when we have frustration fatigue, or fatigue frustration, it could go either way. Some days it is just frustration frustration or fatigue fatigue. Whatever, in the midst of these hard days, what would enable you to live your best life, your most godly life, by simply letting it go?
The Saints surround us. The Saints applaud us. The Saints uphold us. Like Jesus, they lived, they know how it is. So many distractions. So many disruptions. We know what we should do. Will we?
I have had the great joy of being with our dear sister, Sarah Sanders a few times in the last few weeks. She is so brave. She is coming to the end. Every time I visit she shares her love of you, this Church. After my last visit I asked if there was anything she might want to share. She on this All Saints’ Day gives us a message that is eternal and timeless.
To all my friends at St. James’ and all those in Ashland, it’s been an honor to be a part of this community for so many years! God has helped me and I know he will honor all of you for many years. I love all of you! God bless you!
Any of the biblical saints could have said something similar. St. Peter. St. Paul. St. James the Less. St. Sarah. If we are in Christ, we are amongst the saints of God.
The joy of this day is that we are a part of something huge. Something that precedes us. Something that enables, engages, and transforms us. Something that will survive us. Something that is eternal.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
What we do here today echoes through eternity, for Love Never Ends. Amen