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Sermon for Sunday November 2, 2008 -- All Saints Day

Core Values: Honoring Our Workers
Matthew 9:35-38; 2 Timothy 2:14-19

Another Halloween has come and gone, and how well did we do in making it All Saints’ Eve? What did we notice as the little ones with smiley faces gave cheery “Trick or Treat” greetings as their hands greedily dove into bowls of candy? Beyond the joy of giving out candy, did any of you keep track of the kinds of costumes the children wore?

It depends on the fads of the year, of course, but you can always count on scary, dark characters: murderers from horror movies, Grim Reapers, vampires, skeletons, ghosts, and monsters. There are bound to be warriors of one sort or another: Power Rangers, ninjas, and superheroes, as well as football players, soldiers, and pirates. And don’t forget the animals: This year I saw dog, a rabbit, a lion, a giraffe, and a few black cats. There are always happy characters, too: fairies, princesses, cheerleaders, clowns, ladybugs, pumpkins, ballerinas, and brides. Sometimes there are costumes of real people – I didn’t see any of them on the streets, but I’m sure plenty of McCain and Obama masks were sold this year.

How many children come dressed as something we would identify as religious? Angels, maybe, but that’s about it. After all, wouldn’t it be naive to expect our children to dress as saints – those famous Christians of times gone by. And besides, where would you buy a saint costume? Would we have to resort to designing flowing robes and halos or something that looks like the way we think people dressed in Jesus’ day? Here are some ideas from saints who have inspired me:

How about dressing as a monk in black robes and a wide-brimmed black hat, with a Hawaiian lei and bandaged hands? This would be Damien the Leper, the only priest willing to minister to the 800 lost souls and crushed bodies in leper colony on the island of Molokai. His love for the Gospel was so great, his desire for the worth and dignity of the people was so passionate, he stayed there for years, eventually acquiring Hanson’s Disease and showing his oneness with his afflicted flock.

How about wearing a plain white shirt with a stethoscope and a big white handlebar mustache? This would be Albert Schweitzer, a saint who gave his life as a missionary and doctor in Africa, even though he could have remained in Europe, living in luxury and fame.

Why not dress in a black suit and simple tie, with a dark mustache, carrying a Bible? This would be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a saint who gave his life trying to end racial discrimination in America.

How about going out wearing rags with stuffed animals and toy birds attached to them? This would be St. Francis of Assisi, who loved all God’s creatures as brothers and sisters.

How about dressing up as a Southern Baptist Preacher who writes his own translation of the New Testament. In the 1940s, biblical Greek scholar Clarence Jordan started a Christian Community on a farm in rural Georgia. This Christian community welcome people of all races who sought to live a Christian life in the non-integrated South. The interracial nature of the community made it a target for persecution in the 50’s and 60’s. Out of this community grew the Habitat for Humanity ministry which helps needy families work their way out of poverty

How about dressing as a woman with dark circles under her eyes and rough hands from being up nights caring for a sick child and working days at her job to put food the table -- a single, working mother giving herself away to make a better life for her family.

How about a man who was just been fired from his job. He doesn’t know how he will pay bills or feed his family. He has lost everything. But he still finds joy in going to his kids games, connecting to the community, and finding ways to live out his faith in the most desperate of times.

Maybe a trick-or-treater could dress up like an elderly person who has touched our lives – someone who may not even be related to you but she has prayed for you and with you for years, given you wisdom, told you her courageous stories, and inspired you with her deep and simple love for God.

Maybe a trick-or-treater could just go dressed as a regular child, such as the boy I read about who went to a scouting contest for homemade pine racing cars. It was one of those events where the contestants are supposed to do their own work but most of the fathers help too much. At one of these toy car derbies, a youngster with no dad showed up with a racer he had obviously made with his own unskilled hands. The contest pitted boys in pairs, one against another with the winner advancing to the next round in a series of eliminations. Somehow this one kid’s funny-looking car won again and again, until, defying all odds, he was in the finals against another scout with a slick-looking, well-made racer. Before the championship race, the boy asked the director to wait a moment so he could pray. The crowd, now enthralled by the unlikely story unfolding before them, stood in silence, loving the boy and secretly praying with him that he might win; he seemed so deserving.
After the boy won the race and was given a trophy, the director said, “Well, I guess it is a good thing you prayed, so you could win.”

“Oh, no!” the boy protested, horrified to have been misunderstood. “I didn’t pray to win. That would have been wrong. The other scout had as much right to win as I did. I couldn’t pray that God would make him lose. I just prayed that God would help me keep from crying if I lost.”

There is, of course, something more important than how children or adults dress up for Halloween. When we imitate the saints, we can become saints too. We can become faithful followers of Christ, following the saints who show us the way. Isn’t that why we remember the saints, some of whom are publicly known and recognized in the light of history, and others, like the Boy Scout, whom we come across in the obscurity of ordinary struggles? All Saints’ Day celebrates what we can be at our best. The stories of their lives remind us of who we are, what we believe, and what we can become. They remind us how closely a human being can follow the example of Jesus. They draw us forward, give us courage, strengthen us to do God’s will, and lead the way. Their good examples remind us that God reaches out to us with grace and love and care.

They have gone on before us to the nearer presence of God, but they are also connected to us. Those who know rest from their labors help keep us from growing weary on our often difficult Christian pilgrimages.

Saints remind us that the fields are ready for harvest, and the workers are few. But what a difference those few workers make!

They inspire us not to lose sight of the ultimate goal: Jesus’ command to love God with all our hearts and minds and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. They remind us of the qualities that make a godly worker – workers who present themselves to God as those who correctly handle the word of truth. They are people whose words we can rely on.

All Saints’ Day is a time when looking at the good examples of those who have come before us can enable us to think beyond our limitations and to believe that we have the potential to respond to God’s gracious love with active love for others -- with commitment and caring and giving. The saints remind us of the fullness of life that God intends for us all.

I understand why the Protestant reformation put the saints up on a shelf, but I feel it is time to dust those saints off. There’s an old hymn that says, “A world without saints forgets how to pray.” You know we live in difficult times just as those saints did. And often times we feel threatened or discouraged by the troubles we face. So, we pray to Jesus to come and deliver us and encourage us and give us faith. I can almost hear Jesus responding, “Where are the approved workers I gave you? Where are the witnesses and heroes I gave to inspire and encourage you? Where are the stories of lives lived in faith that I gave to strengthen your faith?” Who are the saints in your life? What have they taught you? How do their examples give you wisdom for today? How do they help you dream of a different world? And what are we going to do about it?

Sources:
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/1506/allsaint.htm
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work_101684_ENG_HTM.htm

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