All the Saints

“All the Saints”

Rev 7 multitude white-robes

Revelation 9:7-28 (9:7) – November 5, 2017

Today, we commemorate All Saints Sunday. The first Sunday of November, that day we remember all the saints who are now in heaven, worshiping God in that great cloud of witnesses. We also remember familiar people, relatives and friends known to us, dear to us, who died since last All Saints Day last year. What is it about these formal occasions of remembrance? Often, we remember those who have sacrificed much, displayed tremendous bravery, or were persecuted—even died—at tremendous risk to themselves.

What is it that causes you and me to be listed in among a great multitude of saints like these? Or, aren’t we even to be worthy to be listed on the same page as these rarefied superstar saints? These women and men who followed after God, no matter what?

One of our Scripture readings today comes from the book of Revelation, starting at verse 9: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

We break into the narrative as the elderly John has another vision, this time a scene of heaven. And, instead of seeing a predominance of Jews and only a sprinkling of other tribes and people groups, John sees a great multitude of all colors, all ethnicities, all languages and dialects, from every place on the globe.

I am blown away by that vision, the more I think about it. I am in awe, because the great multitude is of every possible description, every possible people group under the sun. Not just me and my family, not just me and the people from the neighborhood where I grew up. Not just people from one region, or one country, or one ethnicity. But, people from everywhere.       These people of the vision are called “saints,” and many people today have only one specific idea of what a “saint” is. St. Francis of Assisi, or St. John of the Cross, or St. Martha—the patron saint of our neighbor Catholic church, or the newly beatified saint, Mother Teresa.

Robert Louis Stevenson, writer of Kidnapped and Treasure Island, has a different definition of “saints.” “The saints are the sinners who keep on going.” And, both apostles Paul and Peter call their friends “saints” in the greetings, to all of the people who receive their letters.

But, we know very well that life often does not go smoothly. Not for us, not for our friends and families, and certainly not for the multitudes who lived in centuries past. Interesting, that “because we sinners are made holy by God’s grace, and not by our own actions, we are able to keep on going as Stevenson says.  Our keeping on in life often involves suffering.” [1] And, if we know anything about history, we know that believers in Christ often had to deal with grief, pain, suffering, and even persecution.

When John received this grand series of visions that he wrote down in the book of Revelation, he was often puzzled. He had to ask the people or elders or angels around him what it was he was seeing. As is the case here: “Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

Leading question, you may say! John persuades the elder to answer the question himself. ““they are before the throne of God and serve God day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.”

It sounds like to me that these people in heaven, who are identified as “saints” in other places in the book, no longer have to go through that valley of the shadow here on the earth, where God walks right by their side as they are in difficulty. They no longer need to face challenges of health reversals or job loss or crushing poverty or horrible accidents, or various calamities of one sort or another. They are at God’s side in heaven, and never have to experience those trials, losses, hunger and anguish any more.

But we are still left on this side of the veil. On this side, on a troubled world where suffering and loss and fear and anxiety rear their heads all too often. Especially grief, where we mourn the loss of loved ones, friends and relatives who left us too soon.

Rev. Janet Hunt talks about a sad situation like this: “And yet, for all of those for whom I light a candle and remember each All Saints Sunday, there is still really just the one I carry closest of all. One whose dying has me yearning most deeply for the promises of this day.

“It came to me again last week when a beloved cousin came to visit. He had stopped to see his folks the night before he flew out and as he sat with them he told his dad he was going to see Kathleen. “You remember Kathleen, don’t you dad? She was Tommy’s wife.” (Kathleen is my mother.)

“Now in these recent years my dad’s brother does not remember as he once did. For a moment last week, though, there was clarity as he remembered his only brother and as he registered all over again the fact that he had died and with that remembering, his face fell along with his tears. And mine did, too, to hear of his remembering.” [2]

Grief, sorrow and loss are like that, sometimes. We can be fine, content, living our lives. Then, out of nowhere it seems, the thought of that special loved one, that dear friend who is no longer with us in this world, comes to mind.

And then, Janet Hunt reminds us, “nothing makes us more grateful than the gift of that time and place so vividly described in today’s words from Revelation. A time and place:

  • where the whole world will gather and join together in song and where we will be washed clean,
  • where hunger and thirst will no longer hold sway,
  • where there will be shelter from all that would harm,
  • where the very water of life will sustain us,
  • and where God Himself will bend low to wipe away our tears.” [3]

Is such a place even possible? In those times when you or I are grieving anew, remembering with sorrow or longing in our hearts, the apostle John assures us that “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And, ““Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

In plainer words, from his first letter to the scattered believers in Christ, John gives us further assurance: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Today, we have a foretaste of heaven from both Scripture readings. Revelation tells us of the wonderful worship service in heaven, where everyone is praising God. And 1 John lets us know that when our Lord Jesus appears to each of us, we shall be like Him in glory.

“So with all of you, I will light the candles this All Saints Day. In memory and in powerful hope we will light the candles. Standing confident in the very promises of God we will light them.[4]

Amen. May it be so. Amen.

[1] https://preachingtip.com/archives-year-a/pentecost-year-a/all-saints-day-all-saints-sunday/

[2] http://dancingwiththeword.com/all-saints-day-in-memory-and-in-hope/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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Compassion for a Widow

Luke 7:11-17 (7:13) – July 30, 2017

Luke 7-10 widow's son Ottheinrich_Folio081v_Lc7B

“Compassion for a Widow”

I do not often make generalizations, but I suspect everyone will agree with this one. Pretty much everyone knows the grief, pain and anguish of having a close relative or loved one die. I’ve dealt with anxiety and fear, grief, anger and mourning plenty in the hospital when I worked as a chaplain, and afterwards, as pastor of this church.

This Gospel reading features a funeral procession, mourning and grieving, on the way to bury a dead loved one. This Gospel reading also features the widow of Nain (the town). One of the Gospel of Luke’s guest stars in a cameo appearance, the widow is in deep grief.

Naturally in dismay and trauma, I suspect all the widow wants is to be able to see her son again, alive.

But, I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s concentrate on Jesus.

Hear, again, today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, plus some commentary. “Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd came with Him.”  The Rabbi Jesus and close friends are traveling around Israel. (Remember, Jesus was an itinerant Rabbi, like a circuit-riding teacher and preacher.) The Rabbi Jesus did not live in one, stationary place, and His followers took on the same, nomadic lifestyle.

“As Jesus came to the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out.”  

I would like everyone to put your imagining cap on. You might be familiar with what I mentioned several weeks ago, introduced by St. Ignatius. Among other matters, Ignatius was a spiritual director. He wanted all people to get closer to God. What is more, there are things we can see, touch and feel about this reading—in our minds. This vivid use of imagination is one amazing way for that experience to happen.

So, Jesus was on the way, traveling all up and down the country. Right in the middle of things, as usual. What should Jesus and His friends run into but a funeral procession?

Imagine the traffic jam, right at the gates of the city of Nain. All the hustle and bustle of people coming and going. Animals, wagons and carts, shopkeepers, drivers making deliveries, people in close quarters, shuffling, passing through the city gates. Perhaps it’s a dry, dusty day. Add the dust, dirt and grit to the scene.

Can you see the people gawking at the funeral procession? One thing about this funeral procession: it’s for a younger person. We don’t know how much younger he was, but I know today that when a young person dies, they have lots of people at the funeral service. Can you hear the crying and wailing of the people who are mourning. Perhaps they are also squeezing through the busy city gate with everyone else. Luke says, “A large crowd came alongside his mother; she was a widow, and he was her only son.”

Her only son. Can you hear the sorrow and anguish packed into that small statement? Can you see the shock at the death of a young person, the loss of years not lived, of length of life not experienced?

When, suddenly, the Rabbi Jesus approaches the procession. He not only views that procession from among the many people grieving that day, but Jesus also goes beyond. He enters into the procession itself. Jesus interrupts, in a very large way. Listen to Luke’s words: “When Jesus saw her, he had compassion for her. He told her, “Do not weep.”

I would like to remind people about a quick word study I did a few weeks ago. I wanted to see what a proper, in-depth study on the word “compassion” had to say. According to one word study, “Com-passio literally means to “suffer with.”  In Latin, com means “with” and passio means “to suffer.” [1]

            As we consider what St. Ignatius wants us to do with our imagination as we think more deeply about this Scripture passage, we can add to it the intense emotions of grief, sorrow, longing, worry, anger, and suffering. On top of all of these deep, intense emotions, we can now add compassion. That’s not only compassion on a human level, but Jesus’s compassion. Godly compassion and caring. Wow! Can you say, “Wow!” with me?

In our children’s message today, I spoke about our scripture reading. I said Jesus recognized that a woman he met was extremely sad. This widow was left all alone, with no relatives at all! And, Jesus had empathy for her. the word “empathy” means to recognize another person’s emotion and then feel what that person feels; if someone feels sad, we recognize she feels sad and we feel sad with her, for example.

What the Gospel writer Luke does not say (because everyone in his time would understand it very well), is “Luke’s inclusion of the detail that this was her only son highlights her difficult situation. Without a husband and now without any son to support her, it is very likely that the widow is now or will soon be financially destitute.[2]

Do you see now why it is such a big deal that Jesus felt for this widow? He showed empathy for her and her extreme distress. Emotional, psychological and financial distress, as well as the spiritual upset, grief and trauma.

Jesus not only feels empathy and compassion for this widow, He goes that important step further. Continuing with Luke chapter 7: “Jesus told her, “Do not weep.” Then He came forward and touched the coffin. The people carrying it stopped moving. And Jesus said, “Young man, listen: get up!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him  to his mother.

            Our Lord Jesus does a miracle! Not only a healing, but raising the dead.

Jesus not only felt empathy, He did a miracle. He gave this woman back her much beloved son, and He stabilized her financial position, too. Jesus did a significant healing on several different levels.

That miracle is wonderful. In bible times, that is. I can just hear people stating that we couldn’t do anything even remotely resembling that marvelous miracle. Not today. Not us little, insignificant folks. That’s for big, important people, like Jesus, or the Apostles.

Our Lord Jesus is so awesome, and a wonder-worker, too. He showed empathy, yes, and also the incredibly personal touch: he cared deeply for that widow. It is so important to know Jesus first felt compassion and empathy for the widow before He healed her son.

Empathy is an important way for us to begin caring for others, which we learn through Jesus in this week’s example of compassion. It’s easiest for us to show empathy and compassion to people who are a lot like us, and harder to show this toward people who are very different from us. Who is different from you, and how can you be loving and caring to them?

This presents an opportunity to all of us. Find someone who is different from you and reach out to them, today. Be kind and compassionate.

How can you—we—practice empathy and caring, today? We can become more aware of how we can be loving, kind and helpful to those around us, like Jesus was with the mother in our Scripture passage today. A loving challenge from our Lord Jesus, today. Go, and do likewise.

Amen.

[1] Compassion in the New Testament (Part 1) http://www.jmarklawson.com/traveling-in-place/2012/03/compassion-in-the-new-testament-part-1.html

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1679 Commentary, Luke 7:11-17, Jeannine K. Brown, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013