All Saints Day
November 1, 2004
The Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
Sermon: "All Saints' Day"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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."
All Saints' Day Service
November 1, 2004
Zion Baptist Church
I would like you to join me in singing a song that I learned as a small child. Please turn to 505 in the hymnal and let's sing Give me that Old Time Religion.
If you notice in this song we mentioned some of the saints of old. Probably when we think about saints we tend to think about famous people of the church. We think about Matthew, Mark. Luke and John. We think about Paul. We remember them from pictures in books or in stained glass windows. In these pictures their faces are often turned toward heaven with looks of sincere piety. Other times they are doing some task and have halo around their heads. These halos remind us of their decision to follow Jesus no matter the consequences. We see them as holy people. They are so holy they almost become untouchable, unreachable. We tend to say to ourselves we can't be like them.
However, in the song we also mentioned our mothers and fathers. Would we consider members of our families saints in our lives? We probably don't see them as saints like Peter and Paul. However, many of us are members of the Christian Church today, not because of something written or said by the saints of old, but by somebody close to us who believed Jesus is the Son of God. They believed in the Good News of Jesus so much that they passed it on to us. Think about that person for just a minute. What was their name? What did they look like? Was it something they said that started you on your journey with Christ? Was it something they did that caused you to wonder about their faith? Perhaps it was a mixture of the two. Something about them made us question. Something about them drew us toward a relationship with Jesus.
Today is the feast of All Saint's Day. The celebration of All Saint's Day started around the year 609 in Rome. The Emperor Phocas gave the ancient Roman Temple, the Pantheon, to Pope Boniface IV as a church. The feast first honored those who had given their lives for the faith particularly during the years of persecution. Later it was extended to include all the saints including those who had given their lives for the church. Today, it particularly honors those saints who do not have special days to honor them. It is a day when we celebrate the everyday saints of our lives.
We celebrate all of those people who have affected our lives and made us realize the existence of God. We celebrate their lives, their examples of love, of understanding, of compassion, and of sacrifice. These saints might be our mothers or our fathers. They might be teachers or principals. They might have taught us in Sunday School or been a pastor of a church. They might have been our next-door neighbor or someone at work. Whoever they are, this day we celebrate the love of Jesus Christ they shared with us. We celebrate their willingness to take a chance and share the Gospel. Today we give thanks to them for their witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The Gospel of Christ in a word is love. It is the fullness of love that we experience when we gather together as God's people and share the love we have for one another. It is the love that enables and empowers us to be ministers of forgiveness and healing in a world that often hurts at every turn. It is the love of God that we look forward to as described in the Beatitudes we just read. The beatitudes are words for today and words of expectation. Jesus tells the crowd they are blessed. They are blessed today, right now in the immediate. He also tells them the blessing will reach its fullness in the future, at the end of time. Listen to the blessings one more time:
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 those 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.
These blessings were given to ordinary people sitting on a hillside. They were teachers, farmers, doctors and shopkeepers and fishermen. They came from all walks of life. They are being blessed as children of God. They are being blessed just as they are. They haven't done anything to receive the blessing. They are simply people who have heard about Jesus and come to hear his message. As a result, they receive God's blessing. And they are being promised the fulfillment of these blessings in God's time.
Today, we are the community of God. We haven't gathered on a hillside. We are gathered in a church in the town of Reidsville. We are the recipients of these blessings. We are the poor in spirit, the meek and those who mourn. We are the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are the merciful and the peacemakers and the persecuted for Jesus' sake. We are the community of God's people. We are the carriers of the message of God's redeeming love to the world. We are God's eyes that see those who hurt in the world. We are God's ears that hear the cries of those in pain and anguish. We are the hands that reach out to heal and to hold. We are the feet that carry God's message into the world. We are the mouth of God that attempts to share the message of God's redeeming love to a world that needs to hear this message more clearly every day.
What I am saying is that we are the saints of today. We carry the message and we share the message to those who are to come. For they will be the saints of tomorrow. The message just keeps on being passed from one generation of saints to another. And one day, one day, Jesus will come. And on that day, all of the saints, past and present, will rise to meet their Lord. For on that day, the fulfillment of God's blessings will become real, and we will stand with Jesus. Together, hand in hand, arm in arm we will move to that heavenly banquet table and sit as one body in Christ. There, at that table, we will enjoy the true feast of all of the saints and celebrate in the presence of God and all of God's people.
Until that time, until that day, we can continue to gather together as we have here tonight and celebrate as the community of saints today. As we celebrate we remember those saints in our past and those to come who will not be honored with certain calendar days. Instead they will live on in the hearts of those whom they have touched so deeply. Please remember today those who brought us here; those who shared with us the wonder and glory of God in Jesus Christ. Remember them by being a saint to somebody else. And all of God's people say AMEN.