We honor our history, we celebrate the present and we have hope for the future! Happy All Saints Sunday!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
November 2, 2014
1 John 3:1-3
Building God’s Kingdom On Earth
Back in June I had surgery to remove one of the ribs in my thoracic cavity.
It was strange to leave my world in the church and enter the world in the hospital. In a time where people take the separation of church and state about as seriously as they take standardized testing, I often find myself checking the church at the door when I leave my world and enter another one.
In the church we make decisions based on our faith, we put our trust in God and we know that there are things that happen that we cannot control. In the hospital decisions are made based on science, doctors and nurses put their trust in medicine and people do everything they possibly can to try to control everything.
Sometimes it is hard to find a place for my world in their world.
When I was a hospital chaplain, it was easy to collide the two worlds. But as a patient I felt much more vulnerable. It did not matter how simple the procedure was, it is not as easy to trust in the blessings of God when you are the one getting wheeled beyond those swinging doors.
The morning of my surgery, Bruce and I went to the hospital. We checked in and were brought to pre-op. I checked my bags, changed and talked to the pre-op nurse. The anesthesiologists started my IVs and the surgical residents talked me through my procedure.
About 15 minutes before I was scheduled to go into the OR, a woman in scrubs came into my room. She had a big smile on her face and introduced herself as my scrub nurse for the day. We talked about my procedure for a few minutes and then made small talk as she filled out some final paperwork. She asked me where we lived, how long the surgeons thought I was going to have to stay in the hospital and then a question that I am never really sure how to answer.
“So what do you do for a living?”
I took a deep breath and decided to just be honest.
I told her that I was the pastor of an older church in the country town of Rehoboth, Massachusetts. I told her that I had been at that church for a little over three years, that the church was growing, that ministry was a true blessing and that I was so lucky to have so many people praying for me that day.
Her eyes lit up.
As it turns out, my scrub nurse was a devout Christian and a woman of great faith. She shared her story with me and told me about her church. She professed her desire to spread the message of God’s healing love with more people and felt that her job as a scrub nurse was her ministry in the world.
As she closed my chart and opened the door to my room, she paused, smiled and said, “You are going to be fine, I promise.”
As the door shut behind her I looked at Bruce and said something to effect of, “Well if you can’t be in the operating room with me, I am glad it is her.”
A few minutes later, surgery time was upon us. My scrub nurse walked into my room, still wearing that infectious smile and said, “Can we say a prayer together before we take you back? I’m not usually supposed to do this, but since you are a pastor and everything …” and then her voice trailed off.
I smiled and nodded. In that moment there was nothing that I wanted more.
And so she and Bruce and I joined hands and prayed together. As we said, “Amen”, I heard the door to my room open and my team of surgeons walked in. She squeezed my arm and said, “I’ll see you in the OR,” and then walked out.
I do not know if it was the power of that prayer or the Valium that they stuck in my IV, but when they wheeled me into the OR, I no longer felt vulnerable. I felt calm, I felt in control and I felt connected to God.
By the time the anesthesia wore off, my scrub nurse was gone; I never saw her again.
But I will never forget what she did for me that day. She let my world enter her world. She matched my vulnerability by sharing her faith and showing her own. She prayed with me – and for me. She cared about me. She brought God into the operating room with her.
For me, that was one of those moments where the Kingdom of God spread throughout the world just a little bit more.
Have you ever experienced one of these moments?
Or – better yet – have you ever created one of these moments?
This morning is All Saints Sunday, a day in the Protestant tradition where we celebrate the saints in our lives – the men and women who came before us and impacted our lives in positive and profound ways. We give thanks and praise for the moments in our lives where we saw and where we continue to see the Kingdom of God spread throughout world because of the incredible human beings that surround us.
Today we give thanks for the faithful nurses who prayed with us before surgery, for the devoted teachers who went the extra mile when we were struggling in the classroom and for the cool aunts and uncles who always snuck us candy when mom and dad said no. We remember the grandparents whose houses we descended upon at Thanksgiving and Christmas, who filled our stomachs with good food, our minds with great stories and our hearts with so much love. We lift to God the friends who stood beside us through thick and thin. We tell stories about the men and women who were members of our church years ago; whose service was always seemingly effortless and who gave selflessly of themselves so that this church would be strong for us today. We live out the lessons taught to us by the people who have come and gone before us.
We honor all of these people. We aspire to be like these people. We are called to live out our lives like these people did.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for the will be called children of God.” He said these words as part of the Sermon on the Mount, his inaugural sermon in the Gospel of Matthew where he talked about the Kingdom of God and what it means to be a citizen in this Kingdom, what it means to be a child of God.
Jesus spoke these words not only to the people who had gathered to hear him speak that day, but also to us, today as his vision for heaven on earth. We are called to do more in the Kingdom of God than simply live in it; we are called to be active participants in it as well.
It is not easy to work to build God’s kingdom on earth. We are imperfect human beings and bad things do happen. On a daily basis we experience hatred, evil, tragedy, stress, helplessness, oppression and the unknown. But Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Jesus called us to – against all odds – stand up against hatred, evil, tragedy, stress, helplessness, oppression and the unknown and to live out the ministry that he started here on earth.
So today we are called to pause for a moment and remember our saints, to give thanks for the way that they impacted our lives.
But then we are further called to stand up and pledge to honor their memory by being a living expression of it; by remembering the lessons that they taught us and by passing along their legacy to a new generation.
The author of 1 John wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” So, children of God, what will our lives reveal? How will we live out the gospel? How will we embody the presence of God to the people around us? How will we spread the Kingdom of God throughout the world?
I will never forget my scrub nurse that June morning. And that memory is one of hundreds throughout my life – and I am sure your lives as well – where ordinary people did extraordinary things to prove to us, yet again, that God is real and alive in our lives.
So today we give glory to God for those moments, for those people, for our saints. And then we pledge to create those moments in our lives as well. We pledge to be the people who have impacted us to the people around us. We pledge to create a world where the church does not have to be checked at the door. We pledge to open ourselves up to new things and allow ourselves to be vulnerable as God works through us. We pledge to honor the past, to take care of the present and to have hope for the future. We pray that we become saints on earth.
We pledge to honor our saints by continuing their work to build God’s kingdom on earth.
We are building something strong; we are building God’s kingdom on earth.
Thanks be to God!