Happy All Saint’s Sunday, friends. It was an emotional day for me in church and I have pretty much been useless ever since. I’m getting ready for tonight’s confirmation class – enjoy the sermon!
Our Saints – Rejoicing In Them And The Lessons Learned
A few years ago, my parents bought a new house. They hadn’t been looking, but a friend of theirs is a realtor and saw a house pop up on the market that she thought they would love so they took a look at it. They fell in love in love with it, put an offer in immediately and figured while the owners of the new house were wrapping things up in Connecticut they would sell their house.
They were so excited. This house was so “them”. It was only about a mile from the church, it had a short, flat driveway, which my mom always wanted, it had a pool, which my dad always wanted and it was downsized a little bit from the house that we lived in before my sister and I moved out. They were so ready for this transition in their lives.
A week after their offer was accepted, the housing market crashed. So the house went on the market – but it sat. It sat for weeks and weeks without even a showing. And eventually they started to get a little bit nervous. After all, it was never their goal to go into real estate, just to buy a house that they were more comfortable in.
So I was living in Atlanta at the time and one day I got a text message from my mom. It says something to the effect of, “I’m going to bury Saint Joseph in the front yard.”
I had no idea what she was talking about.
She went on to explain that Saint Joseph, the father of Jesus and a carpenter, is a saint that is venerated in the Catholic Church as a the patron of selling houses and real estate. And they actually sell Saint Joseph kits with a figurine of the Saint and a prayer. And in theory, you are supposed to bury Saint Joseph head down and facing away from the house, say this prayer and then your house sells.
I thought she was joking.
A few days later I received a call from my sister. She was laughing, but sounded horrified at the same time. “Sarah, Mom and dad are quite literally burying a plastic saint in the front yard and saying a prayer right now. You have to do something.”
So I hear my mom in the background yelling, “Don’t hang up, Sarah! We’re going to say the prayer!” And then they said the prayer. Not wanting to leave any part of the story out for you all, I looked up the prayer on Google. The prayer says:
O, Saint Joseph, you who taught our Lord the carpenter’s trade, and saw to it that he was always properly housed, hear my earnest plea.
I want you to help me now as you helped your foster-child Jesus, and as you have helped many others in the matter of housing.
I wish to sell this house quickly, easily, and profitably and I implore you to grant my wish by bringing me a good buyer, one who is eager, compliant, and honest, and by letting nothing impede the rapid conclusion of the sale.
Dear Saint Joseph, I know you would do this for me out of the goodness of your heart and in your own good time, but my need is very great now and so I must make you hurry on my behalf.
Saint Joseph, I am going to place you in a difficult position with your head in darkness and you will suffer as our Lord suffered, until this house is sold.
Then, Saint Joseph, I swear before the cross and God Almighty, that I will redeem you and you will receive my gratitude and a place of honour in my home. Amen.
There are so many things wrong with this. But rather than diving into the theological implications of burying a saint face first in the ground from 1,000 miles away, I simply asked my sister to put my mom on the phone and said to her, “Mom – you’re a protestant minister.” To which she replied, “Sarah – I’m a protestant minister who does not want to own two houses.”
This past Tuesday, November 1st, was All Saint’s Day. In the Catholic Church, All Saints Day is a time to honor all saints – known and unknown. It started as a way of honoring martyrs that died in the name of Jesus Christ in the days of the early church and today is a time where all saints that are venerated are honored.
In the Protestant tradition, we don’t really do the whole sainthood thing – for lack of a better phrase. And it is not just that we are rejecting something that the Catholic Church does, on a theological level we believe in the Priesthood Of All Believers – it does not make sense for us to lift up specific and holy saints. We lift up everyone who has died because we believe that all people are created equal in the eyes of God – clergy and laypeople, men and women, young and old. And so when we celebrate All Saint’s day (which we celebrate the Sunday after November 1st), we celebrate the people in our lives that are no longer with us who have impacted us; those who have come and gone before us, the cloud of witnesses that started the work that we hope to carry on in our lifetime. We celebrate the pillars of our spiritual wholeness, the pillars of our families, the pillars of this church. We celebrate those who have shaped our lives and our faith and our ministries.
It has been a difficult week for me to think about All Saint’s Sunday. I wasn’t going to mention this, but I do think it is only fair to let you in to where I am. I started the week knowing that I would be presiding over a funeral. And funerals always get my thinking – thinking about the saints in my own life that watch over me every day and about the saints that I know, sadly, will be journeying to Heaven soon.
On Tuesday morning I received word that a good friend of my family and church member from Connecticut, joined his wife in Heaven that morning. My heart ached – it still does – and I wondered how in the world I was going to speak eloquently on All Saint’s Sunday when I felt so strongly the raw presence of a new saint in my own life.
And then on Wednesday morning around 7:15, Ed Case called me and told me that Janet had passed away early that morning. And at that point I said, “Okay, God. I am going to need your help.”
And that is when I heard a voice telling me that I shouldn’t try to speak eloquently on the subject of All Saint’s Sunday; but that I should just try to speak from the heart.
All Saint’s Sunday is a day when every single one of us is allowed to lift up the saints in our lives who have impacted our lives and who are now no longer with us. All Saint’s Sunday is a day when we are allowed to honor the people in our lives who may not have been rich and famous, but who gave us so many blessings anyway. Parents, grandparents, spouses, children, siblings, friends, acquaintances, role models – these are the people in our lives who so strongly influenced us and have shaped us into the individuals that we strive to be every single day. These are the people whose faces we can still see, voices we can still hear and spirits we can still feel. They shaped who we are and who will we one day be. They guide us along our journeys and stand with us when we feel alone. They are the people who taught us how to live, how to love, how to learn and how to believe just like Christ did. They are the photos that are displayed around our houses, the heirlooms that we carefully protect and the stories that we happily tell over and over again.
Who are the saints in YOUR life? They are who we are celebrating today.
The Gospel text that we read this morning is called The Beatitudes, which is the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes is a wonderful text to read on All Saint’s Sunday because it reminds us that every single person in the world – here and passed – is blessed in the eyes of God; it reminds us that God welcomed each one of our saints into his arms when they journeyed to heaven. And now they watch over every single one of us.
‘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.
All Saint’s Sunday is not an easy Sunday to get through. It is a time when we intentionally experience and stir up so many different emotions as we recollect lives and memories. But it is so important for us to do. It is important to honor those whose legacies still live on today. And it is important to remember that everything that we do here today – the laughter, the tears, the heartache and the celebration – is all done together, as a community of faith, a visible sign of the priesthood of all believers.
Blessed are all your saints, for they have touched your lives and will continue to live on in the lives that you lead – and in the differences that you will make in the world. And today we will honor them.
We will have an extended time of Music For Reflection this morning and during that time I invite you to take the blue piece of paper in your bulletin and write down the names of the saints that you would like to recognize and honor this morning. When you are finished I invite you to bring them up and put them in the basket by the altar – we will send the deacons around if you aren’t able to get up. During the pastoral prayer I will read the names of each one of the saints and then we will join our voices with their voices and say the Lord’s Prayer. Let us lift up our saints together.