The Saints For The Next Generation

Happy All Saints Day!  I am totally in denial that November is here, but … preach on.  Here is my sermon from this morning!

Enjoy …

p.s. Please say a prayer for my grandmother.  She has really been struggling lately and she ended up back in the hospital last night.  Thanks, friends. xoxo

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 1, 2015

Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44

The Saints For The Next Generation

Happy November, everyone!

Where did October go? My goodness – time seems to be moving so quickly these days. And while in many ways I still feel like I am acclimating to the end of summer, today is November 1st, which, in the Christian Church, is All Saints Day.

All Saints Day is a great feast of the Church celebrating its saints. Oftentimes when we think about saints in the church, we think about the saints of the Catholic Church; saints who are honored and lifted up for specific purposes and at different times throughout someone’s life.

(I, for example, found Saint Anthony to be quite helpful in finding my church keys a few months ago, when they had gone missing for several days.)

Here on the Protestant side of things, however, we take a different approach when we think about saints and about the saints of the church. We talk about the saints of the church as the people – ordinary people, just like us – whose patience, prayers and determination built this church. We celebrate the people whose strong faith cleared the path that we are still journeying on today. We commend to God with great thanksgiving the lives of those who changed our lives for the better. We remember with joy those who brought light to our darkness, strength to our weakness and promise to our hopelessness. We give thanks to the people who came before us whose lives and legacies still live on in our hearts and whose stories are influencing the narratives that we are writing today.

Who are your saints?

The cool part about the way that we understand saints is that this answer is unique to each one of us. We all have stories to tell about the people who are no longer in our earthly lives, but who – most certainly – still live on in our hearts. We all have memories of our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, children, friends and acquaintances who have impacted our lives and shaped the people that we are today. We believe in our saints; we thank God for our saints; we know that we are better people because of our saints.

This morning’s first scripture reading was from the book of Revelation, a vision of a man named John that was recorded and preserved as the very last book of the bible. It is appropriate to read on All Saints Day, because it is a passage of scripture that is often read at funerals. It reminds us when we are grieving a loss that God connects us in our earthly lives to our saints who have died. It reassures us of the sweet promise that God prepares a place for us, both in life and in death; and that God’s love will always conquer death.

I think sometimes people are scared of the book of Revelation, because – for all intents and purposes – it is a vision of the end of time. Let’s face it: It is fairly easy to read the Gospels about Jesus’ life or the letters in the New Testament that were written to churches and apply them to our lives. But it is not as easy to apply the Second Coming to our lives without raising a few eyebrows in our circle of family and friends.

That being said, I think this vision was about more than just death, the Second Coming and the end of time. I think this vision was also about resurrection, renewal and new life. I think this vision was not just about what would happen after life, but also about what could happen here on earth. I think this vision reminds us that our God is not a distant God. Our God is always with us; our God lives and dwells among us. The Holy City in John’s vision is not necessarily something that we have to wait to see; this is something that we can build in our earthly lives.

The saints in our lives are the people that worked hard to build this vision. In the midst of the crazy world that we live in – in the midst of the tragedy, heartache and frustration that we all inevitably experience at some point – these were the people that gave us hope that things would get better. These were the people that built the holy city that we are living in today. These were the people that gave us living and tangible proof of God’s love in those moments when we needed it most.

John wrote in Revelation:

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

As Christians, we live out this scripture every day. We believe that God can make all things new.

And we are active participants in building the holy city that God so badly wants us to live in.

This morning we also heard the story of Lazarus; a man who died, but was brought back to life after four days by Jesus.

I have to laugh now when I read this story: Three weeks ago, my grandmother got very sick and we all rushed to Pennsylvania and began conversations about hospice and end-of-life care. At the point when we were not sure if she was going to pull through, one of my mom’s sisters reminded us about the time when her mother – my great-grandmother – died. Her Hungarian blood was so stubborn that she was actually admitted to hospice three times – each time with a big, tearful goodbye from the whole family – before she finally died. Apparently the doctors started calling her Lazarus.

Needless to say – my grandmother rallied.

Now – like I am sure most of you do – I struggle with this story because I have a hard time believing in a literal bodily resurrection after four days.

But I am going to put that aside for right now and tell you what I do believe: I believe that God’s love is powerful. I believe that God’s love is stronger than death. I believe that God’s love is resilient against the bad things that happen to us.

I believe that grace pops up in the most unexpected ways and places. And I believe that, even in the midst of loss and devastation, God can always build something new.

We are people of the resurrection – and I believe that means something.

There are no lost causes – not in our lives and not in this world.

As we celebrate our saints today and commend to God with great thanksgiving their lives, let us also remember those who will come after us and remember what our responsibility is to them. We are the saints for the next generation. We are Disciples of Christ, living out God’s call and building that holy city John saw in his vision. Our lives mean something. With our prayers, patience and determination, we are building a world that we want our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren to live in. We can show real and tangible proof of the resurrection in our lives and that will change someone’s life.

Like I said at the beginning of this sermon, time seems to be moving very quickly lately. So let us make the most of the time that we have. Our lives can be chaotic at times, but – even in the midst of that chaos – we do have control over the narratives that we are writing.

And those narratives can make a difference in someone’s life.

This sermon is a call to each and every one of us. As we remember those people who made a difference in our lives, let us prayerfully discern the ways that we can make a difference in the lives of others.

So friends, fellow Disciples and saints of the next generation, I appeal to you today: Build that holy city. Live your lives worthy of the call of discipleship. Know that God is always with you.

We may not know what is going to happen tomorrow, but we can make a difference today.

So let us go forth into the world and be saints for the next generation.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate!

Good morning!  We had an amazing worship service and celebration of All Saints Day this morning.  Here is my meditation.  We had a lot of other things going on, so it was short.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 3, 2013

Luke 6:20-31

Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate!

I don’t need to say much today.

Today is All Saints Sunday. Very often when people think of “All Saints” they think of the 10,000+ saints that have been officially recognized or “canonized” in the church as holy men and women, of the saints that carry specific prayers and purposes and of the saints that are commemorated on medals and charms and sold at the Vatican gift shop.

In the Protestant tradition, however, All Saints Sunday is an opportunity for people to celebrate and honor the personal saints in their life. It is a day when we give thanks to God for our family members and for our friends who whose lives impacted us greatly.

A few weeks ago I asked the Deacons what they thought we should do for All Saint’s Sunday this year. For the past two years we have somberly reflected on the people in our lives who have come and gone before us. It has been powerful and moving – a true testament to glory of God throughout the generations.

But there is a piece of me that always hates coming out of such an amazing Bazaar weekend and moving into a somber worship service. And when I brought this up to the Board they asked me if there was any way that we could honor All Saint’s Sunday by celebrating the lives of our saints instead of mourning their absence today.

We spent the next ten or fifteen minutes of our meeting smiling and laughing as we recalled memories and told stories of the saints of this church. And in light of All Saints Sunday falling on Bazaar weekend, many of those stories involved this the time-honored tradition RCC tradition.

… Bob Wray at the Cider Shack.
… Fran in the kitchen.
… Evalyn Muggleton insisting on real plates, silverware and linens at the Turkey Supper.

The stories went on and on.

In a way, it is kind of neat that All Saints Sunday usually falls on the weekend of the Bazaar. Because through the traditions that have been passed down to us from our saints (not to mention the recipes), we are reminded of the ways that God has worked through this church for the past nearly-300 years. And we can see how strong the foundation is that we stand on today.

It was fun to reflect that night. And that is what I want to do today. I want to smile. I want to laugh. I want to tell funny stories and laugh until I cannot catch my breath. I want to smile when I think about my fiscally-conservative grandmother proudly telling me that she had dodged traffic earlier that week to retrieve 37 cents that she saw in the middle of the street. I want to laugh when I look at pictures from my wedding and see my grandmother halfway down the aisle unescorted, because she had decided that my grandfather just wasn’t walking fast enough for her. I want to think back to Thanksgiving in the early 90’s at my great-grandmother’s house on Long Island. My dad and I were making a trip to Tower Records (do you remember that store?) so that I could by a cassette tape of the latest album released by the female hip hop band, Salt-n-Pepa. Ten minutes after our conversation about the trip to the store my Hungarian great-grandmother walked by the kitchen saying, “Someone just said that the tables needed salt and pepper!”

I want to cry happy tears. I want to celebrate life and not mourn death. And I want to stand tall knowing that I am the person that I am today because of my saints.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh,” the scripture says.

There is a sheet of paper in your bulletin that says “Celebrating Stories: All Saints Sunday 2013”. During a time of extended reflection this morning, I invite you to take that paper and celebrate a story. We will be reading off names during our prayer today, so please put write the names of your saints on the top of the paper and then bring it forward. I invite you to reflect on those stories either quietly or out loud to the people around while everyone is moving around. When everyone has brought their names forward, we will join together in prayer.

Celebrating Stories

What an amazing All Saints Day celebration we had at the Rehoboth Congregational Church this morning!  Here is my sermon – enjoy!

Ruth 1:1-18
Mark 12:28-34

Celebrating Stories

Saint Augustine once said: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

This past Thursday, November 1st, was All Saints Day. Years ago the early church used this day to honor martyrs that had died in the name of Jesus Christ and today the Catholic Church honors all saints that are venerated. The Protestant Church, on the other hand, celebrates All Saints Day by acknowledging the Priesthood of All Believers. We lift up everyone who has come before us; we acknowledge the cloud of witnesses who have touched our lives and have somehow shaped our stories. We celebrate the pillars of our spiritual wholeness, the pillars of our families and the pillars of this church. We celebrate the ways that they have shaped our lives and our faith and our ministries. And today – we will celebrate their stories.

This week’s lectionary passage from the Old Testament starts us at the beginning of the Book of Ruth, a book that tells the story of a Moabite woman named Ruth. Ruth’s husband was killed and so she journeyed with her mother-in-law Naomi – a woman who had lost her husband and two sons – to Judah. Ruth left her home to stay with Naomi. She took chances and made sacrifices out of allegiance to her family. And her story was told. The Book of Ruth is the only book in the Bible named after a woman. Why? Why was Ruth’s story preserved in this way? Why was this book canonized and included in the bible? What can we learn from Ruth’s story today, in our lifetime? How can we celebrate Ruth’s story?

This morning’s Gospel tells a story about scribes going to Jesus and asking him what the greatest commandment was. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Then Jesus said that the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Why was this interaction between Jesus and the scribes preserved? What can we learn from this story today, in our lifetime? How can we apply these words to the lives that we are living? How can we celebrate this story?

Zoom out for a second and look at the Gospel as a whole. How can we celebrate Jesus’ story?

Think about the bible for a second – what is it, essentially? It is many things, but if you think about it on a very basic level, it is a collection of stories. And when we come together – week after week, in worship and in bible study and in Sunday School, generation upon generation – we are discerning how we can celebrate these stories by learning from them and using those lessons in our lives. These two scriptural passages are the Old Testament and Gospel texts for this week’s lectionary, not the All Saints Day texts. This was intentional on my part. Because while they may not specifically reference saints, they are wonderful examples of why we celebrate this day – and how we can be living celebrations of the saints in our lives every single day.

My grandfather died a few weeks ago. When I spoke at his memorial service I started by reading a passage from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, which is part of the Apocrypha, written by a Jewish scribe in Jerusalem in the early 2nd century BCE.

Ecclesiasticus 44 – “A Hymn in Honour of Our Ancestors”
Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations.
The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning.
There were those who rule in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valour;
Those who gave counsel because they were intelligent;
Those who spoke in prophetic oracles;
Those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people’s lore; they were wise in their words of instruction;
Those who composed musical tunes, or put verses in writing;
All these were honoured in their generations, and they were the pride of their times.
Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise.
Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.
The assembly declared their wisdom, and the congregation proclaims their praise.

I read this because it said so perfectly what I was having a hard time putting into words. I could not easily sum up 89 years of life, love, laughter, wisdom and teaching; so instead I declared his praise. I thanked him for the lessons that he taught me – and for the ways that his stories have shaped the way I live my life today. I celebrated his story.

After I spoke the chaplain at the retirement community where my grandparents lived approached the pulpit. He talked about a visit he had with my grandfather after my grandmother died last year. During that visit my grandfather told him a story about when he was a junior grade lieutenant in the United States Navy. He was oversees during World War II and assigned a crew of sailors. His crew consisted of all white men, with the exception of one black man. When my grandfather was tasked with assigning a second-in-command for his crew, he knew – given the racial hostility that was taking place in the United States – it would not have been favorable for him to assign the black man to this task. Yet he did it anyway; he was the right man for the job, Pop Pop told the chaplain. He did not care what other people thought, he wanted to do what was right.

As the chaplain spoke, I looked around at my family. We all shared the same look on our faces; none of us had ever heard that story before. My grandfather was a man of deep humility. He never told us this story because he did not want to boast; he just wanted to live a life of faith, integrity and honor.

Why is this story important? How is the way my family and I heard this story – for the first time at his memorial service – important? What can I learn from this story today, in my lifetime? How can I celebrate this story?

Here is the thing about stories, about histories and about traditions. They mean nothing unless we are learning from them moving forward. We will never be able to emulate the past precisely in our own lives, but we can use it to shape the decisions that we are making in our lives today and in the future.

Look at the Old Testament reading from this morning: We will probably never share Ruth’s experiences, but we can learn from the decisions that she made, from her unassuming devotion to her late husband and her mother-in-law. We can learn how to think outside of ourselves and how to love unconditionally. Think about the Gospel: None of us are Jesus, we never will be. We may not be able to multiply loaves of bread and heal with a touch, but we can shape our lives using the examples that he set and the lessons that he taught. We can live our lives as a celebration of the Gospel, of the Good News, of the stories of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We are Christians, not Christ. We can celebrate Jesus’ life through our lives and context.

How can our lives be a celebration of all the stories our saints have left behind?

Today, instead of reading off the names of our saints, I thought that we could celebrate the stories of our saints. There is an index card in your bulletin with a sticker on it that says ‘Celebrating Stories’. During our music for reflection I invite you to write down a story of one of your saints that you would like to celebrate in your own life. Know that you do not have to live your life exactly the way that person lived theirs; you simply have to celebrate their life through the journey that you take. When you are finished, you can either bring it forward or have one of the Deacons come take it from you. After worship today I will gather the cards and put them together – and we will have our own collection of stories of the saints in our lives that we, as a community of faith, can celebrate in our lives.

Robert Benson once said, “All of the places of our lives are sanctuaries; some of them just happen to have steeples. And all of the people in our lives are saints; it is just that some of them have day jobs and most will never have feast days named for them.” Let us now celebrate the stories of our saints!

Thanks be to God!

Amen.