Past & Present Saints
Halloween, for those of us who arenít children, conjures up many memories, probably of a time that we view as a little more innocent than the times that we live in now. When we could dress up and go throughout our neighborhoods and for one night of the year it was OK for children to go to every house and beg for a treat. And there were pranks because trick or treat has that other side of it, too. I remember stories of people over turning Johnny houses and of people taking bags of manure and lighting them on peopleís door steps. And somehow, because there was a sense of community, it was OK for kids to be mischievous for one night and get away with it. Halloween, in many ways, is like everything in our country. It was a gift to us from our European ancestors, yet we did our best to secularize it and make it something fun and not so serious.
Today Halloween, like everything else, struggles with everything else in what it means to be correct in the day and age in which we live. There are those who push against it because of their fear it might bring people into the occult. There are others who fear that when their children go out that somehow they will get something more harmful than candy when they go and beg for it. And the pranks, well most of us in modern America are too scared of teenagers to ever tolerate even a small prank today. Thatís kind of where our world is.
As you saw this morning when the kids talked about what they did for Halloween they reminded us that they are still children innocent in their wonder and in their sense of life who can still dress up and go and enjoy a holiday. And maybe they will show us the way of pulling back the cynicism and the distrust of our modern day and remind us of the joy of community. So maybe in spite of all of its secular stuff Halloween may have something to say to us about how we live together, and maybe a little child shall lead us.
Halloweens roots go back, for most of us in this country, to an Irish tradition. Itís a great Celtic tradition. †The Irish have always had a sense of mystical; a sense of life.† Underneath the boring mundane parts of life, if you just lifted the bell a little, there was mystery and awe and magic and also a strong sense of God. A whole hierarchy of Godís angels. They believed at certain times there is a thin place where Heaven and Earth almost touched. And on All Hallows Eve they would gather all over the country. They would light bon fires and remember. They would remember the names of those in their lives who had passed to the other side in death, and be reminded of them. A community of faith was not one that rested just in the present but also in the past. They spoke of those saints in ways like only an Irishman could; with great wonder and maybe quite a bit of exaggeration. But the truth was that the bond was there and it was sealed. So today we live in a world that is moving so fast, and it seems without any rudders, at times. There is an uncertainty of how we take all this technology and all this oneness in our world and where are headed.
We need to be reminded of our roots on days like All Saints Day. We need to be reminded that there has been a foundation laid for us from people in the past and that they may have something to say to us about whom we are today and about what God may intend for us in the future. I know I say the word ďSaintsĒ and youíre thinking of glorified people of perfection who arenít like you and I. After all we use the phrase ď Sheís a SaintĒ meaning someone whoís long suffering and somehow has a stamina that is greater than anything we could ever have. But if you look at the way the Apostle Paul used the word Saints, he never referred to it as perfect people. He never reserved that word for a select few that were an example for everyone else. When he spoke of the Saints he spoke of those we were living in the community of faith in which they were in that present time. And because he was a man of directness at times he praised them for what a good job they were doing. He also let those Saints know when he thought they were messing up too. †These werenít Saints of perfection; they were human. And the one thing they held in common was that as a gathered community they were seeking to be who God had called them to be in the day and age in which they lived. They were reminded that the foundations that they were laying somehow would impact the Saints future generations.
We look at the book of Revelation today. †Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a book of doom and gloom and Godís destructive will on the vast majority of humanity. Itís a book of hope. What do we know about that community of Saints? We know that they lived in the latter part of the first and the beginning of the second century. A time when the Roman government ruled supreme in the world in which it lived. And those who would defy it would be crushed. So what do you do in a day and age when that political will is so powerful and your inability to have any power to resist it in a concrete way. So they told stories. The vision that they had they wrote it in code and the big word for that is apocalyptic literature.† The point is in the coded message, what we find is not a book of doom but a book of hope. The writer of the book of Revelation reminds us that the community was crushed and no longer exists. But the book that they left for us became a word of hope for us as well. So we are told, those Saints of old gathered in Godís eternal kingdom where they found the hope of their eternal peace.
We are gathered here today to partake of Holy Communion. To remember that there are many people who have laid a foundation for the life that we live. We did not just get here on our own and, contrary to the biggest theocracy in American culture, itís not our individual will that matters; it is how we are connected to God through community that makes us who we are. None of us got where we are right now if it hadnít been for others who encouraged us and gave us grace. In many ways, what we remember today is that it is those from the past who have laid the foundation for us in the present and that somehow we have an obligation as a people of faith to lay that same foundation of faith and integrity for Saints to come. So today, like those Celtic brothers and sisters from our past, we are reminded of the thin layer between Heaven and Earth; the thin veil between the past the present and the future. As we come forward after we have remembered the names of some of those past Saints and as we celebrate the presence of the Saints gathered here today, know that somehow, our lives look back at those people for the future. Now before I do the closing prayer, look to your right and to your left at the people next to you. Just look at them. Do you know that you just looked at a Saint? Itís an amazing thing isnít it? That we are truly Godís people and that God has called us for this moment. Lets bow our heads now for a word of prayer.
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