All Saint’s Day, known to be observed certainly by the eighth century, seems to coincide with various traditions that mark the move from harvest into the season of hibernation and death – in the northern hemisphere, anyway. Britain’s observance is noted by the early 700s to possibly replace, Samhain (pronounced sauh-in) the Celtic festival of the dead, and translated just means summer’s end. My daughter Greer studied a semester Irish – Gaelic language, music and tradition at the University College Cork, Ireland, so I had inside information on this one!
But it is a natural – in the truest sense of the word, as nature follows this trajectory – to commemorate this time in a significant way. It was until quite recent history that the harvest season required whole communities and families to participate in every stage of gathering the fruits of the land. So when Jesus says in Revelation 21 that he is making all things new, our understanding of what that might indicate is powerful. A voice announces that the home of God is with the people, that God dwells with us – God’s home is with us now. The cycle of death and life, returning to the ground to spring up again with nourishment and beauty – death will be no more and God’s dwelling will be among us.
Jesus says “write this down – it is true – I Am . . . I Am the beginning and the end. Not “I was at the beginning and will be at the end.” “I Am already and continue to be – to fill, to dwell – and I am already making all things new.” Of course, we know it isn’t complete, but we can know the reality of God’s dwelling place among us now as we live and love and move in life together. And it is also why we celebrate and remember the lives of those who have gone before us – because they continue to live with us in some remarkable, beautiful ways. Even yesterday at he craft fair, Arletta’s daughter honored her own daughter who died last year, by continuing the work they did together on her artisan soap business. And Sybil opened her booth to the skilled work her dear friend Lori created so we might continue to witness her beauty. Indeed, during my short time there, many saints were remembered and continued to bless all of us who shared that space.
What does it mean to be a saint, anyway? Is it not that we live as Jesus taught us, to prioritize what Jesus prioritized – the commandment that is the essence of all the law and prophets: to Love – God with everything, and all others as ourselves?
The Native American writer, Linda Hogan, wrote, “Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. ‘Be still’ they say. ‘Watch and listen. You are a result of the love of thousands.’
1 John 3:1-3 – “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed,
we will be like him,
for we will see him as he is.
3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
So, God’s home is with us, while God’s dwelling will be among us, and Jesus is making all things new –making it now, while it is not quite yet completed. So the cycle continues but being perfected. And what we will be is not yet revealed because we have yet to see Jesus as he is. I think the gospels that describe the post-resurrected Jesus gives us a clue (walk through walls, but still in solid form, etc.). But those who have already died see Jesus now in a way that we cannot just yet – and they remain with us as we remember them and continued to be blessed by knowing them.
I’ve mentioned before, Father Adrian van Kaam who describes the “Formation Field,” that it is not this either-or, nor dichotomy of nature-nurture. Rather, it is the family into which we are born, our bodies (strong, weak, gendered . . .), socioeconomic, political landscape, the time in history, and place in the world – and, of course, so many other factors that conspire to shape our being, our identities. And we continuously give and receive form. What we can choose is whether we give good form or bad form, grow in formation or are malformed. You might say, we are stewards of our relationship to one another.
Stewardship is about relationship
Henry Nouwen wrote: ‘The most honored parts of the body are not the head or the hands, which lead and control. The most important parts are the least presentable parts. That’s the mystery of the Church. As a people called out of oppression to freedom, we must recognize that it is the weakest among us – the elderly, the small children, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the hungry and sick – who form the real center. Paul says, “It is the parts of the body which we consider least dignified, that we surround with the greatest dignity” (1 Corinthians 12:23)
The Church as the people of God can truly embody the living Christ among us only when the poor remain its most treasured part. Care for the poor, therefore, is much more than Christian charity. It is the essence of being the body of Christ.’
I love to research. I want to understand things. If I don’t understand or I hypothesize about something, I am compelled to investigate! I love to read about and meditate on information and thoughts, ideas – I love ideas! And then, put my reflections down on paper. It is a spiritual experience for me. I listen, test the spirits, ask God, “is this what you mean? Am I getting closer to understanding your heart, your intention concerning that matter?” This is one feature of pastoring that I absolutely relish: I get to reflect all of these wonderful musings – with all of you on Sunday morning!
So when I go into the office on Tuesday morning, set to open my computer, pull out my phone’s Pray-as-you-go app to start the day with meditation . . . and just barely make it into the main office where Nancy has everything I’ve missed and need to do all in a lovely pile on her desk . . . and then I want to know how she is going, and tell her how Howie made me late . . . and actually then get to my desk, get out my things . . .
Start to pull up relevant documents . . . GTGT finishes their meeting . . . and, oh, yeah I’ve got to ask Renee . . ., oh right, Nancy needed . . . And then I finally start an outline, enter into discernment over which scripture passages to use this Sunday, and someone stops by who cannot quite make ends meet, desperately needs a voucher, and to share even a bit of her story with me. And of course, I tell her, this is what the church is for, is about – when some have more than they need, they share with those who do not have enough.
And then, I’ve not had lunch and it’s time to get back to start dinner, and it’s Wednesday . . . New stories, new needs and issues and details that need addressing . . . Thursday.
Don’t you know? It is the parts of the body that we consider least dignified, that we surround with the greatest dignity. My research is not more important than this single mother’s need to make sure her kids have a roof over their heads next week. In fact, safeguarding her vulnerable family is the very “essence of being the body of Christ.” My job as a pastor, indeed, my very being is about stewardship – of how I use my resources: so, how I use my money is about being in relationship. It isn’t a personal choice. Not really. If I choose to invest excess money in a market account so that I can have sufficient padding for retirement, we call it wise. But, how much is enough before it becomes selfish? No one can answer that for another – not by any means. Still, we can consult with one another, and with God, to acquire that greater wisdom.
Because how I use my money affects the people who, just by dint of where they were born, find themselves in the dire circumstance of scrambling to get good meals on the table.
Perhaps, the most important resource I possess is my time. And how I use my time is about being in relationship – with members of this congregation, with members of this community, with my family, the denomination . . .
Of course, my research and meditation is also crucial to the ministry and my particular place in it. Which is why I am writing (wrote) this on Friday at home, my kids at school. Yes, I’ve received an unprecedented number of texts and phone calls (not to mention a visit – though at my invitation). Still, in quiet and stillness, my thoughts return more easily to the heart of the matter:
The kingdom of God . . . is like the yeast (Lk 13:18-21)
“It is like the yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened,” translated “mixed in;” is in the Greek, “hid in.” The amount is so small that it can be hidden inside several measures of flour – and still cause the entire loaf to elasticize, rise, become sustenance for a family. Or more.
We’re talking about the Kingdom of God, here. Even a teaspoon of it has an effect on an entire community – or more!
Have you ever felt like your meager efforts are having little impact on anything? Does it sometimes seem as if all of your hard work and compassion expressed through service is spinning plates or forever on a gerbil’s running wheel?
Thomas Keating, another person of great spiritual wisdom who just passed away said this, “There seems to be an intent or a plan in creation to bring into manifestations revelations of the Unknowable One that awaken in us the greater and greater capacity to love. . . . God is more and more trying to move the human race to the next stage of consciousness . . . recognizing the truth that there is only one self ultimately and this is God manifesting in us.”
For the Kingdom of God, then, the leaven that is crucial to the loaf of bread becoming, well, a loaf of bread, is Love. Behold what manner of Love . . . See what Love God has given us, that we are called children of God! And that is what we are. We belong to God. All of us – poor, rich, light skinned and dark skinned, gendered, relating, loving – all.
As we prepare to break bread together – bread leavened with Tom’s love and baked for us to share, let’s spend a few moments remembering, acknowledging God at the center of God’s dwelling place, perhaps guided by the memory of someone whose love remains though their body does not – listen to the words of this song of redemption – hope.
Prayer meditation for the Saints
by Safiyah Fosua
We give you thanks, O God, for all the saints who ever worshiped you
Whether in brush arbors or cathedrals,
Weathered wooden churches or crumbling cement meeting houses
Where your name was lifted and adored.
We give you thanks, O God, for hands lifted in praise:
Manicured hands and hands stained with grease or soil,
Strong hands and those gnarled with age
Used as wave offerings across the land.
We thank you, God, for hardworking saints;
Whether hard-hatted or steel-booted,
Head ragged or aproned,
Blue-collared or three-piece-suited
They left their mark on the earth for you, for us, for our children to come.
Thank you, God, for the tremendous sacrifices made by those who have gone before us.
Bless the memories of your saints, God.
May we learn how to walk wisely from their examples of faith, dedication, worship, and love.