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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

All Saints' Day

Matthew 22.34-39
All Saints' Day
October 30, 2011
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

We celebrate All Saints' Day today.
To say, "Saints," always generates some confusion, because people are used to "saints" in the way the Roman Catholic Church thinks of saints.
Like Saint Teresa, or Saint Christopher.
In the Presbyterian Church, we don't have canonized saints as they do in the Catholic church.
Not that our way is better.
It's just a different way of defining a saint.
In our tradition, a saint is someone who perseveres.
We think of a saint as someone who lives a life worthy of praise.
Someone who is worth remembering when this life is over and they've moved on to their eternal home.
So, in our tradition, we have a lot of saints.
Some of them are saints in spite of the adversity they've had in their lives.
And some of them are saints in spite of the adversity they've created in other people's lives.
They're saints in spite of themselves.

Presbyterians have a lot of saints, among both the living and the dead.
We have a lot of examples of worthwhile lives that we shouldn't, that we couldn't, that we dare not forget.
Saints aren't perfect people.
We know that.
We're all a mix -- two parts sinner and one part saint.
We miss ballgames.
We forget to call on a birthday.
We let our vices get the best of us.
And then we turn around and do something absolutely saintly in spite of ourselves.
No, saints aren't perfect.
But they are good.
And their goodness leaves its mark on us, sometimes even if we don't want it to.
So in the Presbyterian church there are aren't really any rules about who gets to be a saint and who doesn't.
There are no councils, no votes, no declarations from General Assembly.
Some people might find that frustrating.
Simply put, if the balance of the good we choose to remember outweighs the sins we choose to forget, we anoint someone a saint.
It's up to us as much as it's up to them, and probably more.
Love, forgiveness, and kindness are, in the end, the only rules of all the saints.

The religious leaders of Jesus' day had come up with 613 equally important commandments for anyone who wanted their life to count.
Of the 613, 248 were positive commands, the "Thou shalts."
248 was also the number of body parts they had counted on the human body.
To their credit, the scribes were more interested in teaching what you should do with your body parts than what you shouldn't.
The remaining 365 commandments were negative, the "Thou shalt nots."
There was one "Thou shalt not," for each of the 365 days of the year.
It's not a bad system.
Except that keeping track of 613 equally important commandments would be paralyzing.
Everything you should do would be countermanded by something you shouldn't do.
It's also not a bad system if you're a scribe and you want to maintain your job security.
It's a great system for keeping people off balance.
Create worry.
It works.
Create guilt.
Guilt is a great way to keep religion in business.
Make people worry themselves to death over whether they've forgotten one thing that's going to eternally condemn their souls.
That's the ticket.
As in many societies, the people who would be saints wrote the rules and the sinners paid the bills.

So, armed with 613 often conflicting, equally important rules, they went to Jesus.
"Teacher," they said.
"What is the most important commandment?"
In the Gospel According to Luke, the question is phrased, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Either way the point is the same.
"What do I have to do to make my life count?"
"What do I have to do to become a saint?"
So here's what Jesus did.
He picked (actually) two commandments that weren't even among their 613, glomed them together, and came up with something completely different.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself."
Doesn't sound so ground-breaking to us.
But to the people who had bet their livelihoods and their lives on the 613, Jesus had just broken all the rules.
They must have been thinking, "Why, anyone can do that."
\Which was exactly the point.
Anyone can.
And everyone does, once in a while.
We just hope someone's watching when we do.

You remember John Brichetto?
He was a saint.
And he's probably spinning in his grave for me to say that, but, it's the truth.
One time, John told me that he was tired of going to funerals where he doesn't know the person under discussion.
Oh, he thought he knew them.
May have grown up with them.
But the way the preacher goes on and on about how saintly they were, he'd turn around in his seat and wonder, "Did I come to right place?"
John told me he'd already written down verbatim what I was supposed to say at his funeral. And if I varied one word from the text, he'd jump up and get me.
THAT would be a good Halloween story.
Ironically, when the time came, no one could find this supposed script John said he had written.
Which is a good lesson for us all.
If you want to write down exactly what the preacher's supposed to say, put it someplace safe.
Don't take it with you.

More often than not, as we're planning for visitations and for funerals, families apologize for laughing too much.
Between the laughter, between the tears, stories of the real person rise to the top.
These are the really good ones.
Memories are distilled.
In our memories, the two parts sinner get washed away, and the one part saint ascends.
Exactly like Jesus said it would.

The moments when we've loved God with purity, the days when we've treated our neighbor (our husbands, our wives, our friends, our enemies) as well or better than ourselves.
These are the most important things.
These are the keys to eternal life.
These are the things that make a saint.

Sinner or saint -- sinner AND saint -- even our smallest acts of love and goodness outlive us.
Love lives on.
Love stays.
Love counts for more than all we can do to mess ourselves up.

On All Saints' Day, we remember the marks of goodness.
And we remember the goodness of God on which the saints arise.

There are a bunch of saints in this room, right now.
And most of them would say, "Heck, I'm no saint."
That's usually the first sign you are one, if not to yourself, then to someone else.
We honored two of our church's saints today, two who have gone on to their seats at God's eternal table.
If you want to honor them, if you want to honor the people who are saints in your life, then be an example, yourself.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself."
You don't know how those two simple acts of love will change the life of someone who looks to you as an example.
Let the saints inspire you.
And let the saintliness of Christ be your guide.

Sent with Writer.

- James