All Saints

All Saints

The Multitude from Every Nation
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10 (NRSVUE)

(Hearts were cut from card stock and hung by fishing line from the balcony with the names of church members who have passed away over the years. We had about 65 hearts.)

I have always loved All Saints Sunday because it is a day to help us to heal. It is a day that permits us to remember the people who meant so much to us. But it is also a day to help us realize that it is okay to feel emotional when we think about friends and loved ones that we have lost whether they passed away last week, last year, or fifty years ago.

Friends, if when you think of a friend or loved one tears come to your eyes, know that that is not something to hide. On the contrary, that is a gift! Your body is physically reminding you of how important that friend, loved one, or pet was in your life. And that is something special! The truth is, sometimes we struggle because we don’t always know what we believe. We are told so many stories about what happens after someone dies. We imagine what heaven is like and if I were to ask every one of you what heaven looks like we would hear a different story from everyone.

To be honest, the Bible doesn’t say much at all about heaven. Most of the stories of heaven and hell that we have been told over the years were written by writers who creatively tried to describe the mysteries of the unknown. Or they were stories told to keep the masses under control. Many of the early writings about Heaven and Hell came from Jewish apocalyptic writers about a hundred and sixty years before Jesus was born. It was a period known as the Maccabean Revolt, and that is when the idea of a devil who reigned over evil was first written about. They believed in something called “cosmic duality,” and their understanding was that for every positive there had to be a negative. So good needed evil, light needed dark, summer needed winter, and heaven needed hell.

In the gospels, Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven quite often, but he tells us that it is not a faraway place, it is here in our midst, and even within us. And that is why we are called to love our neighbor and work together for good.

In our scripture reading from Revelation today, we get another apocalyptic vision of heaven. It’s one of my favorites because it talks of a great multitude, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and all languages. It’s as though everyone that God created someday returns to God. Biblical tradition also tells us that the heavens are primarily God’s dwelling place: a parallel realm where everything operates according to God’s will. If that is true, then I know that heaven is a place of unconditional love for all!

The problem here on earth is that God has given us Free Will, and we can do whatever we want, whenever we want. What that means is that most of the hurt, pain, struggle, and injustice that we face here on earth comes from human actions and decisions, not God’s actions and decisions. Another important piece that we heard about in our scripture reading this morning is salvation. Now for hundreds and hundreds of years, Christians have been teaching about salvation as the way we get into heaven. We must be saved to pass by St. Peter and enter the pearly gates. Just like Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven not being somewhere far away but within us, I think salvation is the same.

Many Christians think that salvation is about getting into heaven when we die. But when that’s the focus, I think we totally miss the point. Salvation means to preserve or to deliver from harm, ruin, or loss. It’s the work that we should be doing in our church, our community, and our world every single day. Helping people and protecting them from harm, ruin, or loss. But many times, when we look around at our churches and our communities, we don’t see salvation, love, grace, or hospitality for that matter. We might talk about those things, but when we truly look around, we see petty arguments. We see people fighting over things that they think belong to them. We see people judging who is worthy and who is not. We hear complaints about having to share or people moaning about others not doing their part. My friends, what if in the church, instead of saying that we are Christian, we start acting like Jesus? As one of my seminary professors used to say, “Sitting in a church every Sunday doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.” What makes us Christian is how we act and how we treat the people around us.

Friends, here in Oldtown, we’re pretty good at working to help our hungry and homeless neighbors out there, but what about the neighbors that sit in the pews around us? What happened to reaching out with kindness? What happened to being humble and sharing the gifts that we have given? What happened to loving our neighbors as ourselves? I often say that our children are our greatest teachers, and to be honest, they understand sharing and working together far more than most of us adults do. They don’t have turf wars and control issues. They look for the good in the world around them, sharing, forgiving, and loving one another rather than fighting for space, attention, and control.

In my thirteen years as the Pastor here in Oldtown, I have seen amazing things happen: stories of love, joy, compassion, mission, and people helping people. But I have also seen countless families leave our church over petty arguments, crass comments, unfriendly attitudes, and control issues. Friends, this week, we will hopefully have countless people entering our building for our church fair. When there is conflict among our own, our visitors can feel it. When we continue to let it fester and complain to one another about it, we become unhealthy and dysfunctional.

Friends, today we sit in this sanctuary surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Oldtown members and friends who have gone before–saints like Janice Tondravi who taught us about the importance of prayer, hospitality, mission, and compassion, and Carolyn Delgado, who worked hard sharing the story of our church and who was always ready to serve a hot cup of coffee in Jesus’ name.

My friends, our balconies hold three hundred and eleven years of faithful saints who did their best to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Did they always get it right? No. But they helped pave the way before us. The hearts hanging from our balcony today represent just a tiny portion of our Oldtown saints that have gone before. Every one of them was known for something different and had a story to tell.

Bob and Dottie Greene were long-time deacons who made sure that a proper sense of respect was always maintained. while also supplying us with cinnamon rolls and a plethora of printed materials. Dot and Conrad Morel helped keep our finances in order while also building church floats for parades and carving birds for our church fairs. Tom and Helen Wright taught Sunday school and always picked up the church’s trash. Elsie Morris jumped in when help was needed and, in so doing, invented Oldtown’s infamous Elsie’s Salad Dressing. Judy Harrop filled our church with music and was always ready to feed anyone hungry. Dave Kingman cared for this church building like it was his own home. And made sure that all were welcome here. Pamela Manton taught us to always see the good in everything. Dot Sutherland knitted prayer shawls and blankets for the fair and folded every bulletin exactly straight. June Clavette worked with her husband Ed on yard sales, church suppers, coffeehouses, and pet clinics, and sang in our Oldtown choir. Steve Whitney taught us what unconditional love really means and always reminded us to “don’t stop believin’!” Betty Grant kept us organized and showed true hospitality to every person who came through our doors. Rev Habijah Weld and Rev John Whitehill each preached the gospel here in Oldtown for over fifty years. And my friends, the list of Oldtown Saints goes on and on.

The lives of our Oldtown Saints and their hard work made this church what it is today. We have joined them on this journey, but someday, we too will leave this place to future generations. And I wonder what story will be told about us?

There is a poem that I often read at graveside services–so you may have heard it before–but I think it reminds us of what is really important, so I invite you to hear these words from “The Dash” by Linda Ellis:

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning… to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
They spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved them know
What that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars… the house… the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard;
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile…
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read,
With your life’s actions to rehash,
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you lived your dash?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, I would urge you to think about the way you live your life, the way you treat the people around you, the things you say, and the things you do.” Then ask yourself–a hundred years from now, how might this church remember you on All Saints Sunday? But I would also remind you that salvation is not about “someday.” It’s about how we act, what we say and do, and how we help our friends and our neighbors experience the kingdom of heaven in the here and now!

My friends, may it be so, thanks be to God, Amen.


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