November 2017 Sermons
Audio of November 5, 2017 All Saints Day Sermon:
November 12, 2017 The Rev. Dr. Barbara Elliott
When was the last time you “missed the boat” as we often say—perhaps you missed a deadline, didn’t get your homework in on time, were left out of a meeting, or didn’t make the team…Or even missed a precious opportunity with a loved one. These experiences, yours and mine, are lived experiences that parallel today’s Gospel reading. In the Gospel story, the door to the wedding closed for half of the people who thought they were going to be included. Didn’t happen. We can feel their frustration.
Bishop Tutu, former archbishop of South Africa and Nobel Peace laureate for his work with Apartheid there, tells a story in the Book of Joy about his own life when a door closed for him.
Bishop Tutu describes his father as someone who was a wonderful man when he was sober, but a violent person—especially towards his mother—when he had been drinking. Tutu always wished that he had been able to protect his mother from his father. Then this happened: Tutu and his wife Leah had taken their children to boarding school, and on the return home they needed to over-night near the villages where they were raised. They stopped to greet and wish his parents well, and traveled on to stay with her parents. When they stopped, Tutu’s father said he wanted to talk with him, that there was something he wanted to tell him. Tutu was exhausted, said he was too tired and asked if they might talk the next day. They parted with that intention—and during the night a phone message relayed that his father had died. Tutu observes that he can never know what his father wanted to tell him, and says he does hope it was that his father had wanted to say how sorry he was for the way he had treated his mother. Tutu says: “I have to accept that I missed an opportunity…which will not ever come back.” The door closed. Forever.
This story is truly a 2017 example of today’s Gospel reading, and it causes me to pause and consider what I need to be prepared to do, when and if opportunities arise. The strongest images in today’s Gospel—besides the closed door—are the emphasis on the delay and needed patience, on being prepared, and on staying aware of what is unfolding. The bridesmaids in the story were challenged by each of these steps in their parable. They are just as important for you and me as we hope to avoid missing the next boat...
What boat is it that you don’t want to miss? Perhaps there is something in your life that you are looking toward—a strong desire, or a goal, like learning a new skill, or changing a bad habit. Or maybe it is even bigger than a strong desire, perhaps you have identified your deepest desire and really want to rebuild a broken relationship, spend time with a certain person, or figure out how you will change your career to fulfill your gifts. What would you identify now as your deepest desire? (Or if that isn’t clear just now—what is your strongest desire today?) You might write these down now. If you don’t have an immediate answer, think about these questions this week and consider how you are preparing to accomplish them… Naming our deepest desire is important, as it recognizes and names the work our spirit is doing as we live our lives.
Accomplishing our deep desires follows a path of fits and starts. There can be lots of waiting, set-backs, and also needed preparation to be ready when opportunities present themselves. Think of Bishop Tutu’s story. He truly wanted to reconcile with his father. When this father did invite a conversation, Tutu did not recognize it was the opportunity had had been anticipating. Nor did he know it was the last opportunity he would have to accomplish his deepest desire. As prepared as Tutu was, he was tired and thought—as you and I do—that he had unlimited opportunities to work on his relationship with his father. Then the door closed, as it did in the Gospel story.
We are now approaching the busiest weeks of the year, Thanksgiving through New Years. There will be so many demands on our time, and only so much oil in our lamps, using the Gospel’s metaphor. What is your deepest desire? What will you use your oil for? As the Blessing for Ordinary Times says:
Life is short,
And we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who
make the journey with us.
So… be swift to love,
and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God,
who made us,
who loves us,
and who travels with us
guide you now and forever. AMEN
May it be so. AMEN.
November 5, 2017 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.
This is All Saints’ Sunday when we remember and celebrate all the saints “who from their labors rest.” We celebrate saints of long ago, most of whom we never knew or have even heard of. The calendar of saints can be found in your Book of Common Prayer beginning on page 19. Saints of long ago, and some more recent, can be found there, assigned a day when they are remembered and celebrated. Some of those saints you might know like St. Paul, St. Luke, or St. Francis, others whose names you’ve never heard - Benedict of Nursia, Edmund, King of East Anglia, or Nicholas Ferrar.
Whether known or unknown, we believe that they received the designation of sainthood because they lived out their baptismal promises, their lives pointed toward the God who made them and they lived lives of faithful service. Not perfect lives, read any book on the Saints and you’ll find that out. Not perfect, but faithful servants of God.
Something I love to do in preparing for this All Saints Sunday is to spend some time in prayer and reflection on the people whose names will be read right after this sermon; the names of our loved ones who have died and who will be remembered in the litany today.
One woman lived more than ten decades, a long, blessed life. Near the end as she watched more and more of her friends pass away, she would ask, “Why am I still here?” I would try to reassure her, “You’re still bringing joy to people’s lives, you inspire us.”
Another woman was one of the best prayers I have ever met. She prayed from the heart with a sincerity and genuineness that showed her deep love of the Lord and the people around her. Another strived to understand. She was filled with wondering and questions about the Bible, the next life, and God’s purpose for her.
At least three of the saints on our list had the gift of music. One played the organ in more than 15 churches throughout his life, including ours, without losing his marvelous sense of humor. Another played drums in church and in bars; we remember his spirit and his smile. The third played strings. Each of them touching people, moving them, inspiring and lifting them through the wonder, beauty and mystery of music.
One of our saints loved angels and surrounded herself with them. Another loved fishing for Atlantic salmon, stalking them in the streams of Iceland. Another saint spent many years in a wheelchair without losing her cheerfulness. Most lived long lives but one was cut short by ALS, her body slowly losing function, but her mind and spirit remaining strong inspiring the people around her, finding God’s blessing in the midst of earthly sorrow and suffering.
These are the saints whose lives we celebrated here at St. Paul’s. Other names have been added to the list, your loved ones, people whose lives touched and inspired yours. These are the saints close and dear to us, people whose lives pointed to the God who made them, who responded to God’s love, who made God known in ways big and small. People like those Jesus proclaimed Blessed in the Beatitudes we heard in our Gospel today – the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful and pure in heart, the peacemakers and those persecuted for righteousness sake. These are characteristics of saints then and now. Paul Tillich once said, “The saint is saint not because he or she is ‘good’ but because he or she is transparent for something that is more than him or herself.” Transparent for something more that oneself and this is what we remember about them, the ways they were transparent for something, someone, bigger, greater, than themselves. Most of us would name that someone God and that something Love; lives that pointed to love.
Bishop Steven Charleston reminds us: “What you do is critical. You may not think so because you see yourself as being without that much authority or influence, but the things you do count for much more that you may imagine. Every person you reach will touch a thousand more. The direction you share with a single person can turn the wheel of history over time. You are an important part of a great story. You are at the heart of the collective experience of your generation. What you say and do matters, so speak up, take a risk, and dare to be remembered.”
Bishop Steve reminds us of the power of love to transform lives and the world; the power of loving one another. The saints remind us of that today, love lives forever.
May the saints of old and the saints we have known inspire us to be transparent, to let the love of God shine through our lives as it shone through theirs. May they remind us that we are all part of God’s great story and that what we say and do touches others and lasts beyond our lives here on earth.
As we remember and celebrate the saints this day may we give thanks for the ways they touched our lives and be inspired to live out our calling to be saints of God. Amen.