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“And They In Glory Shine”

Rev. Daniel A. Smith
Sun, Nov 03

Text: Ephesians 3: 14-21

 14 For this reason I bow my knees before God, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, the holy one may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through God’s Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all hearts be always acceptable to you, O God, our rock and redeemer!

All Saints Day is a favorite celebration of mine.  Long before these beautiful puppets came along, I loved this Sunday because it’s one of the only times in our Protestant liturgical tradition that we are invited, encouraged even, to remember and honor our lost loved ones. I’ve loved All Saints Day for at least 30 years now because I know this is a day when I will get to say my father’s name. Albert A Smith. The A isn’t an initial. A was his middle name.  Albert A!  Today is a day when I can count on rekindling my connection to him.  Today, I know I can welcome and even befriend those gentle waves of grief and longing that are now gifts to me because they draw me closer to him, draw me further into my own spirit, and draw me deeper into awareness of God’s abiding love. Today, I remember and live out my love for him and his for me and I rest assured that he is held in God’s love and light, gladly a part of that great chorus and cloud of witnesses that are with us always.

 

But All Saints Day, I’ve learned, is so much more than a day to remember our lost loved ones.

 Some Christian traditions even have an add-on day to All Saints, called All Souls Day.  All Souls, usually celebrated the day after All Saints is just for honoring the faithful departed. So what, you may ask, is All Saints Day, apart from that?!  As we said at the beginning of the service the Saints in our tradition aren’t just those who have gone before us, nor those have been “canonized” for their piety or good works. The saints are also you and me.  Today we recall that we too are saints, saints in the making, saints on the way, who are still needing to nurture and grow that divine spark of saintly glory within each of us. All Saints Day, seen in this light, is a day to remember not only our beloveds, to recall our own belovedness in God, to remember that we too have been wondrously and perfectly made despite our limitations and sins.

Thomas Merton puts it this way:  “For me to be a Saint means to be myself.” Sounds easy, as first!  But think about it.  If only it were easy, just to be ourselves, right?  If only we didn’t have parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, celebrities and Facebook friend and ads trying to make and remake us in their images. If only we could all shine with the wholesome glory of our newborn selves, or have that glow we see on the faces of some nuns and monks who have through relentless prayer and spiritual practice grown so spiritually mature that they can’t but shine forth with joy and humble awareness of their belovedness and that of everyone else they meet?  If only we weren’t so driven and motivated by those ever-clinging of shadows of our competitiveness, say, or our perfectionism, or our defensiveness, or our guilt, or our needs to be recognized, or our needs to be right.

Hear again that line from Merton and what follows: “For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”   I think what Merton is saying here is that we need to discover and reclaim our God-given identity. We need to learn to celebrate ourselves as saints in the making, to find our unique gifts, our unique sense of purpose, stripped away of all worldly pressure that tells us to be someone we are not. And here is precisely where the saints of the past can be helpful. For as we belted out in our opening hymn “We feebly struggle,” right?, but “they in glory shine!” They’ve already come to know what it means to be their true and most glorious selves and so we need their examples and their memories to go before us! 

In our letter to Ephesians which is attributed to Paul, we find a prayer that the reader will be strengthened in their inner spirit and that they will understand, with all the saints, the breadth, length and height and depth of God’s love. You see Paul knows that the saints departed know something that we don’t.  Whatever earthly struggles and suffering they may have encountered has been redeemed and made whole such that they now know and see and can be filled with the fullness of God’s love and joy! Paul invokes the saints and beautifully tethers us to them!  Mind you, the saints departed weren’t perfect when they were living, though each had a divine spark too.  We can and should be honest as we remember them that they were limited, at times broken, just like the rest of us.  But now that they are part of that great cloud of witnesses God has transformed that still, small spark into brightness and glory that can shine forth today and, if we let it, light our way.

I’m reminded here of a little trick a friend taught me several years ago when I was going through some profound personal struggles. Suffice it to say, I was not finding the courage or confidence to do a difficult thing that I knew I needed to do. She knew exactly what I needed to hear. To remind me of my belovedness in that moment would have rolled right off. It wouldn;t have stuck maybe because we were in a bar having a few beers together.  So she went for something stronger, something someone did for her a few years back.  She told me who I was in no uncertain terms. She said my full name except rather than telling me “you are Daniel Albert Smith!” she said “You are Daniel F’in Smith!” I tried it on and immediately I got the intended jolt of encouragement. And, I knew right away that it fit me as much as it fit her as much as it fit every other person in the bar.  Besides, I don’t think Albert A would mind. Call it temporary pay back for giving me such a boring name!  I think the power of this kind of naming lies in the reminder it conveys that we are each a somebody, that each and every one of us is profoundly beloved. Today, this story may remind us too that we are all, every single one of us, saints in the making, that we all have our unique and saintly gifts to share that no one can take away and that we should never forget. 

If this exercise doesn’t work for you, if it’s not something you can imagine yourself thinking or sharing, I have another one. Later today or tomorrow, should you need a little All Saints Day extension and want to observe a personal All Souls Day, go ahead and spend time in prayer or meditation on and with your loved ones that have gone before or even historical figures that have inspired you.  Imagine that personal cloud of witnesses. Instead of  taking time to honor them which we will do here later in the service, instead try asking: how would they honor you? How do they honor you? How..think about it..how are they loving on your right now?  What specific gifts of yours would thank you for? What can they see that you can’t see fully for yourself? How would they, in that depth, height and breadth of their knowledge and glory, love you for exactly who you are, no improvements needed? Go ahead and imagine them waiting for and celebrating and cheering on your still unfolding true self!  Whether you are a visionary, a giver, an achiever,  an artist, an investigator, a challenger or a peacemaker, there is a profound and divine and saintly light and glory in each of us!   Consider them trying to coaxing it out of you. Imagine them holding mirrors of God’s unconditional love up to you, so that you can see what they see and see what God’s see. And imagine the paths they are clearing for us to take that next saintly step! 

Individually and collectively, there is a profound strength and hope with which we can face our daily struggles and our worldly woes when we know there saints are surrounding us and encouraging us to be who we really are and to bring our unique gifts to the world.After all, these are the unique gifts for which we too will be remembered someday when people say our names, maybe even right here in this chancel! Can we feel the strength and courage and hope surrounding us and encouraging us now?

Yes? Then let us continue to feebly struggle! And let’s let their glory shine! They are ready and waiting to share the glory to call it out of us, to light our way, to fill us with a sense of our true selves and how beloved those selves are by them and by God. They will give us strength, hope and faith for the journey that lies ahead. Look up to that cloud. Let it surround you. Let them be your daily companions in the days and months ahead, that we might be held in the comfort and solace and glorious light of God’s love.  Amen!

 

 

 

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