‘All Saints day’ with our inclusive God

communion of saints

 

For those who have visited my blog previously .. It is a called ‘a saint in the making’. It is a concept that I hold dear to my heart. Let me explain … All Saints’ Day is one of my favourite celebrations in the whole liturgical year. It ranks right up there with Advent, Christmas Eve and Easter in my spirituality and I treasure marking its observance. It also invites us to quietly and prayerfully recall the blessings of God shared with us through the communion of saints – that great cloud of witnesses as the book of Hebrews puts it – who form a celestial crowd too huge to number from every nation, tribe and race – who are gathered in love before the presence of the Lord to sing praise to God and bring us encouragement and blessing until we are reunited with them in the realm that has no end. It is one of our most exquisite celebrations – and sadly, most of us in the Reformed tradition don’t really know what to make of this incredible feast day.
Saints are people who are ‘windows in this world’.  The light of God shines through them so brightly that people say they have seen salvation in them, and in the household of their lives.  A remarkable thing about them is that many were scapegoats early in their lives, bullied and called contemptible by folks around them.   To mention a few:

St. Francis of Assisi’s father dragged him into court in the town square, enraged because his son had secretly arranged to steal his father’s valuable assets, and given them to monks to sell for support of the poor.  He was found guilty.  Then, as a monk himself, he angered the local bishops by saying Mass without being ordained, creating his own liturgies, including animals in his congregation.

St. Teresa of Avila was considered a nut and way too outspoken for a woman, and shocking in her opinions.

Julian of Norwich lost her entire family to the plague, and had visions so extraordinary no one knew what to make of them.

Mother Teresa expressed her strong doubts about God, in writing.  And became a nun to escape life in her small town in Italy, where she was very unhappy.

Oskar Schindler, who saved Jews from death in World War II Germany, was a Nazi, womanizer and a drunk, who used his popular and deserved reputation as a scoundrel as a cover for what he was doing.

Nelson Mandela was considered a public enemy by the government of South Africa, which put him in jail for 27 years, during all of which he was a beacon of hope for black South Africans.

These saints, and so many others, flouted public conventions in ways that were painful for them, but also allowed them to let God’s light into this world.

So let’s take the first insight…..In our tradition, most of us aren’t aware that the celebration of All Saints’ Day is almost as old as Christmas. Scholars are certain that believers have been returning thanks to God for their martyred dead since 359 CE in Edessa, Turkey and 411 C in Eastern Syria. And by the 7th century the feast had come to include the faithful non-martyrs, too. That means that the celebration of All Saints Day has been going on for 1300 years.
There are at least three ways of categorizing saints.

1.We might even want to expand the New Testament and call all people saints since all, not just Christians, are children of the inclusive, all-embracing God.

2. Another category of saints is that of those special people from ages past who are placed on the calendar of saints and are held up for the world to emulate, like the people I have just mentioned earlier.  But let us not forget that each and every one of us here this morning are called to be extraordinary even if history does not remember us.  We can be extraordinary mothers, astonishing farmers, amazing nurses, outstanding grocery clerks, exceptional bankers, stupendous bakers, just plain amazing people aside from our jobs.

3.Thirdly, there are saints not yet born, those still to come.  God is not bound by our time sequence issues.  Right now God is gracing these people not yet born into sainthood, into holiness, into blessedness, into happiness. All three together, those from the past, those of us alive now, and those yet to come, we call the communion of saints

 

So what does it mean to honour the saints and mark this day reverently? What’s more, what is the spiritual wisdom of All Saints’ Day all about and why does it matter for you and me?

One clue comes in the very word saint… Literally the Greek word we translate as saint – hagios – means the ‘holy ones’: those who have dedicated themselves to God – those who are set apart from what is ordinary – those who have claimed God’s blessings in a deep and profound way. That means that the saints are not only those who gave up their lives for the love of God as martyrs, and this is the crucial point…..but those who lived their ordinary lives with an extraordinary awareness of God’s grace.
So the first truth is that Saints are not just ancient souls who have made something of God’s light visible in the darkness, they are also those we have known in our own time who have been open and alive to making God’s love real.

Saints are those who have been blessed by God, to be blessed by God, seems to me, is to be opened to grace and to respond by giving shape and form to the way of God in our ordinary lives. This is what saints do – and saints are you and you and you and you and all of us.
Yes , being a saint IS too hard, too demanding, too high – that’s why Jesus told us we cannot become saints – or disciples – or people of faith all by ourselves. We have to open our hearts to God when we are empty. We have name and own our sin or selfish traits and ask for forgiveness over and over again. And we have to trust that God is God…… and loves us with a love that never gives up.

And that is why trusting the ‘communion of saints’ – opening our hearts to their constant prayers for us when we have only sighs too deep for human words – can be so healing. We don’t have to do it all – that great cloud of witnesses is praying for us and encouraging the Lord to meet us where we need God the most.
That is what we claim by faith on All Saints’ Day: that God is with us in love in ways that we cannot comprehend.

 

Prayer

 

Lord as we gather on this special all Saints Day.

we ask that you would bless us as your saints of today

Enable us to show the Light of Christ,

and may our lives be windows to world of your love, grace

and wisdom

This we pray, through Christ Jesus

Amen

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Sunshine and showers

sunshine and showers

The summer weather has been a mixture of the two S’s …sunshine and showers.  Mostly the sun has been shining, and when this happens, everyone seems to be happier and more positive, yet when the showers did come … gosh did it rain !! Dark clouds, thunderstorms and the rain pounding onto the pavement and grass….. much needed water for the plants and crops.

For most people, the weather can affect us quite significantly. We feel positive and optimistic when the weather is sunny and warm, however wind, cold and rain can bring gloomy thoughts – even despair. Like the weather- each of us as individuals, has a sunny side and a shadow side. Many of us feel we always have to put on a ‘sunny’ face, always be cheerful and positive  ….and yet yearn to have someone listen to us, to tell them of our fears, worries and doubts.

God knows us intimately, the sunny side and the shadow side, and with his unconditional love and grace he always will love and treasure us. After the heavy shower and the sun starts to peek through the clouds we sometime get a rainbow, or beautiful rays that shine through the dark clouds, a reminder of God’s promise to us and bless us with abundant love.

If life is treating you harshly, or you feel that you cannot allow people to see the real you….if you are fearful of being judged or feel excluded in some way from society and community, remember there is one loyal and true friend you have who loves and totally accepts the whole you, the real you , the you that no-one else sees or knows …and that is Jesus.

 

Prayer

 

God of the sunshine and showers .

In the days when I feel depressed , and full of despair

When the dark clouds loom ever closer

And all I feel is emptiness

Enfold me in your tender care

 

In the days I feel unworthy and excluded

When my loneliness pulls me to greater depths

And hope is replaced by fear

Enfold me in your tender care

 

In the days when I feel uplifted and full of joy

When the sunshine lifts my Spirit

And every moment brings a smile

Enfold me in your tender care

 

Enable me Lord to see beyond the rain

To bright skies and a soaring Spirit

As the eagle rises on currents of warm air to glide high above the earth

May we who are part our your body

Rise to new heights within us

To capture the essence of your Grace

so we may forever bathe in your goodness and light.

Amen

 

Growing in Grace

ImageOne of the most wonderful, comical and I think realistic observations of teenagers growing up are in the Harry Enfield TV shows and the sketches of Kevin and Perry. Teenagers at their worst, speaking in monosyllables, teenage babble, and Kevin has a total disrespect for his parents. I can recall this programme vividly as I had a teenager at that time….who had adopted some , although not all I am glad to say traits of Kevin and his friend Perry.

Everything was an effort.. to communicate … to learn… to generally be sociable and polite.. and as for Church.. well I think it was fair to say .. it was not high on their agendas….. and being connected and having a relationship with God was like speaking another language to them

Did you know that the Bible only gives us one story and one comment on the life of Jesus from the time he was approaching the teenage years until he’s a thirty-something starting his ministry?.. Luke 2 : 41-52

He is twelve years old.. on the verge of adolescence, and he has a mind of his own… and to a young man who has his mind set on learning about God and growing in grace , he cannot see why Mary has panicked so much !!

I remember experiencing the terrible possibility of losing my grandson William… It was a couple of years ago, granted a lot younger than Jesus is supposed to have been … but I had been walking with my mum at the Lowry centre.. He was with me on moment.. then gone from my side the next.. my heart sank , then panic , then fear , then how do I explain it  to his Mum. We found him a minute later sat on a step, watching the rays of the sun through his fingers !

Teachers tell us that Children are a joy to teach , yet they also tell us of children who disturb others , and that all too often they come from Dysfunctional families … indeed the Christian church is often referred to as a dysfunctional family… with petulant teenagers, rival siblings, anxious Mum’s and judgemental Grandfathers and Grandmothers

However the key ingredients for families… is to be nurtured in God’s grace .. to be immersed in the grace that God Gives us… not the Cheap Grace that Dietrich Bonhoffer speaks about, that is  Grace which ignores discipleship, Grace that ignores the cross and Grace that does not require repentance.

To Grow in Grace means to aware of God’s goodness , to be aware of the bountiful gifts God wants to give us .. Jesus recognised this as he sat in the synagogue as a young man, he recognized God and wanted to Grow in maturity, wisdom and stature.

At the start of the New Year, and as 2013 progresses, I pray that all people grow in wisdom , surrounded by God’s Grace… what a world that would be !!

Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

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