All Saints’ Day
November 1, 2015
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44
Lord Jesus, may only the gospel be preached and only the gospel be heard.
Mary and Martha stand outside their brother’s tomb and weep. When Jesus gets there he also bursts into tears. This is what we all do at funerals as we struggle with the grief that floods our heart. At most of the funerals I’ve been involved in there is also present a great sense of gratitude for the incredible gift their loved one has been to them. Sometimes though there is something else also going on: the family is anxious to praise the dead person so they can convince themselves that the life they led is good enough to be worthy of eternal life.
Families have said to me: “Dad was a good person, so I know he is with God.”
Most of the time I can agree that Mom was indeed a wonderful woman who led a good life, but I cannot agree that that fact has anything to do with her being welcomed by God after death.
In fact the gospel evidence is just the opposite: it is the thief on the cross, a man who spent his life selfishly hurting others for his own gain, who is told by Jesus, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And please note paradise is not his final destination, but only that place of peace where he go waits for the arrival of the New Creation when he will rise in glory with a new body powered not by human willfulness but my the Spirit of God.
It is the prodigal son who spent his father’s wealth on prostitutes and riotous living who the father welcomes back with open arms and throws a great party.
It is the least and the lost who are welcomed into table fellowship with Jesus and it is the religious and the righteous who want to kill him. They are like the elder son, who works hard on the farm, who can’t stand his father’s generosity, and doesn’t want to be part of any family that is organized around grace, instead of hard work and doing the right thing.
Those who think you earn your way into God’s affection may be moral but they are not lovers, because it is only the sinners who have experienced forgiveness who even know what true love is.
The elder son’s strategy has a serious problem: There will come a time when the wheels fall off his wagon and he realize he too has done those things that he ought not to have done and he has not done those things he ought to have done. So maybe he will try harder still but that just makes him exhausted and numb and produces only what we get when we try to pull ourselves up by your own bootstraps, which is a hernia.
The Good News is not advice on how to make ourselves moral and get our religious ticket punched. The Good News is what God has freely done for us in Jesus Christ, who takes on himself our brokenness and freely gives us his worthiness and his faithfulness.
As Paul writes in Romans: For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly……and in Ephesians, 2:8: for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
The gospel is not about what we do to please God, but what God has done and is doing for us in Christ.
Those dear saints we remember today who now rest in God do so because of what Jesus Christ did for them and not through anything they ever did or did not do in this life.
As Richard Rohr often puts it, “I am not worthy, Mother Theresa is not worthy, even the Pope is not worthy. Don’t go there, don’t even go there!”
It’s time to give up the egocentric pursuit for worthiness and learn what it means to fall into the mystery of the grace of God.
How do I do that?
Paul says: As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:27
We enter the Mystery through our baptism. In baptism we are buried with Christ in his death and raised with Christ in his resurrection—clothed with Christ—just as the prodigal son receives the robe of sonship in place of the rags of failure.
The good news is not about who we are, but who the God we meet in Jesus is.
So the saints of God are “folk just like me”, and we really do meet them at school, or at shops or at tea.
Baptism begins this journey into the faithfulness of God in Christ. After baptism we believe this is true for us and daily surrender to Christ, whenever we hear our inner critic condemning us.
Paul says, “for once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.” Ephesians 5:8
Before our baptism we are like Lazarus, four days stinking in the grave, unable to save ourselves with Jesus weeping over us.
At our Baptism Jesus calls to us and enables us who are dead to hear the call and respond to it.
And Jesus says to the church: “Unbind her, unbind him”, and let them go.” It is the Church’s mission to act out this grace by embracing those fresh from death.
In a few moments each of us will have the opportunity to renew our own baptisms—maybe we’ve never given our baptism a moment’s thought since it happened so long ago. And maybe we’ve fallen into the mindset that has forgotten the mercy of Christ that is holding us in every moment.
Today is a good day to set down the burden of trying to save yourself and let Christ take over and do what only Christ can do.
The saints remind us that life is a journey to a specific destination called the Kingdom of God. Of course if we don’t know where we are going any road will do, but if we want to see the Great Oz we have to follow the Yellow Brick Road.
And as Dorothy and Toto find out it’s not just the destination but also your companions on the way.
We do not walk alone: As Paul describes it: I am, however, alive—but it isn’t me any longer; it’s the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The Kingdom New Testament, by N T Wright
It may be true that at death we see our life pass before us, but what we hold onto is not the movie of our life but the vision that John proclaims today: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…, And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
“See, I am making all things new.”