Saturday, 2 November 2019

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 3 November 2019 Pentecost 21 All Saints Day Holy Communion

Readings: Ephesians 1:15-23 Luke 6:20-31

We pray: Loving and gracious God, may your word for us today be strong in hope, abundant in wisdom and firm in the assurance of your love.  In Jesus name.  Amen.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love* towards all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. So writes Paul to the church in Ephesus as he begins a prayer of intercession for them. And he goes on to talk about how God gathers us in unity as church both in our time and also across time.  He assures us that the blessings that come in the name of Jesus gather us into one huge family we call church,  making us way more than NZ Presbyterians or Reformed Churches or 21st century churches. And that is a really good thing!

For one thing, it helps us keep our perspective, doesn’t it, helps remind us that we are not big fish in a small pond but part of a much greater fellowship transcending time and space.  And it reminds us too that we are not alone – our Opoho faith community is connected across time, lands, denominations in the blessing of Christ.  Diversity yes, unity even more yes.

And today we especially remember the presence of those who are no longer with us, the saints of our lives and faiths. A few weeks ago Gregor talked about the Saints that we all know – St Andrew, St Francis, St Joan, St Teresa. Today we are talking about what I call the small s saints and I love that it is so.  For we are talking about the ordinary people who impacted our lives of faith, we are talking about the ones we didn’t know but who are part of the fabric of this worshipping community, those who are but a whispered memory and those fresh in our hearts and minds.

We draw strength from our saints do we not?  They are the ones that provide the reassuring hand on the shoulder when we are weighed down, who speak to us of hope when we need it, whose memory of grace nudges our disgraceful thoughts and actions.  We are grateful for their continuing guidance and comfort in our lives, we are encouraged by them and we see the light of God’s love and goodness shining in them still.

And do you know what makes this such an encouragement for us today. The people we remember were not angels, not perfect, not larger than life in the way the world sometimes selects its saints.  They were ordinary people like you and me, at times struggling with faith, sometimes calling God out, sometimes deeply ministering to us without their even knowing.  

In their everydayedness the small s saints of the church have taught us much but perhaps the one thing that stands out for me today is that each and everyone of them knew what it was like to survive the ups and downs of life – to experience blessings and trials in their lives, good and bad times, yet to endure in faith as we must do. In other words, our saints keep us real so that we can continue the story!

Christians throughout time have found sustenance in the reading we heard today of the beatitudes.  For they certainly lay it out that our life as Christians is not plain sailing.  We will know hunger and pain, sorrow and being on the margins.  Our blessings in Christ come as part of that pain – being able to forgive those who have hurt you, being gentle in the face of aggression, peaceful in the midst of violence, Christ centred in the darkest moments, hope-filled in the blackness of despair.

John Bell in his book States of Bliss and Yearning[1] has a chapter titled ‘Dubious Beatitudes’ in which he challenges the view that, as Christians’ we deserve blessings and have to just ‘get through’ the tough times. He points out that while stories of blessings and trials are to be found throughout the psalms, for example Blessed are those whose refuge is in the Lord (Ps 2) as well as I am wearied with moaning, all night long my pillow is wet with tears (Ps 6), Jesus intentionally pulls what Bell calls the bane and blessing of living onto the same page. In other words, Jesus is wanting to point out that misfortune is not separate from blessing but that the deep joy of faith sits right alongside the suffering and pain. Christian faith embraces the totality of life in all its robustness and fragility.  As Bell says, ‘those who wish to know the bliss of shouting Hallelujah need also to know the yearning of those who cry ‘how long?’

You know, that is what I have learned from the saints in my life; how in faith they embraced life, good and bad.  In fact it may be the formula for defining my saints.
The retired minister who was mortified by his arrogance as a parish minister and in his vulnerability, taught me how to forgive self. 
The woman who emerged from a cult (and all the junk that goes with that) with a core of faith that allowed her to be angry but not bitter, forgiving not hating, exploring not giving up.

You will have your own - the small s saints of the church who have blazed their faith and hope in Christ into your hearts, faithful bearers of the inheritance we have received and that we will pass on.  We are grateful for the cloud of saints that surround us, that speak into our lives of faith with encouragement and love.  Amen

Margaret Garland

[1] Glasgow, Wild Goose Publications, 1998

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