Saturday, November 1, 2014

Of Earthly Good Because Heavenly Minded (All Saints Sunday, 2 November 2014)

RCL All Saints
2 November 2014

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

         Almost two thousand years ago a Christian teacher and leader in what is now modern Turkey put his pen to paper and wrote to Christians in his own community or, perhaps, to Christians in a nearby one.  His sisters and brothers were troubled by a recent conflict among the believers that focused on the question of whether God was truly present in Jesus of Nazareth or merely appeared to be.

         What was at stake was the relationship between this world and the world to come.  If God was truly present in Jesus of Nazareth, then this world, the one in which you and I live, matters to God.  What we do in this world matters to God.  If God only seemed to be present in Jesus of Nazareth, then it could be argued that this world, this material world, was not a fit dwelling place for God.  What truly matters is the world to come and this world is either a distraction or a distortion of what it means to be a creature of God.

         The so-called ‘spiritual’ Christians who saw this world as unfit for the ‘real’ presence of God denied the importance of community life and focused solely on their own salvation from this ‘vale of tears’.  Some of these people may even have claimed secret knowledge concealed from their less-aware sisters and brothers.  These ideas were unacceptable to the teacher who wrote the first letter of John.  His opening words make clear his commitment to the revelation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth:  “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands . . . .” (1 John 1.1)  His letter teaches us that what God began in Christ is continued in us through the working of the Holy Spirit; we are the continuing body of Christ, living and serving in this world.

         This tension between a focus on life and witness in this world and this world’s role in God’s plan of salvation and a focus on the world to come has been present throughout Christian history.  I remember a former Secretary of the Interior in the U.S. government once say that we did not need to worry about the environment because Christ was coming soon.  The then Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is said to have responded, ‘Yes, I believe Christ is coming and that he will ask for an account of our stewardship of this good earth.’  The bishop who ordained me, Bill Frey, was heard to say, ‘Some Christians are so heavenly-minded that they are no damn earthly good.’

         Today we celebrate the all those saints, those witnesses to the love of God made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth, whose names are not recorded in the history of the Christian movement.  They are unknown, but they are not forgotten.  What we remember today is that these sisters and brothers were committed to being earthly good for the sake of the heaven they kept with all their hearts, with all their souls, with all their minds and with all their strength.

         But our celebration is not directed solely towards the remembrance of the past.  It is a renewal of our commitment to being the body of Christ in this present world so that all creation can have a foretaste of that world which is to come and in which we hope.  Today we remember that “[beloved], we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”  (1 John 3.2)  So, the unnamed saints turn to us and ask, ‘How will you live now so that the whole creation may know the freedom of the children of God, the freedom that is the birthright of every human being?’

         In the Beatitudes Jesus describes how his followers are to live in the here and now in order to know for ourselves and to proclaim to others this promised freedom:
  • Our poverty of spirit leads us to humble stewardship of the bounty God has entrusted to our care.
  • Our mourning is our solidarity with our sisters and brothers who suffer for their faith in the promises of God.
  • Our meekness is our willing surrender of the privileges of being rich in a world where many are poor in order that all may have enough to eat, meaningful work and places to live.
  • Our hunger and search for righteousness will lead us to speak to the powerful on behalf of those who are powerless and silenced.
  • Our mercy will arise from our awareness that we too have fallen short in our faithfulness to God.
  • Our peacemaking will lead us to build bridges, not only elsewhere in the world, but here in our own city, our own province, our own country between those who find themselves in conflict.
  • Our persecution will be known when others question our motives or even our sanity when we act in ways that challenge the status quo.

This is how we shall answer the question of our predecessors in the faith whom we remember today.

         Friends, let us be of earthly good precisely because we are heavenly-minded.  Not a heavenly-mindedness that looks so far beyond the horizon that we trip over our feet, but a heavenly-mindedness that recognizes that God’s promises are not limited only to the future, they are to be tasted in the here and now. 

         Last year I quoted an All Saints hymn that I grew up singing as a boy in Colorado:  “The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.  You can meet them in school or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”  (The Hymnal 1940, #243, verse 3)  I know that I have met them here in this congregation, in this diocese, in this part of Christ’s church.  Today I remember you and give thanks.  Perhaps in years to come, those who follow us in this place and all the other places where the body of Christ continues the work begun in Jesus of Nazareth will remember us as being among the saints, unknown but not forgotten, and give thanks.  Amen.

No comments: