Friday, November 28, 2008

Advent Sunday, Year B

Advent Expectations

Readings: Isaiah 63:16-64:8; Psalm 80:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:32-37

The French philosopher, Pascal, wrote, "There is a God-shaped piece of emptiness inside everyone." How true that is! We all live with expectations for our own well being and that of our children. Don’t we all long for fulfillment? That longing is very much reflected in the mood of the Advent season. As Christians, we know there is something incomplete in our lives. We search for meaning. We yearn for inner peace. We hunger for an intimate relationship with a personal God. We seek an end to the hunger in our souls. We keep searching, trusting that God will transform us and fill the emptiness in our lives.

It is a feeling of expectation that transcends time and space. You can hear it in Isaiah’s prayer of lamentation. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence,” he calls out to God. He is filled with a sense of longing, a longing for God to do something so strange, so wonderful, so beyond human expectation, that there will be no reason for anyone to doubt God’s power. He sees the destruction around him. He knows the deep sense of discouragement that pervades the lives of the people of Israel. God seems so far away. He longs for a personal God, a God involved in every aspect of his life, present with him through all the hardships, persecution and difficulty. Then he has an ‘aha’ moment. He recognizes how God is revealed to us. That beautiful, intimate image of the potter and the clay comes to him. He sees those magnificent hands of God working the clay, molding, shaping, and reshaping the people in God's own beautiful image. He sees the deepening and intimate relationship that is possible with a God who is with us and in us.

That kind of longing, that spiritual hunger, is reflected in our secular world. People may deny the very existence of God. Yet they still seek ways of filling the emptiness that eats away at them. People are hungry for something that will bring meaning to their lives. That is why there are so many destructive ways in which people seek fulfillment – alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling. The list could go on. Even when people seek spiritual ways of fulfillment, they do not often turn to the institutional church. So often they are simply alienated by what they see as an archaic and meaningless exercise. Perhaps it is not unlike Isaiah's first reaction, which was to question God about motives. You will hear from people, “If there is a God out there, why don’t you do something about state of the world?” Why do you let terrorists bomb innocent people in Mumbai? Why do innocent children die of hunger every day?” They don’t want to wait in expectation. They don’t want to listen for God’s direction. They don’t want to be active participants in the coming of God’s kingdom. Rather, they want a God who will bring about transformation of their state of being through the miraculous. They want to see awesome deeds. They think they will find fulfillment in materialistic ways.

It is evident to me that it is the case when I listen to some television evangelists. “The problem with us,” they will say, “is that we don’t expect enough of God. Don’t just ask for what you need. Ask for everything you want.” They go on to say that if we send them money it will come back to us tenfold. And people buy it, because they are seeking to fill the emptiness in their lives. They are searching for an intimate relationship with the spiritual world. Yet there is something so off base about what is offered. The search becomes idolatry, for what is offered is fulfillment through materialism rather than an entry into the presence of God. Such people will go on to relate how great wealth has come to them simply by asking God to fulfill their needs.

I don't know about you. But that is not how I find spiritual fulfillment. It is wonderful to live in a land of plenty. I don't personally think I could feel any more fulfilled in my life by having a million dollars. At the point of our deepest longing, is not material wealth, but the very presence of God. That longing comes from God. Pascal knew it; I know it.

Contrast that approach to the way in which the people of Corinth seek inner peace and fulfillment. They face terrible conditions, poverty, slavery, brutality. Yet the Good News of the Gospel gives them a new vision and outlook for the future. They are a people waiting expectantly and with hope. They are waiting for the fulfillment of the life of grace. They are waiting until the fullness of Christ will be revealed. They are waiting not as those without hope, but with the knowledge that the gift of life in Christ is already theirs. They know that God is faithful.

We too live in a church expectant, watching with hope for Jesus' return. We, like Isaiah, may long for some miraculous and awesome display of God’s power. But the Christian is not called to wait passively. We are called to active preparation. God has put us in charge of creation.

So Jesus tells us that it is like a man travelling abroad, leaving his servants in charge. Each has their own task to accomplish. The doorkeeper is to stay awake so as not to be asleep at the return of the master, a return that might happen at any moment of the day or of the night. It is not only a matter of staying awake, but of being involved in the task set for us in this world. It is a task which will result in the fulfillment of God's promise, in the establishment of God's kingdom. God expects us to be at work, building the kingdom. That begins with our inner search for the presence of God. It begins with our own study. It begins with our life of prayer. But it calls us to reach out with the message of hope to others.

These are anxious times in the world. They are times of economic turmoil. They are also times when we recognize that terrible, violent things can happen. At a time of real questioning and soul searching, we are called to offer reassurance and hope. We are called to look to God, the potter, who will never forsake us but will continue to shape and mold us until we are all we are meant to be. We are called to bring others into the presence of God. We are called to prepare ourselves spiritually through prayer and study of God’s word. We are called to be. Amen

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Advent Sunday

It is the beginning of a new year for us in Church land. And the call is to wake up, to be alert, to be prepared. I have always been a morning person, jumping out of bed even before the alarm. I suspect it goes back to my father's way of greeting us. "Rah girls! Rah boys! It's time to get up!" And you knew that with our large clan all clamouring for one bathroom you had better be out of bed as soon as possible or you were likely to be late for breakfast.

The question rings out to us as we enter this time of preparation in the church year. The secular world is preparing for Christmas. It is easy to see the preparations. It is easy to become distracted by them. The question is, are we spiritually awake? Do we have a sense of responsibility for our spiritual development? We keep hearing from programs such as Natural Church Development that we (at least we Anglicans) are spiritually asleep. How do we actively nourish our relationship with God? How do we bring about the kingdom of Shalom, of God's peace?

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Lovely Jewel

Today I had to say goodbye to Jewel, my dog companion of the last fifteen years. She was my first dog, and I could not have asked for a better pet. I rescued her from an Animal Shelter. They didn't want to adopt her out, because they thought she would be a risk. I talked them into it. What a blessing she has been! She was the best natured little animal that you could imagine. She was well behaved, clever and had a beauty about her that is hard to describe. She has suffered. She lost her sight due to glaucoma. She had lymphoma. But she lived a happy,long life. Gemma and I will miss her terribly.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Reign of Christ, Year A

Finding God

Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

This last Sunday of the Church Year is called the Reign of Christ. On this day we celebrate Christ as king. We celebrate Jesus' reign that began with his ascension and continues as Paul expresses it in the letter to the Corinthians, "until all are made alive in Christ". It is a celebration that calls us to look at the whole concept of leadership within the kingdom of God.

And here, as so often in our life of faith lies a great paradox, for Christ our King is a king so different from any earthly experience we might imagine. To begin with, there is Ezekiel’s image of kingship. It is one that provides both pastoral faithfulness and justice. While he demands repentance on the part of the people, he also offers such hope and consolation. He speaks of God as the shepherd King, the one who searches for his lost sheep. Like a shepherd caring for the sheep, the shepherd King rescues the strays and binds up the ones who have been hurt. It is an image of kingship which lays out the standard for the whole community. No fat, strong sheep push aside the weak or the sick. In God’s kingdom of shalom all are valued and live together in peace.

The image of the reigning Christ in Matthew’s gospel offers us that same sense of God’s grace. Jesus appears on the clouds at the end of time as a king sitting in judgement on those who stand before him. As we stand there looking up at his grace and majesty he questions us about the way we lived our lives. “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,” he says, and we wonder when it was that we saw Jesus thirsty. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was sick and you took care of me,” Jesus says to us. And we look back in our lives and remember the times we have seen the face of Christ in those we have met along the way.

It is a passage of Scripture which evokes many memories in me. The first is an incident that happened to me many years ago when a friend and I visited my parents who were living in Christiana in Jamaica. On the last day of our holiday we headed off towards the airport in Kingston in our rental car. We did not get very far. Still in the mountains close to Maypen, we were involved in an accident. We found ourselves in serious trouble. My friend was charged with careless driving. I was charged with aiding and abetting. We were taken to jail in Maypen. I finally got permission from the police to make a phone call. My sister answered. My parents were out.

“Get someone to come and get us out of jail,” I pleaded with her. And a couple of hours later, who should come but my parents’ friend, the priest in Maypen, Neville De Souza, who would later become the bishop. His arrival changed everything. The hostility against us abated. We were allowed to leave, although we still faced charges and had to appear in court a couple of weeks later. I love to remind Bishop de Souza that “when I was in prison, you visited me”. I like to remind him that he is the face of Christ for me.

It reminds me for a completely different reason of the weekend I spent living on the streets of Toronto. I was doing a course in Urban Ministry which involved doing a ‘plunge’, living as a homeless person for two days. It was a life changing experience for me on a number of levels as I came face to face with poverty. I ended up in a hostel for battered women. There I shared a room with a young woman whom I will call Elaine. She had fled an abusive relationship. She was a recovering drug addict, probably a prostitute, but she was truly trying to get her life together and hoped that she would be reunited with her children who had been taken into custody by the CAS.

On Saturday evening she said to me, “Come to church with me tomorrow. You look like someone who would like to go to church.” I looked at my grubby jeans and sweatshirt, the only clothing I had. She saw my reluctance. “It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing,” she said to me. “Just come.” And so off to church we went. What’s more, it was a rather highbrow church in a good neighbourhood of Toronto. There was no room at the back of the church, of course, so Elaine led the way up the aisle to the front where she sang the hymns loudly and with obvious enjoyment. People around us tried hard to ignore us. I have to say, they did a really good job. We were not asked to sign the guest book. We were not invited to coffee hour. For “we were strangers and they did not welcome us.” Sadly I did not see the face of Christ in them. It was in Elaine that I saw that beautiful reflection.

Matthew wants us to know that our relationship to God is judged by our treatment of the oppressed. That judgement comes to all of us. Believers, those who have faith in God, are judged. And judgement is very much a question of our relationship to Christ. Do we see Christ in others? Do we reach out to those in need, not in judgement, but in true compassion for their need? Our guilt arises not from doing wrong things, not from being evil, but from failing to do what is right.

Our Christian calling is to be Christ like. Everything we can learn from Scripture leads us to know that Jesus makes himself one with those in need. He allies himself to the poor and the oppressed. As the shepherd of Israel, he is in solidarity with the whole of human misery in all its range and depth. He came to see that everything is as it should be.

He came as an amazing gift of God’s grace to help us to find God. And that happens in the most unexpected places, and in the most unexpected ways. We might think that we will find God in some mountaintop experience that lifts us from the everyday into the sublime. Those mountaintop experiences are important to us. They open our eyes to God’s awesome glory. But when it comes down to it, it is in the midst of the dirty, the grubby, the smelly and the unlovely that we will truly know God. It is in our actions that we will live out our faith.

One of our young people was relating an argument that a classmate had proffered about world poverty. He argued that with the number of people in the world who die every day because of poverty related issues, buying a television set is an act of killing. The money could save hundreds of lives. While I think his argument is flawed, in the light of the gospel there is a ring of truth to it. For we all have a part to play in ending the cycle of poverty. I hope you all saw the article from our Diocese in the Toronto Star. If you didn’t I have posted it on the bulletin board. It is a call to action on the part of Anglicans and other like minded people to call on the government even in the midst of recession to live up to its commitment to end poverty.

We are in the midst of our Stewardship campaign for this year. We have put the needs of our parish forward. We know the needs in our community. It is up to us to let our actions speak. Because that is how we will truly find God. We will find God in the hungry and thirsty. We will find God in the smelly and unlovely. We will find God in the sick and the dying. We will find God in those to whom we reach out. We will even find God in those who take advantage of our generosity. There is no other place that we can expect to find the body of Christ.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Proper 33

Talents! Talents! Talents!

Readings: Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Once again I am not preaching. I wish I were. The readings are very timely for St. Francis where we are in the midst of our annual stewardship campaign. This Sunday one of our lay people is presenting the narrative budget.

The Gospel is the Parable of the man going on a journey and leaving his servants with the responsibility of investing some considerable sums of money, in this case 'talents', on his behalf. Two of the servants do well in investing. The third person plays it safe. He literally hides his talents.

It may not seem fair, but it is reality. Some are more gifted than others. We are not in competition with each other. We need only celebrate and develop our own gifts. We need to consider ourselves as the talent. "What have I made of myself?" is the real question.

God's purpose is to bring order into disorder, peace into destruction, purpose into purposelessness, fullness into emptiness, healing into sickness, to restore aching, hungry hearts. Is it possible that we, by our neglect to lovingly invest our talents and gifts in the needs of people, are contributing to the end of Christendom? Certainly worth some contemplation.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Remembrance Day Sermon

St Francis of Assisi, Meadowvale Town Centre
Homily for All Souls & Remembrance Day
Sunday, 2008 October 12

By The Rev. Vernal S. Savage

Scriptural Readings
• Wisdom 3:1-9
• Psalm
• 1 Peter 1:3-9
• John 11:21-27

Let us pray
Almighty God, creator of all and whose mercy endures forever, bestow upon us your people gathered here your grace. We understand Lord that the souls of the faithful that has departed this life are in your arms. hear our prayer and console us As we renew our faith in Your Son whom You raised from the dead, strengthen our hope Lord our comforter and burden bearer in Jesus Name we pray, amen.

Remembrance Day and All Souls day – Lest we forget
We commemorate All Souls and Remembrance Day in a pensive mood and in deep reflection upon what life has thrown our way. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Canadians are asked to pause and remember the thousands of men and women who sacrificed their lives fighting for freedom and democracy during the First & Second World Wars, the Korean War, the Afghanistan conflict and those who die during peacekeeping missions. It is very appropriate for us to have these days combined. It is understood that there is probably only one Canadian survivor from the First World War.
The first Remembrance Day was held in 1919 throughout the Commonwealth, called Armistice Day. The day commemorated the end of the First World War on Monday, Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 a.m. — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
I was asked by my mother to carry something down to my grand uncle. I was probably seven or eight at the time. It did not seem like anything out of the ordinary at the time but little did I realise it was to become an experience that has become indelible written in my mind. When I reached there and greeted him I noticed that his face was disfigured. of course I became very curious as to why it had that appearance. The irony is he had some difficulty moving about but that did not arouse my curiosity. He realised I wanted to ask about his face because I chose not to just deliver the items and leave but instead kept staring; fortunate for me he decided to oblige. He began relating his story being at the frontline in the World War. He explained that his face became like that because of the many days and nights of fighting without sleep.
There are many stories we can all share about the wars. They may be similar but that is not the point really. We are beneficiaries of these brave and courageous persons who gave so much, their own lives. There story can be told in the words from the passage from Wisdom as it states,
“In the eyes of the foolish, they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.”

So we come to this day many of us with a heaviness of heart as our inward being seeks to commemorate those we love who have died. There are no words adequate enough to describe the loss felt. These faithfully departed whose names shall be read out shortly for many of us they reminded us of our true selves. They gave of themselves and therefore we join in faith to commemorate them.
We remember them as the part they played in our lives comes to life.......they were our confidant...........our best friend........grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters........colleagues.........they were probably the disciplinarians..........champions of the faith.........we are the ones here to tell their story......
It is worthwhile to quickly add that death occurs in relationships as well. This may occur in a marriage, deep friendships and we still experience the grief. George Matheson was only fifteen when he was told he was losing what little poor eyesight he had. Not to be denied, Matheson continued straightaway with his plans to enroll in the University of Glasgow, and his determination led to his graduating at age nineteen. But as he pursued graduate studies in theology for Christian ministry he did become blind. His sisters joined ranks beside him, learning Greek and Hebrew to assist him in his studies. He pressed faithfully on.
But his spirit collapsed when his fiancĂ©e, unwilling to be married to a blind man, broke their engagement and returned his ring. He never married, and the pain of that rejection never totally left him. Years later, as a well-loved pastor in Scotland, his sister came to him, announcing her engagement. He rejoiced with her, but his mind went back to his own heartache. He consoled himself in thinking of God’s love which is never limited, never conditional, never withdrawn, and never uncertain. Out of this experience he wrote the hymn, O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.
His song captures the unmoveable faith that endures in such circumstances, that offers healing,
O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee:
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee:
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day,
May brighter, fairer be.

O joy that sleekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee:
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

O cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee:
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

We are well aware of the fact that death comes to us in the same way it did to Jesus. What does this gospel mean then? Christ reminds us in the gospel of His immense Love by risking His own life as He responds to the call of His friends (7–16). It was very dangerous for Him to go respond to the call of His friends in Judea but he took the risk anyway.
When Jesus came he listened to the concerns of His friends, Mary and Martha, and assured them with His word. Mary had no hesitation in talking to Jesus about her grief. It says a great deal about him and about trust. In verse 35 of John chapter 11 it is noted that Jesus weeps. This is one of those moments we can appreciate that Jesus identifies with our sorrows.

We as a community in St Francis of Assisi are being similarly asked to provide comfort and to risk ourselves to listen and bear one another’s burden. The love and consideration demonstrated to those who have suffered loss is very important. We are being asked to deepen the ministry. As we are told in Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

There is a fallacy in the society that looks at crying to be a sign of weakness which is certainly not consistent with that of the church. Earlier this year when my nephew died I cried. Yesterday I rejoice with my two nieces who graduated from university.

At the same time Jesus is telling us some wonderful news: for those who believe, death is not an end but a beginning. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” It is but a transition to a new life that is so beyond belief we can't begin to imagine it.

Lazarus and his sisters were very special friends to Jesus. He thought of him as a brother. His feelings of friendship and love made him raise Lazarus from his tomb, giving him back to his sisters. But that is only the beginning. His feelings lead him to his death on the cross for them and for us.
They knew that Lazarus would die again. God in Christ Jesus is saying to us this morning that this belief we exercise in the resurrection and the life grant to us comfort. As we commemorate this day we can join with others who have had lost and in Christ share his love. We can join with the songwriter in agreement in Jerusalem the Golden as it states,
Jerusalem the golden,
With milk and honey blest,
Beneath thy contemplation
Sink heart and voice opprest,
I know not, O, I know not
What joys await us there,
What radiancy of glory,
What bliss beyond compare.

This is the hope we live in as we commemorate the faithfully departed. In Jesus name, Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Proper 32, Year A

I am not preaching this Sunday. I may be able to post the sermon our Deacon is preaching later today. For the time being I am posting a sermon I preached a few years ago as part of our stewardship campaign.

Making Choices

Readings: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Today I am going to talk about commitment, yours and mine; our commitment first of all to God, but also to this community of faith. Faith is a very personal thing. While faith can be caught from someone else, while it can be fanned into flame through the encouragement of others, the resources to keep the flame of faith alive come from a personal sense of commitment. They come from making a choice.

The Israelites after years of wandering in the desert were settling into life in the Promised Land. Life was good. It was easy for them to forget the struggle that had brought them there. So Joshua did a very astute thing; he assembled all the people. He reminded them of the gracious acts of God toward them throughout their history. He reminded them of Abraham's relationship to God and the covenant made between them. They remembered the time of slavery in Egypt and of God's faithfulness to them in the wilderness. "Now is the time," he told them "to make a choice. Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and turn back to God." His warning is that they cannot go along with the crowd and still be God's people.

The parable of the ten bridesmaids has a similar theme. The five foolish bridesmaids took their lamps with them to the wedding, but didn't bring any oil. The five wise bridesmaids came prepared. It does seem rather mean-spirited that they didn't simply share what oil they had, but the point of the story is that we are to be ready to serve God wherever and whenever God appears. It is a choice we have to make between the way the world lives and the way our Christian faith calls us to live.

Life is always confronting us with alternatives and choices. For the most part, we live comfortable and settled lives. It is easy for us follow the way of the world. Many times the choices are between two different kinds of good. Children want to participate in sports that often happen on Sundays. Parents are caught between the importance of helping their children keep commitments to a team and serving the Lord through Sunday worship. When the team is consistently chosen, we are saying that other commitments are more important than our commitment to God.

What does it mean to live a life of commitment to the Gospel? Like the Israelites there are choices to be made. How do we choose to spend our time, our talents, and our wealth? How do we share our experience of Christ with others? How do we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ?

My personal commitment is first of all to God. I remind myself of how God has been present with me in my life. I try to live a life of commitment, praying, reading and studying scripture, and sharing my faith with others. I also have a commitment to the church and in particular to this congregation. It starts with a vision for this church that I hope you share. It is a vision that keeps my faith alive and my level of commitment high. It comes most of all when I think about the people in this community of faith. I think about your generosity of spirit. I think about your caring ways. I think about the kindnesses that I see you do. I think about the way you reach out to one another. I think about the prayer list that grows and changes each week. I think about your commitment to the work of the church.

Those are the things that I hope you will see reflected in Geoff's presentation. It is the first time that we have presented a narrative budget, a budget that reflects our mutual ministry. But as with any budget, it is going to take total commitment on our part if it is to be met.

As Anglicans it is through baptism that we gain membership in the Church. If we are baptised we are full members in the body of Christ. Our commitment is through the promises made at Baptism. We promise to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. It is a promise to attend church regularly, to study Scripture and to pray for one another. We promise to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord. That is a promise to ask God for forgiveness and to be forgiving people. We promise to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. Our call is to share the stories of how God is at work in our lives. We promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves. Like the five wise bridesmaids we are called to be ready to serve. Finally we promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. We are called to see Christ in those we meet. We are called to be Christ for them. We are called to reach out to the poor and to those in need. That ministry takes the commitment of each one of us. I hope that you will consider what commitment you are able to make to God and to this congregation.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Feast of All Saints, Year A

To All the Saints

Readings: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

To the saints who are in Meadowvale and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

I am speaking to you as Paul spoke to those to whom he wrote. I suspect that many who hear themselves spoken about as saints cringe at the thought. We have a definite picture in our mind of what it means to be a saint, and it is not how we see ourselves. Most of us shudder at the thought of being saintly. It raises all our misconceptions of what it means to be a saint. Saints for whatever reason have a bad image. We imagine them wandering around amongst the clouds, playing on harps. Their heads are piously bent. They have sickeningly sweet smiles on their faces. Their hands are clasped in an attitude of prayer. Their haloes are in place just so. We want to scream at them, “Get a life!”

Or it may be that you simply cannot see yourself as a saint. For most of us it is a stretch. We look at ourselves and see our imperfections. Each one of us is in some way disfigured, imperfect and flawed. On Halloween our children live that out. They dress up as evil beings wearing grotesque masks and costumes. They parade through the streets. Today’s parade needs to be a very different one that recognizes the good that is in everyone. This feast of All Saints is a wonderful one for us to look behind the ugliness of the masks we wear, masks of sinfulness and brokenness, and experience the love of God.

So what does it mean to be a saint? Who are these saints that we remember? Sometimes when we speak about the saints we mean one who stands as a giant of spirituality in a past age. Sometimes we mean someone who embodies for us what we think it is to be Christ-like. Sometimes we mean the figures we see depicted in stained-glass windows.

That is certainly not the portrait of the saints that is revealed to us in Scripture. The readings for All Saints Day offer a portrait of the saints of God in all their diversity. There are certainly the ones we recognize as saints of God, the suffering martyrs, the struggling saints, the priests and prophets, the servants and disciples of all ages. But there are also the ordinary people like you and like me, going about our daily routines but doing so with a sense of integrity and faith.

It is there in John’s amazing vision from the Book of Revelation. What a thrill it must have been for the early Christians to understand that despite the trials and tribulations under which they lived they were not alone. They were part of a vast multitude of saints that no one could count. They were purified through their suffering. It was a time for them not of despair, but of great celebration.

It speaks to us in a similar way in this secular age in which it sometimes seems an embarrassment to be a Christian. There are times in personal Christian experience when one feels horribly alone, isolated and irrelevant. Does it thrill us to know that we are part of a great multitude of saints? We belong to a vast company whose bonds stretch beyond time and space into the ultimate reality of God’s presence.

In his letter John explains to us who we are and who and what we can become. If we do not feel much like saints, we can take heart in our becoming. A number of years ago a scientist broke down the value of a human being. It works out to about four dollars in today’s currency. It included oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, iron and iodine. But I have to tell you, our value is so much more. We are not simply bundles of molecules and atoms. We are offspring of a creator. We are God’s children. That is not something we work at or wait for. It is the gift of God’s eternal love. We have discovered our identity and significance. We know who we are and to whom we belong and where we are going. We may not know the whole story of what we will become. We do know that we are children of God created in God’s own image. We do know that we are made in the image of Christ. And that makes us saints of God.

Yet we do not want to diminish that quest for holiness that is part of our human struggle. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus challenges us to be godly people. It is amongst the most remembered of Jesus’ words. We often sentimentalize what should provoke and disturb us. It is a picture of life totally contrary to everything that is human in our world. It is designed not to be something attained or accomplished, but as a goal of Christian living.

“Happy are the poor,” Jesus says. And the world replies, “You know what makes you happy. Look at the beautiful home you have. Look at how you live. Don’t you have everything you want?”

“Happy are the hungry,” Jesus says. And the world replies, “You need so much more to be happy. Go out and buy some more things. Then you’ll be really happy!”

Jesus says, “Happy are you who weak now, for you will laugh.” And the world says, “Enjoy what you have. Life is too short. Live it to the full.”

Jesus says, “Happy are you when people say nasty things about you, when they exclude you, when they put you down.” And the world replies, “Put them down before they put you down. That will surely make you happy.”

The Beatitudes do not lead to salvation, but by following them we will live a more authentic life that communicates God’s healing power to lives of the sick, lonely, oppressed, broken and unhappy people in our world and community. Living that way will not win us God’s favour. We already have that. We are graced by God. Living authentically will empower us and help us grow as members of God’s family.

The point of our celebration of all the saints is that God is much more generous than we could ever imagine. God is much more inclusive than we could ever think. In Jesus Christ, God is more accepting and welcoming than we could ever dream.

To the church of God that is in Meadowvale, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: grace and peace, this day and forever.

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Come and See Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 Invitations come in many shapes and sizes. They ...