All Saints Sunday

What a glorious day to be alive! Now, that may sound a little odd, considering today is the church's memorial day, a day set aside in the church year to remember those who have died in the faith of Christ. We remember those of our loved ones, members of this congregation who have passed away in the days, weeks and months since last All Saints Day. Yet, it is more than a memorial day, it is a day of celebration of the victory of grace. For those who have passed away have been made alive in Jesus Christ. Our days of mourning are days of celebration in heaven, happy re-birthdays of God's children.

As a young person growing up in a very religiously diverse neighborhood, I heard a lot about Catholic saints, those who were martyred for their faith or died in service to the Lord. I remember hearing about the canonical procedure; the tribunal that was called to review the candidate's heroic virtues, their depth of faith, hope and charity, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. We would hear about the miracle they had brought about in their life…and the miracle that had been wrought after their death and beatification.

I'd look at my own life then and realize I was far from sainthood and prayed just to get a chance to look through the pearly gates before I got a vacation in a much warmer climate. But then one day, I met a man named Martin Luther in the pages of his books and I came to a new understanding. He and other Lutheran reformers knew each one of us as saints. Although those declared so by the pope in Rome are awe inspiring examples for us of a life lived out in faith, we too are called to that same vocation having been claimed by Christ in our baptism, such as Bryson's today.

For a saint is one who has been given an opportunity to experience the good gifts of creation. It is God who guides our formation in the womb and sends that first breath into every cell of our tiny bodies as we emerge from our watery home into the light of day. And, through the years, we are indeed a part of a circle of life that proceeds from the innocent joy and laughter of discovery to the wise nods of counsel of those who have endured to maturity waiting their eventual return to a place of honor at the feet of the one who taught them.

For all of you who work the land, tend the herds, provide food for the table, knowledge for our eager minds, peacemakers and defenders; those who maintain the economy, discover God's miracles, and produce items to enjoy, you are shareholders in a vast swirl of experiences that bring us closer to the mind of God. When we open our eyes to this continuing unveiling of heaven, we can eagerly claim our right to declare the Good News of Jesus Christ who bought us out of slavery in sin into the light of awareness of the eternal presence.

Many of us have lost loved ones, family and friends this year. I know that Bob Valentine lost his mother Virgie, Mark Combs his mother Marion, and Dot and Hallie their Father and Grandfather Wilford. As all of us reflect back on the lives of our family and friends, we will remember many things, good and bad. But with that reflection, we will experience deep emotions, sometimes painful others joyful. But what will we learn, how will we be changed by the encounter both living and in memory? What have their lives meant in the furthering of our lives toward strength, compassion, and maturity. Even if this encounter was difficult, what did you discover about yourself and about your need for God's mercy and grace?

As we look around the earth this fall, it is covered now with brown leaves that swirl in the wind and eventually decompose to become mulch for new growth and feed the soil with their nutrients. Yet, once they were young buds on trees, blossomed forth to become green places of conversion, taking the sunlight and converting it into energy for life, then to sparkle in the sun as they changed to the varied hues of gold to praise God in glory.

What will you do with your sainthood? How will your life honor those who have gone before and prepare those young ones who will follow in your footsteps? For we are the people of God, chosen by Christ to carry forth a witness.

In just one moment, we will toll the bell as I read the name of a member of our congregation who just recently passed away. In his months of dying, his unfailing faith taught me much about what my life should mean as a pastor and a friend - and by the numbers of people who came to say farewell, his life was equally profound for all of those present.

As the bell tolls for him, you will remember others who have meant much in your life, too. And because all of our lives are so vastly intertwined, I will borrow a famous line. . . ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

Today we specifically remember, Franklin Merhl Stottlemyer, born on earth December 3, 1936 and reborn in heaven November 1, 2004.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan