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
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.