Sunday, November 5, 2017
"Clothing of the Saints" from the series, "A Season of Saints" - Sermon, November 5, 2017
Community UMC, Quincy
“A Season of Saints: Clothing of the Saints”
Pastor Andrew Davis
November 5, 2017
Revelation 7: 9-17
Today is one of my favorite Sundays of the Christian year, and not necessarily because we got that extra hour of sleep last night when we set our clocks back by an hour. Today is All Saints Sunday, where we celebrate the saints who have gone on before us, those who are among us today, and those who are yet to be born as we think closely about how thin the veil really is between life and death. I also say this in the wake of another loss within our church, as Bonnie Norton moved on to the company of saints this past Thursday after a battle with leukemia.
While we adjust to the time change this morning, we embark on a new adventure, as we journey into the season of saints to finish out this current Christian year before we move into the season of Advent, which are the four weeks before Christmas. Throughout this series, “Season of Saints,” we will be talking of clothing of the saints, stories of the saints, thanksgiving of the saints in conjunction with consecrating our pledges (which you’ll hear about shortly form Pastor Ray), and the Shepherd-King of the saints, Jesus Christ. As we go through this series, “we move in a sense from the outside inward, from what we wear, to the stories we can tell, to the thanksgiving flowing from our inmost being, to Christ as our Shepherd-King at the center of it all.”[i]
While preparing our message for this morning during the week, I read how one the retired professors at Wesley Theological Seminary, Dr. Lawrence Hull Stookey, who himself joined the company of saints last year,
tells the story of a friend of his who explained to a Protestant class about the meaning of All Saints Day. A student abruptly stood up and replied, “Protestants don’t have saints!” The professor, in a moment of quick wit, ran to his office to grab a phonebook, and he asked the student to read the names of all the churches in the area. The student read, “St. James Baptist Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church, John Knox Presbyterian Church,” until he gave up and said, “I get it … I’m wrong!”
It became obvious to that student, and to the whole class, that we all have saints -- those who are deceased, and those who are living and walking among us, and if we think with Paul, perhaps even we ourselves are saints. The word saint is not limited to the “greats” of history, for Paul and other writers in the New Testament use the term synonymously with Christian and, at times, believer. No matter how you define it, the word saint has broad implications, and that is perhaps the best way to describe this week’s New Testament passage from Revelation 7.[ii]
Indeed, we do have many saints among us, both living and those who have gone onto the great company of saints, much like we see in the imagery of our reading from Revelation with everyone dressed in white standing around the throne, singing songs of glory, honor, and praise before the lamb, a very joyful scene. It’s a far cry from what we usually associate the Book of Revelation with, as there can be some very disturbing images when we read through the entire Book of Revelation. Unlike the occasionally disturbing imagery we might associate the book of Revelation, this particular scene shows a great multitude that comes together from ALL over the world, a great diversity represented here. Taylor Burton-Edwards at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville explains that
God has drawn every one of these whom we have known and loved and seeks to draw us all into the innermost circle of God’s throne, into the Holy of Holies in God’s heavenly temple. God has made of the despised, the suffering, and those who stand with them priests forever. And as they are drawn around God, God dwells among them. For those who knew hunger and thirst and merciless labor under scorching heat, all of that is no more. Jesus is their shepherd, leading them evermore to pasture and life-giving streams. And in their sorrow for all the grief they have witnessed, felt, and may still feel, God wipes away every tear from their eye.[iii]
These are the same people who have gone through this life here on earth, complete with its ups and downs, its sufferings, its joys, and its sorrows. While imagining what this sight that the narrator in Revelation, John is seeing, “we are given a stunning view of a massive throng of people from everywhere, a multitude no one can begin to number, people from every nation, tribe, ethnicity, and language. They wave palm branches and cry out together, rejoicing in Christ’s victory over sin and death. And they are all robed in white.”[iv] As we remember those in our church who are now part of that multitude, Zigie, Barbara, Gerri, Londa, and Bonnie, we remember the love we all had for them, the love they had for us, and what they meant to us here in this congregation. I can see each of them a part of that same throng of people from everywhere, all gathered around the throne of the Lamb of God, having exchanged the clothes they wore in this life to the new pure, white garments of their new life that is filled with JOY!!!
Each of these saints in this multitude
have plunged their garments into everything [Jesus] stood for in his life and everything about him that led him to a bloody death [on the cross], and so have made [their garments] dazzingly bright. They do not simply ‘wear Jesus on their sleeves,’ as we say of those who seem to want to make a show of their religiosity. This is no show. This is who they are. They wear him on their entire bodies. They are his, and they let the whole world know it even through their clothing.[v]
Zigie, Barbara, Gerri, Londa, and Bonnie did just that: they wore Jesus on their entire bodies through each of their gentle, loving actions, filled with laughter, helping others, standing up for causes they believed in, beautifying our church, or laying a foundation of faith in their children. I also remember saints in my own family who have gone on this past year: one of my best friends Steve who brightened many customers’ and co-workers days at Raley’s; my Uncle Gary who served as a firefighter for many years in the Sacramento area; or my great-Aunt Marge who was compassionate and saw joy and hope in everything through wearing Jesus on her entire body.
Even in our own lives, we have saints, some we may not even stop to think is a saint. In her second book, Accidental Saints, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber says that
It has been my experience that what makes us the saints of God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinners. The title ‘Saint’ is always conferred, never earned. Or as the good Saint Paul puts it [in Philippians 2: 13], ‘For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’ I have come to realize that all the saints I’ve known have been accidental ones – people who inadvertently stumbled into redemption like they were looking for something else at the time, people who have just a wee bit of a drinking problem and manage to get sober and help others to do the same, people who are kind as they are hostile.[vi]
Nadia is someone who encounters many people who are accidental saints and I consider her one as well. If you saw a picture of her, you would wonder if she is a pastor or not save for the collar based on her appearance, although sometimes looks can really be deceiving, yet she still wears Jesus on her entire body, even with all the tattoos. And she is someone who changed her life around from being a drug addict and alcoholic to becoming a Lutheran pastor and helping others know God and follow Christ, especially those who you would least expect to see in church today, much less that great multitude we see in Revelation. Sometimes, we have people in our lives who become saints through their ordinary actions despite how they may appear on the surface.
As we come to the communion table shortly and join in Holy Communion with the saints among us and lift up the saints in our own lives,
We can speak of what they have done. Probably all of us know some saints, people who have entered into the great sufferings of others and have plunged their lives so fully into Jesus that they became clothed with him. We can name some of them now, people we know who are walking the way of Jesus among us, as well as those who are walking among us no more. It does us good to remember them.[vii]
As we sing “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” we know we have many saints in different ways, as I know I look forward to the day when I get to join that multitude, or continue walking along the living saints of today. I mean to be one too. Do you? Let us sing together from page ___ of The United Methodist Hymnal, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Let the Church Say AMEN!!
[iii] Ministries, Discipleship, 2017.
[vi] Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People (New York: Convergent Books, 2015), 7
[vii] Ministries, Discipleship, 2017.
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