IN THE COMPANY OF SAINTS – ALL SAINTS SUNDAY – November 3, 2019 – Pastor Donna Doutt
On this All Saints Sunday, we have a message from Paul to the Ephesians. If you’ve participated in Bible studies or have biblical knowledge, you’ll know that Paul’s letters can be a good thing/bad thing, depending on the church you’re associated with.
With the letter to the Ephesians, Pauls’ not telling anybody off, complaining, or defending himself against critics (of which he had many)! Paul wrote to expand the horizons of his readers, so that they might understand better the dimensions of God’s eternal purpose and grace and come to appreciate the high goals God has for the church.
This letter to the Ephesians is upbeat. In fact, it’s the most positive of all the letters he’s written to the churches of the early Christians. It might seem strange because scholars believe that at the time this was written, Paul was probably in chains waiting for his trial in Rome.
In this letter to the Ephesians, Paul is praising them for their solid Christians reputation. They are a shining example of what the early church should be. He’s hopeful for their success and their discipleship. He tells them, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.”
He’s reminding them that Jesus is the source of their salvation and the heart of Christianity’s good news. He’s also giving them practical advice for keeping up the good work.
Our scripture today is from the opening chapter where he usually greets, recognizes, and honors the reader of the letter. He tells them joyfully, “…when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!”
This authoritative declaration about faith and salvation right up front in the letter that goes on for five more chapters underscores the place of the saints in God’s purpose and plans.
We need to remember that in the New Testament language, all Christians are referred to as “saints.” Saints literally means “holy one.” They used this phrasing to refer to Jesus followers because they were considered consecrated to by God through Jesus Christ.
In some churches, people refer to each other as saints. In our church, when we call someone a saint, it’s most likely someone who has passed on. But in the early church, saints were both young and old, living and dead; they are any and all who have responded positively to God’s call. So with your presence here today, I would have to say you’re all saints!
Like us, many faith communities mark All Saints’ Day by focusing our attention on remembering those in the church who have died in the previous year. That’s just what we are doing here today. For our hearts and minds, it feels good to reflect back on the people we know and love that used to sit beside us in these pews. We do miss them, that’s for sure.
But this scripture reminds us, by broadening the concepts of “saint” and “inheritance,” this especially holy day can take on even greater significance. Not just for those of us who remember and mourn for those who’ve gone ahead of us, but to those who seek the deeper and broader for of community Christ offers.
All Saints’ gives us a chance to reflect on all of those generation who have lived by hope and faith in God’s promises.
Abraham and Sarah spent their lives following their faith on God. Moses had ultimate faith, following God’s promises further than many to lead his people out of slavery and exile.
Our most recent Front Porch study has been delving into the lives of the apostles. You talk about saints! These were men who were not the kind of group you might have expected to Jesus to send forth on his mission to reach the world. There was nothing special or spectacular about them.The twelve apostles were ordinary people like you and me. But look how far they got out into the world, and the price they paid.
First we’ve got Andrew. The first disciple to follow Jesus. After the resurrection, Andrew carried the good news to what is now the Soviet Union, He also preached in Turkey and Greece where he was crucified on an X-shaped cross because he felt unworthy to die on the same shaped cross as Jesus.
Bartholomew and Thomas went to India, Armenia, Ethiopia, and Southern Arabia. Thomas died by piercing with swords. Although there is much debate about Bartholomew’s death, it appears he was also crucified.
Judas, who committed suicide in shame of his betrayal of Jesus, was replaced by Matthius who went to Syria with Andrew and was martyred there. James also served in Syria where he was stoned and then clubbed to death.
Matthew ministered in Persia and Ethiopia, where he was martyred.
Peter was spreading the Good News in Rome when he was crucified upside down. Folk lore claims he was spreading the Good News up until the moment of death as he hung on the cross.
Simon was ministering in Persia when he was crucified.
Philip was over in North Africa and then in Asia Minor, when he was arrested and crucified as well.
Jude made it all the way to China, but was ultimately clubbed to death.
John, as we hear in the Gospel of John, was the one Jesus loved best. This was the man to whom he entrusted his beloved mother into his care on the verge of death, is the only apostle to die a natural death.
Even our beloved Paul, writer of approximately 50% of the New Testament, and although he was not an apostle in the true sense as those who had traveled and witnessed the crucifixion or resurrection, suffered a martyr’s death when he was beheaded in Rome.
Before the foundations of the world, says Ephesians, God chose saints to be agents of divine power in the struggle to spread the Word of Jesus Christ. And He’s still at work today designating saints. As you sit here today, ask yourself the question, “Is it me?” “Are you talking to me?”
I know many of you shudder at the words “evangelism” or “discipleship.” But you shouldn’t. Evangelism is as simple as saying, “Would you like to come to church with me?” “Would you like to join my Bible study group?” “Would you like to come and help with our Community dinner, or clothing cupboard?”
Our scripture is winding down with this, “ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!
Think about the apostles and what they have sacrificed for us as Christians in the early years of Christianity. Then think about this sanctuary, and picture the faces of our saints who have gone before. Picture Mildred Huntsman back there by the McKinnis’. Helen Reader back there in the center row behind the Crosky’s. Bobbie Sontag sitting back there with Mary and Dave Haney. Evelyn Steele sitting up here near the front. Jack Smith bouncing on the piano bench playing his favorite hymns with a ragtime rhythm.
Where can we still find the likes of a Mildred Huntsman, a Helen Reader, an Evelyn Steele, or a Bobbie Sontag? I miss each and every one of them. They are irreplaceable.
Our scripture lesson from today finishes with this, “All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”
If these walls could talk, they would tell the stories of the saints and the ministries that have happened here. And these walls eagerly await new stories to be born from these pews by you saints that sit before me today.
I appreciate this time to look backward on the saints of our Christianity, the saints of this church. I also appreciate this opportunity today to look forward to the work of the saints here now as we write our own history for the future. Remember the last line of our scripture says, “The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” This sanctuary is filled with God’s presence just as sure as it’s filled with the presence of those who preceded us.
Remember them today and go in peace.