All Saints Sunday by The Rev. Dick Toll

Lessons:

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Today is All Saints’ Day on the calendar.  You have just listened to the Beatitudes which represents the teaching of Jesus as he spoke to the hearts of people…people that surrounded him on the Mount of Beatitudes at the edge of the Sea of Galilee.

I have visited this site in the Holy Land many times.  It is always awe inspiring to look out on the Sea of Galilee and hear once again the words of Jesus.  In my visits the most memorable was when I got up early at a hostel that I was staying at across the road from the Mt of Beatitudes.  I arrived as the sun was coming up.  And I was the only person there.  Usually I have experienced hundreds of people with tourist groups.  I found myself in a deep meditation while walking and meditated upon on the words of Jesus that have been a hallmark of the Gospel message for centuries.  Teachings to live by…..Blessed are you!  Teachings that people found meaningful to the point that history defines people who have followed in the foot steps of Jesus to be called “Saints” because of their exemplary lives…people who are good, kind, honest, patient in accepting Jesus into their lives.

You have offered names of those to be honored this day and we will lift them up in prayer.

I believe that today is a day that we remind ourselves where we come from.  In the hustle and bustle of modern day life we often do not explore history in the lives of those who have given of themselves in their own times and generation.  These persons who are known and unknown who are the saints within history.  We need to capture these moments of the past that have provided some very special people who continue to speak to us today.  My thoughts turn to Francis of Assisi who is a favorite saint.

But, we may forget he was a spoiled rich kid who grew up and went off to the crusades in the 13th Century.  He was so distressed by the violence during his time in the crusades his effectiveness was realized when the Muslim Sultan of Egypt allowed his order of Franciscans to become the custodians of the Holy Land in 1217.

Well after his death, his supporters claimed the Holy Sites in the Holy Land and even until today make them available for pilgrims to visit.  Franciscans remain on the front line in trying to keep Christians in the Holy Land.  In the 1940’s, Christians were 18% of the population.  Today, it is less than 1% and it continues to shrink.

I have stayed at their pilgrimage site at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and celebrated communion at a chapel that goes back to the Roman Empire.  The followers of Francis still reflect the prayer of Saint Francis, “Make me a channel of your peace.”  We are recipients of this wonderful human being and his relationship with the person of Jesus in his life.

When we look back into the lives of these individuals who have defined the meaning of Jesus Christ in their day and time, it helps us to find our way through the challenges of our own day.  We do not spend enough time reflecting where we come from out of history and those people who in their own time confronted good and evil .  Their choices are still resounding in our lives.

I have found over the years that moments stand out for me.  What do I mean by that?  And ahh hah moment,  a sermon that I remember, a book that I read that clarifies for me an issue, a conversation that comes back to me.

When I was in seminary, I was struggling with my background of being raised in a culture in Texas that was quite literal and fundamental in its Christianity.  I was caught up with issues of creation, evolution, science, and religion.  Who were the saints I was suppose to listen to?  What did they have to offer me?

One day a professor at the seminary was sharing the thoughts of Saint Augustine of Hppo….a 4th century bishop who was converted to Christianity in his early 30s.  He is well documented in his writings and opened many doors to the people of his time.  The professor pointed out his views of Creation.  What we experience in the discovery and our learning of Creation and it’s mystery of  what God has created and is ours to discover and relate to.  We are given gifts to explore the meaning of Creation which is already there and is up to us to find it’s meaning.  Scientists have always been a part of All Saints throughout history.

I have often been put off by the way science and religion have conflicted over the past few centuries.  Much of the religious argument dismisses science.  It gives a bad name for Christianity.  When I was six years old, my appendix burst.  My six year old life was in danger.  I can still remember the pain of lying on the couch and screaming.  My Father called the doctor who came by the house and sent me to the hospital.  It was 1945 and penicillin was a new drug that saved my life.  I received shots every four hours, night and day.  Science and life.

I had open heart surgery in May with two values replaced.  I put my trust in God, prayer, and my doctors and I thank God for the skill of those who have helped me through this period and the prayers of this parish.  I do not remember a lot of what happened before and after surgery but one memory is very real.  I was being wheeled into the operating room and I was semi-conscious as the surgery door opened.  I thought to myself…I should say a prayer…so I tried to mumble through The Lord’s Prayer.  As the doors opened to surgery, I got to the end of the prayer and instead of saying “Amen”, I said “Ut-Oh”.   I woke up ten hours later in ICU looking at my wife, Elaine.

Again, God has given us Creation to live in, to explore, to choose our path of learning, to be All Saints.

I want to make a point today with our history as the Episcopal Church and All Saints.  I believe it is true that the Book of Common Prayer has been second only to the Bible as the book that is most read by people.  The Book of Common Prayer came into use during the reformation in the mid 1500’s.   It was in English.  Now it is in many languages throughout the world.  Much of the Reformation issue was in offering the use of the Bible and worship in the language of the people.  Individuals were burned at the stake because of this issue of language.  The Bible and Prayer Book were given to us by many Saints throughout history.  Most of them we have no idea who they were.  I have here a Bible and Prayer Book from 1578.  It is in English and is 30 years before the King James Bible.  It is known as the “Breeches Bible” because in Genesis when Adam and Eve saw they were naked they put on their breeches.  How English can you get?

The Prayer Book that is part of this book had only been in usages for about 30 years.  It was written by people, some known and many unknown who were the saints of history.  Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 1540’s and 50’s was the chief architect of the Book of Common Prayer. The Catholic Queen Mary of England at that time refused to accept his recantations of not accepting the Pope.  I stood on the spot where he was martyred in Oxford, England in 1556.   Some of the prayers in our Prayer Book can be traced to the early 4th, 5th and 6th centuries of the Church.

The All Saints Collect for today is the same Collect in this Prayer Book of 1578.  I wonder who was holding this Prayer Book and Bible as the Spanish Armada invaded England in 1580? 

Let me encourage you to read through the Book of Common Prayer as you live through this pandemic and discover for yourself all the Saints, known and unknown, who gave us this book.

We honor ourselves on All Saints Day.  Remember who we are as individuals.  Each person within creation…you and me…we are unique to creation.  There has never been and never will be anyone like me or you.  We are unique.  Each of us.  Our gifts, our history, our experiences, our relationships, our decisions, our faults, and on and on.  There has never been another person in the world like who we are and never will be because each of us is unique.  I have a mantra I try to pray as I go through life.  It helps to center me and to keep me focused, “God I am yours you have created me for yourself and for your purposes alone have I been created.”

It is within this perspective that we need to realize that we make a difference in the way Creation moves forward.  It may be our special gifts, our relationships, our intellect,…it may be any number of things, but we make a difference.  It may be our vote.  I am often moved by the astronauts in space that have taken pictures of our planet and how small we are amidst the vastness of the universe.  But like a grain of sand on the beach, we are part of a total that God had created.  We are to nurture the saint within us and those who offer their sainthood to us… past and present.

Finally.

One of the modern day people we honor in our own history is Mother Theresa from Calcutta in India.  She is so well known as to her ministry with the poor, the sick, and the dying.  What a unique and wonderful human being she was.  A quote from her is well worth remembering on All Saints Day.

“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”