On this All Saints Sunday, I think of many saints in my life. When I specifically think of this context – of being in worship – I think of my father. He was a banker by weekday, but on Sundays, he was a proud church organist. He also loved working with pastors to plan worship. He would get so excited about coming up with the perfect prelude, or picking the right hymn or song. (We are fortunate to have some people like that around here as well). If he were here (and in the grand mystery of things I believe he is here in some way), he would judge this service by the ratio between words and music. My father did not believe that the mystery of the gospel should be cheapened with too many words. “Don’t try to explain it all,” he might say. “Stand in awe and be moved by it.” I try to pay attention to that, especially when I get too carried away with using too many words. And none of you have to make a comment about that.
Our sermon from John Wesley this week is his eulogy of George Whitefield, the great evangelist on the 18th century. Wesley and Whitefield were both members of the original Methodist group at Oxford, and were lifelong friends, even though they did not agree on everything when it came to theology. Whitefield, for example, liked the theology of John Calvin and believed in predestination. Wesley did not, believing that God gives us free will and wanted to emphasize the love of God more than the sovereignty of God. They would fight about this and then go out to eat together, so to speak – or better, go serve the poor together. In this eulogy we have the first known use of the phrase, “agree to disagree.” They disagreed on much, but they agreed on the essentials. They served a common Lord and respected that our Lord is big enough to meet each of us where we are and shine through our human theologies.
The greatest hope of both of these men was that we would know God, not only here (head) but that we would experience God here (heart). That was at the “heart” of their shared message. I would love for you to read the paraphrase of this sermon on our website. It might just help you to know God here (heart).
Who are your saints? It may help to think about what this word means. Here's one of the best definitions I have ever heard. A little girl went into an old church that had beautiful stained-glass windows. She noticed people in the windows and asked, “Who are these people?” Her grandfather said, “Those are the saints of the church?” “Saints?” she asked. “What do you mean?” After hearing a little about them as they looked at the stained-glass windows, she said, “Oh I get it, saints are the ones who let the light shine through.” That's a great definition. Who has allowed the light to shine through for you?
I suspect that for many of you that has happened here (in this consecrated space around this altar). I’ve heard places of worship like this described as a “thin space,” where the space between the spiritual and the material, heaven and earth, is thin, porous, where the light shines through. We pray it weekly for heaven and earth to come together here (around us) and here (heart). There are spiritual writings that talk about how the saints and angels of heaven, in some mysterious way, are worshiping with us. They are opening the spiritual curtains to the light, helping us to see that we are a part of something so much bigger than what we see before us. The grandeur and the mystery of all creation points to so much more. How could we think that “this” is all there is, that our little lives are the ultimate expression of life? The saints help us know that our frail and finite lives on earth are connected to “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”
That’s the way Peter proclaimed it, in our reading from scripture. Peter says that even though “we suffer various trials” in this fragile world, we are “being protected by the power of God,” and given a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Here, surrounded by the saints, we can “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,” for, as the Apostle Paul says, “nothing in life or in death can separate us from God’s love.” No form of darkness and death can overcome the light of God. Do you sense this light?
Today I invite you to remember the saints in your life, from the apostles and prophets, from family members to Sunday School teachers, from former pastors to friends. Let them continue to inspire you to also be among those who let the light shine through. Amen.