Today, we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday. We celebrate those who have gone before us and those who will follow. We question whether or not we will one day be one of the “saints” that the living speak of in such glowing terms, long after we are dead. The truth is that the Wesleys, John and Charles, who wrote many of our hymns and founded our denomination, believed that sainthood was not the future of the few but of all Christians who persevered in the faith.
Still, we live in a time where what we have lost seems to be more prevalent than what we have or what the future holds. From government stoppages to pictures of emaciated children on our televisions, from rumors of wars to rising costs of living, we experience a sense that the world is not right. We struggle, and we wonder how it will end.
Yet in those moments of frustration we cling to the hope we have in the person of Jesus Christ… and the glimmers of Jesus we see in the people who have soldiered on ahead of us, who have risen to the challenge to be the people God wanted them to be.
They are our parents, our grandparents, our neighbors, our pastors, our siblings, our friends. They, in their time, stood before the great divide between what is and what should be, and they shook their fists and raised their voices in song. They persevered and that’s why we’re here! They recognized that God promised more than what they could see and followed through in their time. (Like Cinderella, they know that time is of the essence, slipping away, and that you can run out of time!)
And now, I reckon, is our time.
The author of Ecclesiastes is a prophet, King Solomon, or some wise scribe wrote about time in Ecclesiastes 3:1-14. Even if you never heard the Scripture before today, you’ve heard the words, thanks to The Byrds or Jan and Dean. You know:
“To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven.”
But Solomon laid out the various seasons for coming to life, and for dying, to plant and to uproot, to tear down and to build, to weep and to laugh. He ultimately decided that because God had made everything beautiful in its time, that the best humanity could do would be to be happy and do good while it existed. He saw that God had “set eternity in human hearts,” but that no one could truly wrap their mind around that truth.
We know that what we see isn’t all there is, that something more and greater exists just around the corner from what we can see.
It’s that kind of faith that gets written about in Hebrews 11:
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.”
We are strangers in the strange land, we are people called to see what others cannot see and to faithfully persevere. We are called to recognize that God continues to show up in situations with old men who are as good as dead and young men who don’t know who they’re supposed to be yet. Saints see hope in the midst of hopelessness; saints find homes in the midst of homelessness.
Saints remember this, the quintessential All Saints Day Scripture, from Hebrews 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Today, we celebrate those who led us in faith, who have gone onto glory already. We recognize that we are not here of our own merit, that God worked his prevenient grace in us and through us, using the people who invited us, encouraged us, and taught us what it meant to be a follower of Jesus in their words and actions. And we recognize that they still watch over us, urging us on in that beautiful imagery of the race that Paul paints here.
Have you ever run competitively? Whether it was a fun run with colored dust lofted into the air around you or the participation in a mile or Iron Man, in school or after, do you remember the push that those cheering you on gave you? You were recognized, you were known, you were even called by name.
Now, all around you, in the whispers, in these pictures here on the altar, in the memories you have of how you got here today, there are people calling your name, urging you on.
I don’t know where you are in your race. It’s not about crossing the line but growing on the journey. It’s not just about claiming Jesus as your Lord and Savior, as important as that is, but in growing in faith, in discipleship, in grace as you go. Have you taken that first step? Have you confessed your sins and claimed Jesus? He’s already claimed you!
Take a minute to confess our sins and consider the sacrifice of Jesus who died on the cross.
The race continues! The crowd continues to roar. Your growth is not finished even though eternal life starts NOW. You are living in God and into what God wants for you. But the road is long and filled with surprises, curving and dipping, at times even hidden from view.
Somewhere along the way, you will need the steadying hand of a fellow runner. Somewhere along the way, you will provide the support to another who needs you. You will become the fellow encourager– your time will change who you are and what your role is. But it is all part of the process, it is all part of the journey.
And someday, they may say of you as Charles Wesley wrote of his saints, in “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” (UMH 712):
“They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, in a store,
in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
and I mean to be one, too.”
May you recognize your time, and your place, for everything has a purpose under heaven.
I leave you with this Prayer Meditation for All Saints Day by Safiyah Fosua.
“We give you thanks, O God, for all the saints who ever worshiped you. Whether in brush arbors or cathedrals,Weathered wooden churches or crumbling cement meeting houses Where your name was lifted and adored.
We give you thanks, O God, for hands lifted in praise: Manicured hands and hands stained with grease or soil, Strong hands and those gnarled with age , Holy hands used as wave offerings across the land.
We thank you, God, for hardworking saints; Whether hard-hatted or steel-booted, Head ragged or aproned, Blue-collared or three-piece-suited . They left their mark on the earth for you, for us, for our children to come.
Thank you, God, for the tremendous sacrifices made by those who have gone before us. Bless the memories of your saints, God. May we learn how to walk wisely from their examples of faith, dedication, worship, and love.”