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Friday, November 12, 2010

Sermon from November 7, 2010

All Saints Sunday + Texts: Ephesians 1:11-23
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen

Seeing Through

Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace, in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

My children have been instructed that it would be nice for one of them to bring a bass-baritone into the family – we don’t know yet where Peter’s voice will end up, and he probably wouldn’t want to do the job I want done, which is to sing at my funeral. And of course, they could hire someone, but I think I’d prefer someone who knew me and presumably loved me. My children also have been told (though Hannah wants this in writing since I’m so specific about the details) which piece in particular I want sung. I want the recitative and aria from Messiah, “Behold, I tell you a mystery,” and “The trumpet shall sound.” And I want the entire aria, including the ‘B’ section, and full repeat of the ‘A’ section. No cuts should be made. They can hire the trumpeter if they want, if there isn’t one in the family by then.

All kidding aside, I do hope they choose to hear that music at my funeral. Because that music and those words of Paul move me into the mystery of which they sing – we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. Through that music I move closer to seeing that life which is to come. And that’s what today’s celebration does for us as well. We come here this day to celebrate the feast of All Saints, to light candles as we remember our beloved dead who rest in the Lord, to place our hands in the font and mark ourselves with the cross of Christ’s death, to feast at the meal of his victory, his life. There is nothing in what we do today which we can pin down, explain fully, understand completely. And yet, what we do today profoundly moves us into the mystery, and helps us see.

The ancient Celts, my ancestors, believed that there were places they called “thin places,” places where the wall separating earth from heaven, human from divine, was especially transparent, almost non-existent. For the Celts, this was often geographically located – a certain tree or grove, a particular spring or well. I believe they were absolutely right. But in addition to particular locations, worship is also a thin place for me. Because sometimes it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins when we are gathered here in the presence and life of the Triune God.

And on days like All Saints, the veil between us and God seems especially thin, so much that at times in this liturgy it feels like we can see right through. We see the many candles flickering, we smell the linger of incense in the air, we hear music of angels, we feel the wetness of the water sprinkled on our faces, we taste bread and wine. Here is a thin place. And maybe that’s what Paul’s talking about today to the Ephesians, about having the eyes of our hearts enlightened. In this place, God comes to us, and for this moment in time, our eyes open and we see things we otherwise cannot see.

And this is so important to us because for most of our life reality intrudes so heavily that we cannot see beyond the end of our nose, much less into God’s realm.

Life is a difficult journey, and we fill each day, each moment, with things we deem important – but which ultimately do not fill us or give us life. Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed always comes to mind for me in this context. Particularly the seed which grows initially, but is choked out by the weeds. Jesus said that was the cares and struggles of the world which overwhelm the sense of life and faith we are given. Little wonder Jesus elsewhere felt the need to invite us not to worry about these things – what we will eat, what we will drink, what we will wear – and to trust that God will provide.

Many days all we can do is worry – about our lives, about our loved ones, about this country, about the world. About the environment, about our future, about suffering, about our death. About where we belong – do we belong, do we matter to others? To God? There are many things for which we do not easily find answers. And they weigh heavily on us and bring a cloud over our eyes of faith.

And for all these things we want answers, we want clarity. We want hope. And then we come to worship on All Saints Sunday. And we find mystery. But in that mystery we find that the veil between us and God is particularly diaphanous here –we can almost see through.
And that’s when we find the hope we’ve been wanting.

Here in this place there is no barrier to our seeing the One who answers, and knowing we are home, we belong.

Paul prays that the eyes of our heart be enlightened that we might know the hope to which we’ve been called. For Paul, the reality is that we don’t always find the answers we think we need or want. But we find the Answerer. The eyes of our heart are opened in faith to see the One who has come to give us life. And we see things differently then. The reality doesn’t necessarily change. But we see through the reality into the love of God which surrounds us no matter our circumstances.

And what I love is that Paul says our heart’s eyes are opened that we might know hope – hope to which we are called. We talk a lot about things to which we’ve been called. We are called to a vocation, to a life. We’re called to service. We’re called to love one another.

But here we are called to hope. Hope is not just a nice thing if you can find it. It’s so important that our Lord has made it our vocation, and a gift to us. It’s our calling, to be people of hope, people who see with enlightened hearts through the dirt and the sin and the brokenness of the world and see the grace and love of God. Hope that the One who was crucified and raised from the dead will make all things new, even if our worldly eyes cannot always see that. Our heart’s eyes enlightened can. We can see through the thin places into the love and face of God.

This is the mystery we celebrate today, this is what we’re about in this place. Seeing God, and knowing hope.

In Romans, Paul tells us that this hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts. It is that love which opens our heart’s eyes and gives us hope. This hope touches our sorrow. Our joy. Our fear. Our desire. Our pain. Our life. Everything we have to face is touched by the hope in God that is ours.

So we have hope for all these for whom these candles burn brightly, and all others who have died. In this place we experience the communion of saints and we don’t need to explain it or describe it – we’re all connected in this place, and we know it. Since my mother died I have been deeply aware of how many hymns we sing where we invite the “host of heaven” to join in our song. And the communion of saints is no longer abstract theory for me, but real. In this place, like no other, we feel the presence of those who have gone before us and we have hope. Because their future is our future, and our present is lived in the life of the One who holds all the saints in love for all time.

And we have hope for these young ones, and for us. We welcome Benjamin into the family of Christ today and we rejoice that he belongs. Just as we rejoice that we belong – that this place is always a place where we are welcome, where all are welcome. Where God’s love is offered for us and for all. Where together we can see the face of God in each other – because this is a thin place and our eyes are opened.

And so we must come here, to this water, this spring of life, because it is a thin place where we see through the water into a deeper reality.

Behold, I tell you a mystery: we all belong to God in Christ through this water. Those who have gone before us. Those who are yet to come. And those who are alive with us today. We take this water and mark ourselves with it because here we are brought into a new reality, a new way of seeing.

So I invite you to come here – after the liturgy, but not after the worship, for the worship never ends even when each liturgy does – come here and get wet. Come to this spring and remember whose you are. And be close to the mystery which enables you to see with the eyes of your heart enlightened. So that you might know the hope to which you have been called, and be a sign of that hope to all.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

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