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Archive for November 1st, 2010

All Saints Sunday

Thanks be to God for all those who inspire us and encourage us in the faith. What follows is the sermon from All Saints’ Sunday.

“Hearing Voices”

Ephesians 3: 14 -18

Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott

October 31st, 2010 – All Saints’ Sunday

Do you hear voices?  Sometimes I hear voices.

I hear the voice of BK giving me advice on how to raise multiple babies while insisting I take a jar of her strawberry jelly home to share.

I hear the voice of MV laughing and telling me ‘I told you so’ after her puppy, that I had insisted on holding, piddled on my lap.

I hear the voice of FM as she, in great detail, tells me how I might go about de-hairing a hog.

I hear the voice of DW as she tells me about the square dancing class where she and Mack first met.

I hear the voice of AS as she calls to me from across the sanctuary so she can get a chance to see and hold little baby Isaac.

I hear the voice of my childhood pastor advising me to stay real, to not get overly pious, and to not let the pulpit go to my head.

I hear the voices of authors and musicians whose words and whose music have inspired me over the years and made my heart sing.

I hear your voices as you have shared words of pain and heartache, words of challenge, words of love, and words of joy with me over these past five years together.

I hear the voices of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaiah and Jeremiah, of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, of Paul, of Mary, and of Jesus when I read and contemplate our story and our covenant with God.

I hear voices.  I hear voices whenever I stop to remember and reflect on the fact that I am not alone, that I am a part of something much bigger than myself, that I have a community of faith.  The voices I hear are the voices of my saints; my community of past, present, and future; people in my life who have guided me, and shaped me, and made me who I am today.  These are my great cloud of witnesses who cheer me on as I persevere in this race of faith.

In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used as a title for all Christians. Saints are not just those revered few who have achieved uncommonly holy feats, but Christians young and old, living and departed, and even those who are still yet to be born.  Some churches make this saintly distinction clear in their opening call and response.  The preacher begins worship by saying, “Praise the Lord, saints!”  And you all would respond, “Hallelujah, praise the Lord!”  So we are all saints.  We are all followers of Christ and in this place we are reminded of our communion with each other.

In many churches, on either November 1st or the Sunday closest to November 1st, All Saints Day is celebrated.  Some churches celebrate by naming the members of the congregation who have died in the previous year.  Other churches, like ours, will light candles in honor or in memory of those who have inspired us and encouraged us in the faith.  To be clear, we are not worshipping our ancestors today, but instead we are proclaiming the good news that we are a part of a people, that we are a part of a community, and not individuals unto ourselves.  Our liturgical act of remembering a saint by lighting a candle helps us remember that the Christian life is not a solo endeavor, but one lived out in community—in a community that extends and exists even beyond our earthly realm.  We are a part of the people of God in life and in death.[1]

This past Wednesday I attended a memorial service for MWP at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church.  MW was the wife of GP, the pastor of Brownson Memorial.  She died at age 58 after a 10 year battle with ovarian cancer.  So, needless to say, the sanctuary was packed.  I arrived for the service 45 minutes early and had to take a seat in the back row of the balcony.  And while I was sitting, before the service even began (which was a beautiful service, by the way), I found myself feeling moved…I was moved by all the people gathered together in that space.  This is not a unique feeling for me.  I am always moved whenever a sanctuary is packed full.  I am always moved whenever I experience so many saints gathered together to remember, to worship, to celebrate, to commune.  It reminds me how expansive the community of faith, the communion of saints, really is.  And it helps me comprehend, as our passage from Ephesians says, the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.  This is our inheritance, according to Ephesians.  The fullness of God and God’s love for us is represented well by a sanctuary full of people, and by the communion of saints past, present, and future.

The movie Dead Poet’s Society, starring Robin Williams, is one of my favorite movies because it is chock full of sermon illustrations.  I thought of one scene in particular this week that I wanted to share with you.  The story of this movie is set in New England at an elite, private high school for boys called Welton Academy.  Robin Williams plays a new and creative English teacher at the school named Mr. Keating.

On Mr. Keating’s first day of class he asks all of the boys to get up and follow him outside into the hall.  There they gather around a couple of glass cases full of tarnished trophies, school antiques, and yellowing old photographs of boys who years ago roamed the halls of Welton.

After he had gathered his class in front of these cases, Mr. Keating asked them to open their textbooks to a poem by 16th century poet Robert Herrick.  One of the boys read the poem out loud, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”  “Carpe Diem,” Mr. Keating explained, it’s the Latin equivalent of, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”  “Carpe Diem” Mr. Keating continued, or “Sieze the Day!” in English.

Then he asked all of the boys to gather up close to the glass so they could get a good look at the old photographs in the cases.  “Take a good look,” Mr. Keating said.  “Look at their faces.  You’ve walked by them many times, but you’ve probably never really looked at them.”  As the boys leaned in to look, Mr. Keating added, “They’re not that different from you are they?  And if you listen….if you listen real close…you can hear them whisper their legacy to you.  Go on, lean in,” Mr. Keating encouraged.  “Listen….do you hear it?”

Then from behind them he began to whisper…. “Carpe”…. “Carpe Diem”…. “Sieze the day boys.  Make your lives extraordinary!”

Today we gather around our communion table with saints of our past, present, and future.  We gather today to lean in and listen to those who have gone before us.  They have a message for us.  They are here to remind us of our inheritance, to call our attention to the treasures of life, and to represent the fullness of God and God’s love for us. Do you hear voices?  Sometimes I hear voices.  Thanks be to God for the communion of saints, for our great cloud of witnesses, gathered here among us today.

Now to the God who has led us all to this place, be all honor and glory, thanksgiving and power, now and forevermore.  Amen.


[1] Jenny Williams, “A Christian Memorial Day”, The Ekklesia Project, found on http://www.textweek.com

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