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Calling All Saints

by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, October 19, 1997
All Saints Day

Readings

1 Samuel 2:1-9 The Lord guards the feet of his saints

Then Hannah prayed and said:

"My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance.

"There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.

"Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.

"The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more. She who was childless has borne seven children, but she who has had many children pines away.

"The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.

"For the foundations of the earth are the Lord's; upon them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his saints...."


Revelation 11:15-19 The seventh trumpet

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever."

And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying: "We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth."

Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.


Apocalypse Revealed #586 Who are the saints?

People are called saints when they are involved in divine truth that comes from the Lord through the Bible. The saints of the Lord are people who live according to the commandments, meaning they live according to the truths in the Bible.... The Ten Commandments are the covenant which these people are to keep.


Responsive Reading: Psalm 145

Sermon

All that you have made will praise you, O Lord; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom, and speak of your might. All people will know of your mighty acts, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. (Psalm 145:10-12)

Yesterday afternoon, as I was driving home from the Teaching Parish Committee training on Cape Cod, I happened to catch part of Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" on the radio. Naturally, it was a special Halloween edition, and Keillor was quipping about how Halloween is a time we can impersonate the evil side of our nature. He added, "Of course, we wouldn't want to impersonate our good side!"

It is a curious phenomenon that Halloween--the time when the evil spirits come out in force--should be the holiday that has caught on in our culture, and not All Saints' Day--the coming of the light of morning, when the saints and angels take over and carry the day. We still tend to think of evil as somehow more mysterious and exciting--and probably a lot more interesting and intriguing--than good.

Halloween is all not bad, though. After all, in an age that tends to discount the notion of evil, and even deny its existence, Halloween is a time when our popular culture does recognize the existence of evil in its own way. And even on Halloween, evil characters do not entirely hold sway. There are also appearances from princesses, fairies, genies, and superheroes fighting for truth, justice, and the American Way!

Today, though, let's move entirely away from the nocturnal shades of Halloween and into the sunshine of All Saints' Day. It is a day that our culture as largely forgotten--a day whose observance has been kept alive over the years largely by the Catholic Church.

We Swedenborgians have not had much to do with All Saints' Day, since we have never been very comfortable with the idea of saints. We especially have problems with the idea of saints as intermediaries between human beings and God--the idea that God is much too busy to listen to prayers from little ol' me, but if I can convince a big, important saint to whisper a good word in God's ear for me, then my prayer has a much better chance of getting answered.

However, this is only one end of the "sainthood spectrum." On the other end of the spectrum, saints are seen, not as intermediaries, but as examples and mentors for Christian living. For many centuries, the stories of saints have been used to inspire and instruct the faithful in the virtues that good Christians are meant to practice. Though I am not a historian of sainthood, I suspect that this was the original reason that some men and women were raised up as saints by the church, and that the idea of saints as prayer brokers was a later popularization in a culture and a race that has a hard time conceiving of the infinity and omniscience of God.

This idea of saints as Christian examples and mentors gives us a handle where we, as Swedenborgians, can begin to appreciate the significance of All Saints' Day. Garrison Keillor's quips aside, All Saints' Day is a day where we can celebrate the Lord's goodness working among human beings. It is a day when we can celebrate people of all faiths who shine out as examples of living in a selfless and loving way. If Halloween is a day when we can recognize the evil mixed in with the goodness of our existence here on earth, All Saints' Day is a day when we can, for a moment at least, leave the evil behind and focus on the light of the Lord's truth, and the warmth of the Lord's love, working in human society.

Each one of us has our personal "saints" that we look to. We each have had people in our lives who have inspired us with their good qualities. Some gave us guidance we needed in confusing periods of our lives. Some gave us unconditional love, affection, and acceptance at times when we had trouble respecting ourselves. Some inspired us with the amazing potential of human beings fired with passion for the Lord's kingdom.

Personally, I cannot listen to Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech without feeling tingles go up and down my spine at the depth and power of the message he was delivering to a world that sorely needed to hear that message--and still does. And within our own faith tradition, it inspires me to read stories of the early Swedenborgians who worked tirelessly to spread the new light that they saw dawning on the world. One of my special saints is Johnny Appleseed, who set aside almost all worldly aspirations and devoted his life to planting both physical and spiritual seeds in the frontiers of his day. Each of you can probably list several people who have inspired you, and who continue to inspire you.

We may not think of these people as saints. Most of them have not been through any formal canonization process leading to official sainthood. Still, each person who inspires us toward finding God and living a good life is a saint in the truest sense of the word. There is one way in which we can accept the idea of saints as intermediaries. As Swedenborgians, we do not believe there is a need for someone to stand between us and God when we pray, since we worship the Lord Jesus as a divinely human being, who can be with each one of us personally. But sometimes we do need people to serve as intermediaries bringing God to us. We do not always see the Lord's presence in our lives; but others who are on a spiritual path can give us inspiration and guidance as we seek our own path toward the Lord.

And so, as we look at sainthood--what it does not mean to us, and what it does--we move closer and closer to the Biblical idea of saints. The Bible, of course, was written before Christianity had developed a formal process and title of sainthood. When we encounter "saints" in the Bible, they are people and angels who honor and serve the Lord, who are faithful, and who carry out the Lord's will. As Swedenborg puts it, "The saints of the Lord are people who live according to the commandments, meaning they live according to the truths in the Bible."

This view of saints represents a growing awareness, not just among Swedenborgians, but among many Christians. Yesterday at the Teaching Parish Committee training, one of the leaders of the training, who is a minister in another Christian denomination, expressed the idea that every person who lives in faithfulness to God is a saint. I believe that this view of sainthood is a return to the Biblical view of saints. Literally, "saints" means "holy ones." And people who are holy are not holy from anything of their own, but because they have received the Lord's holiness into themselves, and have allowed it to flow through themselves out into a life devoted to the holiness of love and service to others.

This is a way that each one of us can be a saint. And each one of us is a saint when we do our best to live according to the truth that the Lord shows us in the Bible, and show through our lives our living, growing faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Each one of us is a saint when we allow the Lord's holiness to work through us.

On All Saints' Day especially, we can become aware that the Lord is calling all saints to serve in his kingdom. And that means that the Lord is calling each one of us to do our own unique work in building the Lord's kingdom in our own communities.

Of course, we need to do this for the sake of our own eternal happiness and salvation, and we need to do this because it is what the Lord is calling us to do. But I would like to bring in one more reason for us to be especially mindful of and faithful in our own role as saints of the Lord. For just as each one of us has our personal "saints" that we look to--who have helped us and inspired us to become more understanding and more loving and more dedicated people--the Lord is calling each one of us to be saints for others.

The Lord calls us, not only to strive for our own best spiritual potential, but also to be intermediaries bringing God's presence into the lives of those around us. It is so crucial that each one of us accept the Lord's call to personal sainthood, because we may be the one who is just right to reach out and help and inspire someone else who needs to feel God's presence in his or her own life right at this moment.

I'd like to share with you a story that a friend of mine sent to me by email last month. I do not know who wrote it or where it came from, but it speaks to our theme perfectly:

Mark was walking home from school one day when he noticed that the boy ahead of him had tripped and dropped all of the books he was carrying, along with two sweaters, a baseball bat, a glove, and a small tape recorder.

Mark knelt down and helped the boy pick up the scattered articles. Since they were going the same way, he helped to carry part of the burden.

As they walked, Mark discovered the boy's name was Bill, that he loved video games, baseball, and history, that he was having lots of trouble with his other subjects, and that he had just broken up with his girlfriend.

They arrived at Bill's home first, and Mark was invited in for a Coke and to watch some television. The afternoon passed pleasantly, with a few laughs and some shared small talk. Then Mark went home. They continued to see each other around school, had lunch together once or twice, then graduated from junior high school. They ended up in the same high school where they had brief contacts over the years.

Finally the long-awaited senior year came, and three weeks before graduation, Bill asked Mark if they could talk. Bill reminded him of the day years ago when they had first met. "Did you ever wonder why I was carrying so many things home that day?" asked Bill. "You see, I cleaned out my locker that day because I didn't want to leave a mess for anyone else. I had stored away some of my mothers sleeping pills, and I was going home to commit suicide. But after we spent some time together talking and laughing, I realized that if I had killed myself, I would have missed that time, and so many others that might follow. So you see, Mark, when you picked up those books that day, you did a lot more . . . You saved my life."

We do not have to perform acts of greatness in order to be saints. Only acts of goodness toward the people we encounter each day. Amen.



Music: Dawn and Dusk on Skye
1999 Bruce DeBoer