Nov. 4, 2018 – All Saints’ Sunday – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Nov 4, 2018 in Feast Days, Season after Pentecost, Sermons

All Saints’ Sunday

November 4, 2018

Icons of All Saints show Jesus surrounded by many saints, similarly our celebration of All Saints today, including today’s baptisms, depicts the heart of what a saint is. Christ is at our center too, represented in our altar, our cross and our gathering. Today the ‘altar cloth’ made up of all those saints whom we love and see no longer, and like in our gospel, some of us are still dressed metaphorically in mourners’ clothes, and yet that altar is alongside a font in which the newest among us will be baptized. In the icon, all of the saints are arrayed around Christ with countless dimensions of brilliance, color, individuality and symbols of their faithfulness, and they reflect the luminosity of Christ like those we have named on the All Saints ribbons! They are lives through which we can see God from a multitude of different perspectives. Keep that image of the icon in mind this morning, remembering that Christian icons are always a path for entering into relationship with the Triune God. Like Jesus’ life-affirming action at Lazarus’ tomb that day, they are an instrument through which God becomes accessible to humanity, and the same is true of baptism.

Each saint, be they historically recognized or known only to us and written in remembrance on our All Saints ribbons, are part of what makes up the exquisite as-yet-uncompleted picture of Christ, like a mosaic. Not to say Jesus is incomplete exactly; but the fullness of that picture changes with the fullness of potential in our world, and our vision of him is limited by our own scope and life. Yet as surely as we are beloved of God, we see signs and images of him all around us, we are given added bits of the magnificent ever-expanding whole if we will faithfully look around! I imagine all of these saints as part of how Jesus continues to love and serve—through them. He never got to be a grandmother or reverently iron altar linens like Sharon Boyd, whose name is here for the first time. He may have been a teacher and philosopher but never got to be an old man enjoying the wisdom of his later years and the love one finds late in life like Don Wilbert and Chuck Blondino. Did he ever revel in sacred music like Mort Harman or sing in the choir and raise a family like Nancy Cross, or weave a biblical tapestry like Ann Langlitz? Yes—through their hands, lips, eyes and ears, through their hearts and through ours, he lives. As we remember the saints who have gone before us, we see how Christ might have been each of these, not because he was insufficient in his life but because the fullness of him is reflected forward and revealed in each new living refraction of his light illumining our world.

We too make Christ visible and living. You are Christ as engineer, software developer, mother and father, banker, lawyer, schoolteacher, husband and wife, Christ as gardener, homemaker, electrician and CEO. About now you’re thinking of all the un-Christlike things we do in our lives but set those aside and remember we don’t get there just by our strenuous efforts, but by our resemblance to Christ—like a family resemblance given at our baptismal rebirth! The mothers of these two recognized the Christ within one another when they met in our nursery, Casey and family’s first visit-and none of them ever made it out to church, so engaged were they in the discovery of kindred spirit. Think of those in whom you’ve recognized our Lord, or who have seen him in you. Jesus wept as he came to Martha and Mary, their friends, and the tomb that held the deceased brother Lazarus. I wonder if he saw the features of his beloved friend on their grieving faces. Take it even a bit further—did he see the face of God in them and in his loving memory of Lazarus? Was he reminded of Lazarus-the-living when he saw the power of his friend’s presence even in the grief of his family and friends? Jesus enters into the grief, the setting of tomb, grave-cloth, stone sealing the stink away, and his response is to reveal Gods glory and make Lazarus story no longer about death but about life.

This is the family resemblance we all share; in baptism into Christ we are children of God; we are baptized, not into the Episcopal Church or the Catholic or Lutheran church, rather these two little girls, Noa Grace Evelyn Monk and Emerson Marie Elmquist, are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is not to say they wouldn’t become good people without it, or that they couldn’t follow Jesus’ ways or Christian values without baptism, it is to say that today a door is opened, a family is widened, and the picture of Christ is made more fully radiant by their inclusion in it. The word used when we say we baptize “in the name of the Father…” is quite particular; our Lord says, “eis” not “en” so it doesn’t mean it as we’d say in the authority of like an diplomatic emissary, or as in the name of the state, he’s saying “in the name” meaning immersion into that which is named, being inserted into the name of the Trinitarian God. Baptism is our entering the being of God and God into us. To be in God the Creator, God the Redeemer and God the Spirit is to become a part of that whole and alive in that mystery. In baptism we become a sign of who God is in this world, yes, even as an infant! Can you look into the faces of these two little ones and not see divine presence and love?!

I recall once being asked, “Does God baptize or do people baptize?” My answer was “Yes!” The reality is that we do not make ourselves Christian, nor do we ‘make’ Noa and Emerson Christians. Our decision to be so, or the parents’ and Godparents’ decision, is necessary, but it is an action of God with me (or with you or Noa or Emerson) that makes one Christian. Being baptized is to be taken up by God, and our saying ‘yes’ to this act of God’s taking us in hand is how we become Christian. God makes me God’s own, and life becomes something more in us together. Similarly, we do not make ourselves alive – life is given to us. Did any of us decide for ourselves to be born? Choose to take our first breath? No more than Lazarus made himself come alive again. Being Christian is a gift we participate in; a passive gift which becomes active when we choose to follow Christ. It means dying to those things we renounce in our baptismal vows, we are reborn by water and the Spirit, a cross signed on one’s forehead saying we too are part of the mystery of his life, death and resurrection.

Immersed in God means we are also united with each other, one with those brothers and sisters in Christ beside us, those we have yet to meet, with those who went before us, and who will always be a part of us in the family of God. There’s that ‘family resemblance again! Baptism is not a solo event, when we are immersed in God we are in communion with others. It is not “all about me” or even you or only about Noa and Emerson, we are in union with the whole body of Christ. We know what we do affects each other, how we live on this earth, how we treat each other—this is a reminder that as Christians we do so being Christ to one another. Those promises, the renunciations, the invocations of faith we make or reaffirm today are a reality that lasts our whole lives, because we are always on our baptismal journey, through these words and the lived action of these words. Baptism is not just this one hour ritual, but a reality of our whole life, and by whole life I mean the life to come as well. Baptism is the first stage of our resurrection: immersed into the enduring and indestructible life of God, we are already in Christ’s life and so living the resurrection begins, even today. From the earliest days of Christianity people understood their choice was to say yes or no to such a life. Being a baptized member of the Body of Christ is a conversation with the Holy one lasting our whole lives, not a once-and-done conversion to be marked on a calendar as ‘done.’ It is ongoing dialogue that includes our intellectual understanding as well as touching the heart and soul of how we live in this world. There is no list of rules that will make us perfect, we each must live into the way and truth of Christ, so that our lives are a living conversation with God.

Sometimes people ask how we can make this ‘religious decision’ for children and infants too young to answer for themselves. Shouldn’t they choose for themselves when they’re old enough? There is nothing wrong with making such a choice at any age, and yet to question doing so for one so young is to deny our Christian faith as the way of truth and life offered to us as a gift, it is to see it as just one more choice among others; cappuccino with nonfat milk or soy? Suburbs or city? College or gap year? It is to see baptism as a burden instead of a freedom, as an imposition instead of a precious gift. Did anyone ask if you wanted to draw your first breath and live? Do we ask it of our children each day? Could we choose without knowing how it will all come out? Baptism into God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is to say God has entered your life you are in God’s; this is within you when things are bad or when they are good. The resurrection will be within you even facing death. The love of God and the sweet waters of the Spirit will be within you even when your frightened or worried and they will bear you up if you fall. Immersion in this Triune God says life has meaning and your baptism calls you to the freedom to live this precious gift of love, to fill in the picture of God’s live that would be incomplete without you. Our challenge is to live this gift every day and show it to those around us, to live both the renunciations and the promised vows on our unending baptismal journey.

Celebrating All Saints Day is recognizing Christ in the gorgeous diversity and wildly unique lives of all the saints before us. Today we celebrate their courage to believe that, with Emerson and Noa, we can each reflect and carry forth Christ’s limitless eternal light, bringing it to life with the self-giving creativity, color, and spark our creator has implanted within each of us. Amen.

© 2018 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

View lectionary readings:

Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44