All Saints 2020: What You Do Matters

Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 5:1-12. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Lake Jackson, Texas.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest… The first verse of this beloved hymn[1] evokes the memory of the saints across the ages.

[Ed and I will be singing this hymn at home later today because I cannot imagine an All Saints without singing it! You may wish to do the same.]

The hymn reminds us of saints we have come to know in church history, seen depicted in stained glass, paintings, and carved in stone.

The hymn also evokes the vivid memory of those saints who we have known and loved during our own earthly pilgrimage. Whose photos are on our dressers or tucked inside photo albums.

Our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ — in whom we have experienced Christ. And from whom we learned what faith looks like. By their life and witness, they conveyed the spiritual process of a growing and deepening relationship with Christ. And, an understanding of how it is expressed in love and service to others.

Through their witness and with God’s help, we are able to take our place with them, in the long line of saints.

One of the gifts they give to us is how they lived their faith during trying times. When we find ourselves in similar situations, we can look to them for how they found strength in God and brought gospel values to bear on their circumstances.

This year we have remembered the people of the English village of Eyam who, in the 17th century, decided to self-quarantine to prevent the spread of the plague to northern England. (Read that sermon here.)

We’ve remembered the Martyrs of Memphis who were Episcopal clergy, nuns, and lay people who selflessly served their community during the Yellow Fever epidemic of the 19thcentury.

And just this week, I heard Bishop Doyle share that he often reviews the history of the Diocese of Texas to see how bishops, clergy, and laypeople have served together and met the challenges of their day. As you would expect, he has looked at the records and bishop journals kept during the 1918 flu pandemic and this is what he found: there was very little written about the flu. 

What is recorded — what the pages are devoted to — is what the people did … because that is what mattered.

How they grew in Christ’s love during that time, caring for one another. How they continued the mission of the church: to share the gospel of Jesus and his reconciling work in their lives and communities.

This historical faith perspective is encouraging and instructive to every generation, including ours. Because in every age there is a crisis. And in every age there are powers and principalities competing for our attention and worship. Marked by self-centered disregard for others, disregard for community and the common good, and the notion that what we do is of no consequence and does not matter.

This cynical notion is poetically conveyed by William Shakespeare in Macbeth:

“Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

Well, that is the opposite of the faith we profess. It is the opposite of Jesus’ foundational teaching in the Beatitudes we just heard in the Gospel of Matthew. It is the opposite of our Baptismal Vows which we will renew in a few minutes. And it is the opposite of this principal holy day of All Saints.

What we say and do in this life matters. How we engage in the activity Jesus teaches us and calls us to matters.

For when we hunger and thirst for righteousness,

When we are merciful, and pure in heart, 

When we are about the work of peacemaking and reconciliation … 

We are blessed and we are a blessing to others. It makes an impact because we are partnering with the Spirit of God in this world. It shapes us and those around us — now and far into the future.

With tensions running high in the days leading up to and after the election, our discipleship and witness in this moment matters. It can draw others to Christ when we witness his Way. 

I call upon you to: Repent. Pray. Be calm. Meditate on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).

And, think about our common life here together at St. Timothy’s. And the saints we have known. Who have inspired and shaped us. 

We haven’t always agreed on everything. Some of us have rooted for the University of Texas Longhorns, while others for the Texas A&M Aggies. We have voted differently, and disagreed about many things, but we have always loved God and neighbor and this church — together. This is a piece of our faith heritage.

While my childhood memories of St. Timothy’s are far from comprehensive, I invite you to bring your own memories to this moment. Remember the faithful of this church and others you have known. Those in the heavenly host who are always fully present with us in the Eucharist. As described in Revelation, that “great multitude that no one could count” … but in this moment, we will count a few together:

Mrs. Clark who played the organ.

Ken Hall — in the kitchen, smiling …. wrapped in an apron serving pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

Jack and Rae Zylks who lived a few houses down from here, serving in ministries from Altar Guild to youth Sunday School, and many others. Jack was a pallbearer at my sister Wendy’s funeral. Rae presented me for ordination to the Priesthood.

Beth Jacobsen’s practical leadership and spiritual wisdom were expressed in many ways, especially in Daughters of the King.

Corbin Aslakson — full of Easter joy, quick with a grin and an encouraging word to my peers and me.

The prayerful leadership and steadfastness of Oliver Osborn and the prison ministry which he drew others into.

And many, many others. You see their faces now, including those who have died this year:

Harriet Cutshall.

Twynette Putty.

What they did matters. Their witness matters. Their lives and the lives of so many others that you are holding in your hearts and minds right now mattered, they contributed to the spread of the gospel and the expansion of the kingdom of God in this place … and in us. As individuals and as a community.

They stand in a long line of saints … who from their labors rest.

And so, we  — labor on! We are taking our place in that line of saints. Growing in Christ’s love, serving him in others. 

How we live into our faith right now — this very week — matters. And it carries another generation forward who will remember us with gratitude for sharing the life-giving gospel of Jesus in all the ways we did.

And, with God’s help, they will do the same in their time. Perhaps even singing the All Saints hymn we love so much (golly — I sure hope so!)

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,

through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, 

singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia. Alleluia.

+++


[1] The Hymnal 1982, p. 287-88. Words: William Walsham How (1823-1897). Music: Sine Nomine, Ralph Vaughan Willaims (1872-1958).

Working Preacher Sermon Brainwave #750: All Saints Sunday.

4 thoughts on “All Saints 2020: What You Do Matters

  1. I didn’t realise this morning the ‘Mrs Clark’ you lovingly mention is Ethel Clark. A beautiful, truly gifted woman in many ways. She taught my piano teacher. For her Juilliard audition, she had learnt and practised a piece by Sergei Rachmaninov. When she walked into her audition room, the judge was… Rachmaninov! And she got in. I have heard of the others through the years in this community, and I would have liked to know them. I’ll turn to those who are here now and give thanks. Thank you for this beautiful, powerful homily.

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  2. Your sermons often give me encouragement to follow a path of love that will help others. Thank you for that, and for including my Uncle Oliver, who was truly a faithful disciple of Christ, in your message.

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  3. I’m so glad that my mother was a memorable example to you. She is still my guide for gentle leadership and a reminder that leading doesn’t mean knowing how to do everything yourself, but working with others to get things done in the best way.

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