Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children’s children, may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.
You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.
O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.
I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.
On All Saints’ Sunday, we usually spend our time thinking about faithful people who have died. We read out loud the names of all our church members who have died this year. We remember the gifts they have shared with our church. We remember famous Christians who have died and are thankful for all they did for the church. We remember people from around the world who died in the last 12 months-ordinary people like us whose names we will never know. We remember our ancestors in the faith who boldly proclaimed the good news. All of these things are important and good to do. We should remember all of these people. Absolutely. Yet, this is only ⅓ of what we need to do today.
We need to remember the saints of the past. This is part one. Part 2 of our task for today is looking around and seeing the saints with us today…ourselves, our church family, and the faithful around the world. Too often, we think the saints are the perfect people and we would never put ourselves in that category. The saints of God are everyone who tries to follow God. So, look around at all the saints here this morning.
And, we need to hope and pray for the saints who are not here yet-those faithful people who will keep the good news alive and strong long after we are all gone. We are charged to plant seeds-to pave the way for the future and prepare for the future saints even knowing we may never meet them. This is part three. When we focus on the past, present, and future saints, our vision is expanded and is closer to how God sees. Unfortunately, we struggle to look to the past, present, and future. More often, we get stuck in one or maybe two of these places and fail to see the rest.
For some of us, we fondly remember the good old days when… In the article, Developing a Missional Mindset by Don Detrick, he said this about churches. “When our memories of the past are more exciting than our vision for the future, we have begun to die.” This article was not telling us to abandon our past and look only to the future. It was urging us not to live in the past. When we spend all our time reminiscing, there is little time left to enjoy today or plan for the future.
For others of us, we look too much to the future-worried or wondering what will happen in 5, 10, 20 years. What is our 5 year plan? Where will we be in 10 years? These are important questions and need to be asked. When we get so excited or terrified about what is coming, we can neglect to see what is happening now or where we have been.
And others of us live only in the now. The present is all that matters because it is happening now. It is exciting, challenging, and always changing. We have no use for the past because it is over and no need for the future because it hasn’t happened yet!
Story is one way to help us to keep this three-fold focus. What is your story? From whom and where did you come? When did your ancestors first settle in this land? How did your parents meet? When and where were you baptized? This is part of your story. From your past and the past of your ancestors, you have become the you of today.
Speaking of the you of today-your story now includes-What do you enjoy doing today? Who are your friends and relatives who make life sweeter for you? How would you describe yourself-electrician, grandparent, student, cat lover, comedian, friend, disciple of Jesus? What do you do with your free time? How do you spend your money? What makes you laugh? These are the now parts of your story.
The future part of your story is still unfolding. What will you do in the coming days and years? What are you doing or have you done that will live on after you are gone? Some answers to this might be easy like children you’ve raised or books you’ve written. We do not know all the times and ways we have left impressions on people. Our future is part of our story. Our past, our present, and our future combine to become our story.
What about God’s story? This is the story our ancestors were commanded to pass on in our reading from Deuteronomy. They were commanded to observe the commandments and keep God’s story alive. The 10 Best Ways to Live are not something we memorize and then forget. They are how we live. We live them by loving God all the days of our lives. By writing God’s story on our hearts, so it is with us always. Tell them to the next generation-those who will follows us in the faith. We tell the stories of God when we are here at church and when we are not here (which is the majority of the time!)
God invites the Israelites to a new way a living, so “It may go well with them and their days may be long.” God doesn’t say life will be easy or exciting-instead God offers community and relationship. All Saints’ Sunday reminds us we do not journey alone. God is with us. Also, we are not the first saints on this journey. We are surrounded by such a great multitude of faithful people who have journeyed before us.
We need these saints of the past to remind us that while much of our life feels ordinary, God is still with us. It is in the dish washing and lawn mowing times of life that we can share and remember these stories of God. In the carpool lanes and grocery store aisles, we can pray for those around us that they may know the grace of God. God’s presence in the regular lives of faithful is summed up in the great All Saints’ Day hymn-I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.
I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor and one was a queen
and one was a shepherdess on the green
They were all of them saints of God
and I mean, God help me to be one too.
They lived not only in ages past
There are hundreds of thousands still
They world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will
You can meet them in school or in lanes or at seas
In church or in trains or in shops or at tea
For the saints of God are just folk like me
And I mean to be one too.
I remember singing this song with a great group of women-all of them old enough to be my grandmother at the women’s fellowship meetings when I was a child. We sang together-many songs including this one and when our worship and program time was over, we ate delicious desserts together. Each of these women knew my name and my story. They were interested in me and in telling me the faith stories that meant so much to them. When I sing this song, I remember those women and am grateful for their faith that they passed along to me.
If your story and God’s story seem separate or far apart, today is a great day to begin to weave them together. As you focus on your past, present, and future, God longs to be a part of it. And the saints gathered here want to know you better and join their stories with yours. When we link our stories together as Christians, we add in not only our stories, but the stories with all who have faithfully gone before us and those who will follow after us. Where else do you have the opportunity to form relationships with so many different and interesting people?
So, please tell the stories of our faith, and live our faith as we continue in the amazing tradition started by God, followed by our ancestors in the faith that will be carried on by generations of faithful in the future.Thanks be to God for all the saints. Amen.
A version of this sermon was originally preached at St. Giles Presbyterian Church on November 4, 2012.
Two saints in Edinburgh, Scotland in October, 2005.