Year B — Commentary for Proper 26 and Sermon for All Saints Day

Today, the Lab does some “double duty.” There are many congregations that will observe All Saints Day on the first Sunday in November, while others will follow the lectionary for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. It may not be the best decision on our part, but below you will find commentary for the latter, and a sermon for the former. 

We do our best. 

Commentary for November 4, 2012 (Proper 26)
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

Ruth 1:1-18
What’s a woman to do?

The upshot for Naomi, widowed and childless in a foreign land, is that she’s in a mess of trouble! There is no visible means of support for her, or for her daughters-in-law (Orpah and Ruth,) given the cultural and financial constraints of the time.

So, Naomi follows the only viable course for herself — she makes plans to return to her home. She releases her d-i-l’s from any sense of responsibility they might feel for her and basically has to say to them, “You’re on your own, kids!”

There’s a bit of a protest from the younger women, after which Orpah says, “You’re right, mom; guess I’ll be seeing you,” and promptly hits the trail. But Ruth — well, her response is another matter.

I like the little phrase that is tucked into the story in v.14: “…but Ruth clung to her.” Ruth is holding on for dear life; she is tenacious, persistent, unyielding. Maybe she has nowhere else to go, but one gets the sense that there is more to her insistence than that.

There is something to be said for the “Ruth Response” to life’s challenges and deepest difficulties. Sometimes, you just gotta’ hang on and see what God is about to do!

Psalm 146
An excellent psalm for worship anytime, of course. For those of us in America, these words are an appropriate reminder on this weekend before our national elections. 

“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.”

As God’s faithful people, we should and must pray for our leaders; however, never doubt for a moment that our trust is not ultimately in any human wisdom or strength. 

“Happy are those…whose hope is in the LORD their God.”

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
This beautiful, powerful section of Jewish Torah introduces the “Shema Yisrael” — Hear, O Israel — the communal prayer that forms the centerpiece of Hebrew morning and evening prayer.

Jesus uses these verses to answer the question, “What is the most important commandment?” (cf. Mark 12:28ff, below) It’s loving God with all your heart (and stuff!)

All followers of the Creator God and of Jesus the Christ do well to remember and practice the Shema‘s admonition: “Keep these words…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.”

Psalm 119:1-8
Psalm 119 follows closely on the heels of the Shema (see above) and lays out the significant benefits of keeping God’s decrees and walking in the way of God’s laws.

It is important to note that both the Shema and the Psalm call for “whole-hearted” devotion to God’s way. Nothing “half-hearted” about it — just part of your attention will not do!

Hebrews 9:11-14
The writer of Hebrews has spent much time building up the great high priestly role of Jesus; in so many ways, he is uniquely qualified to do what he does, which is to make atonement for the sins of the world. V.12 makes the poignant summation toward which this preacher has been building: Christ’s sacrifice is “once for all.” 

There is no need for his ministry ever to be repeated — the salvation (redemption) that Christ accomplishes is eternal. That’s a long, long time, my friends.

Mark 12:28-34
There was a popular contemporary Christian song (although we didn’t call it that, yet, in those days) back in the 1970’s — it’s title was, “Hand Grenades and Horseshoes.” 

Coming out of the evangelical Jesus Movement, it was about making your decision for Christ before things got out of hand and it was too late. The “hook” line was this: “Close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes — even though you are not far, you still lose.”

Certainly, there is a tinge of something missing in this dialogue between Jesus and the scribe who brought the BIG question (“Which commandment is first of all?”)

Jesus says, after the scribe’s wise explication of the scripture and its theological significance: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Not far. Close — but no cigar. 

Maybe I’m still a bit of that evangelical teenager deep down inside, but I think it bears asking: When it’s all said and done, do I want to find myself “close” to the kingdom, or more like “in-the-door-safe-and-sound?”

Sermon (All Saints Day)
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I go to a lot of family reunions as a pastor, especially those that happen at the church after worship. People graciously invite me to stay for lunch and I seldom decline.

I remember one reunion when a woman had gotten all excited about doing the family history. So after dinner, she began to give everyone a report.

She started with the first settlement in North Carolina in the 1700’s and worked her way back up the Great Wagon Road through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to the Pennsylvania Dutch area back over to Germany, to the time of Luther and beyond.

It was kind of interesting for a while, but it then dragged on and on for an hour and people started getting bored. As usual, I was sitting with the teen-agers and as she drew to a close, she asked, “Did I leave anyone else?” The kid next to me muttered, “Yeah, Adam and Eve.”

Today is All Saints Sunday. It is a day when we remember those who have gone before us in the faith. It is a day to trace our Christian family history, yes, all the way back to Adam and Eve.

It is a day when we thankfully remember those of our church members and friends and relatives who have died in the last year, who have gone on to join the saints in heaven.

It is also a day when we are called to examine our own saintliness, a time to remember our call to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors.

As Christians, our family tree is not limited to nor defined by our biological connectedness. We are all grafted into the family tree of God through the sacrament of baptism; we have all been adopted as children of God and sisters and brothers of Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

When I look back at “the saints,” the ones I have known personally and the ones I have only heard or read about, I don’t feel very saintly myself. I feel like the little boy Lois Wilson wrote about meeting at her door on Halloween.

He was about four and he was wearing a Superman outfit. He reached out his hand as he said trick or treat. Ms. Wilson couldn’t resist teasing him a bit, “Where’s your bag?,” she said. He replied, “My Mom’s carrying it. It’s too heavy for me.”  Ms. Wilson smiled and said, “But you’re Superman!”

He looked down at the S on his chest and looked back at Ms. Wilson and whispered, “Not really, these are just Pajamas.”

Though the Scriptures tell us that because we’re Christians, we’re also saints; most of us don’t believe it. We look down at the S on our chest and then plead with God, “Not really, I’m only human.”

Which is the great mystery of All Saints Day. We are indeed only human, but we are also “The saints who gather” at Such-and-Such church, as Paul put it in many of his letters.

We are, as Martin Luther said, saint and sinner at the same time. While we do not go around in Christian Pajamas, with a big haloed S on our chest, we do have an invisible cross on our foreheads, put there at our baptism with the words;

“Delmer Lowell Chilton, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever.”

Each of us has that mark on our lives; a mark which calls us forward into saintliness. We are called to continually try to live into our name as Children of God, as baptized saints.

And, we never quite make it. We’re always aware of falling short, of not measuring up. We are also always aware that the other people in our family seldom measure up either. Unfortunately, we are sometimes more aware of the failures of others that we are of our own.

Someone sent me a little poem a few years ago. It’s one of those things that got tucked away in a file. I ran across it the other day;

“Oh, to live above, with Saints we love,
Oh, that will be Glory.

Oh, to live below, with Saints we know,
Well, that’s a different story!”

The struggle of the Christian life is to remember that we are Saints in spite of our failures, and to remember that the other people in our Church Family are Saints as well, in spite of their imperfections.

One of the things I love about Family Reunions and Church Homecomings is that they are the most grace-filled moments we share. It is a time when we look beyond the surface to see the mark of the family, the mark of Christ on everyone.

Regulars and irregulars, the faithful and the wandering, the staunch believers and “barely hanging on to their faith by the skin of their teeth,” doubters, those close at hand and those who came from far off; all together in one place, celebrating and enjoying their relatedness to each other and to God.

Our calling on this All Saints Sunday is to remember our saintedness, our blessedness, our holiness; which is a gift from God, a gift we were given for the benefit of the world.

It is also a day to remember the saintliness, the blessedness, the holiness of others. To remember that they too are the beloved Children of God and that we are to treat them that way.

Amen and amen.

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