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You All Saints People

Sermon for All Saints Sunday (November 6, 2016)
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector
The Falls Church Episcopal

While every Sunday is special, this Sunday is extra special, because we have today the convergence of not two, not three, but four important things going on in our common life as a faith community:

In order of importance (even if not in order of how much time we spend thinking about them!), those four things are:

·      One, All Saints Sunday and a special combined service,

·      Two, a baptism Sunday,

·      Three, the conclusion of our Annual Giving Campaign with our Celebration of Giving potluck following the service, and

·      Four, because Tuesday concludes another campaign that you may have heard of or be just the tiniest bit concerned about, we are including a special post communion hymn[i] and a special post communion prayer[ii] for our nation.

Now what, do you think, those four things might have in common?

It’s a question we asked ourselves in planning this service. As you may know, your clergy and staff spend quite a bit of time planning for Sundays. A few weeks ago, when Kelly, Julie, Nina and I sat down to plan this particular Sunday, and we knew we had a special challenge recognizing the convergence of those four things, I went up to the whiteboard in my office and drew a large Venn Diagram with those four circles:

All Saints Sunday
Annual Giving Campaign
Presidential Campaign

And we spent a little time wondering to one another, “what’s the common shaded area -- Is there one overlapping concept which those four things have in common?

(It was, by the way, easy to see a common shaded area between at least two of those circles, the two circles of the Annual Giving Campaign and the Presidential Campaign, which is while in both of those campaigns, everyone can find some signs of hope and reasons to be confident based on what people seem to be doing so far, there are still a LOT of “undecideds” out there, and that’s making some of us just a teeny bit nervous…!

…so if you’re one of those undecided in the giving campaign, we have a ballot for you [Pledge Card]

But what’s the common shaded area between all four circles of All Saints, baptism, giving, and praying for our nation? What do all four have in common, we wondered?

After talking about that a bit, here’s what we came up with:


A sense of call…a sense that we – as a people and as individuals -- are being called to something.

That by remembering All Saints, and our baptismal covenant, and by moving from gratitude to generosity in the giving campaign, and even in the presidential campaign -- in the way it has forced us to think about not just the candidates, but what we value as a nation and how we treat one another -- in all those areas we are being called to something bigger and better.

We are being called, in the words of Paul in Ephesians, to
·      have the eyes of our hearts enlightened so that
·      we may know the hope to which God has called us, and
·      what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power.

Eugene Peterson says, in his introduction to the book of Ephesians that “what we know about God and what we do for God has a way of getting broken apart in our lives,” but “we cannot separate belief from behavior.”

What we know about God [head]

and what we do for God [hands]

has a way of getting broken apart in our lives

But we cannot separate belief from behavior.

That’s what makes saints, saints.

Saints were not -- are not -- perfect people. You hear people say, “well, I’m no saint,” or “he or she is no saint.” And by that they mean they have lots of flaws.

Well, do some reading: if having no flaws was the criteria, the saints were no saints, either. God could have populated the earth -- and the Church, and the clergy, and this church -- with angels or perfect people perfectly doing God’s will.

That’s not what God did. Instead, God populated the earth, the Church, the clergy, and this church, with flawed, failed, and frightened people like me and you.

Saints are people who have the eyes of their hearts enlightened. Saints are people who know the hope to which God has called them. Saints are people who know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power.

And so that’s why we’re reminded today -- as we just sang – that saints “lived not only in ages past, but there are hundreds and thousands still” and biblically speaking, “there’s not any reason, no not the least, why you shouldn’t be one too” – all you need, all I need, all we need, is to reconnect what we know about God with what we do for God and connect belief with behavior.

That’s why baptism is so appropriate for today. Each time there’s a baptism, we recite the Apostle’s Creed – which like the Nicene Creed is all about what we know about God (HEAD) but has little to nothing to do with what we do for God – but each time there’s a baptism, the creed is immediately followed by those five questions which are all about what we do for God: just look at all those wonderful action verbs as we’re asked if we will, with God’s help,
·      continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, the prayers,

·      will we persevere, repent, and return to God,  

·      will we proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,

·      will we seek and serve, will we love our neighbors as ourselves –

·      will we strive for justice and peace among all people

·      and will we refuse to separate Christian belief from Christian behavior and -- with God’s help -- no matter what, will we insist on respecting the dignity of every human being?

Those are promises we can keep no matter the outcome of a presidential election.

Those are promises that we MUST keep no matter the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

Those are promises that are EVEN MORE IMPORTANT to keep after Tuesday’s election.

And finally, one last pitch for this giving campaign: That IS what a church is: as this church well knows, “The Falls Church Episcopal” is not a building; it is a gathering of people, and as Christians, not just any people, but a people called, called by God to something bigger and better than we can ask or imagine or accomplish on our own.

A people who are yes, flawed, failed, and frightened, but who are also redeemed, being transformed, and are empowered to put our belief into behavior who

·      have the eyes of our hearts enlightened so that
·      we may know the hope to which God has called us, and
·      what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power.

We are a people called and empowered by God to put our belief into behavior:

·      to reconnect what we know about God with what we do for  God, so that,
·      living into our call, light shines,

“not in the dark of buildings confining,
not in some heaven, light years away,

but here in this place” -- here through you All Saints people --  

because “now is the kingdom, now is the day!”[iii]

[i] O beautiful for spacious skies,
for amber waves of grain,
for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.

O beautiful for heroes proved
in liberating strife,
who more than self their country loved,
and mercy more than life!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control,
thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for patriot dream
that sees beyond the years
thine alabaster cities gleam,
undimmed by human
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.

[ii] "Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.

"Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way.

"Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.

"Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.

"In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

[iii] from “Gather Us In” by Marty Haugen, © 1982 GIA Publications, Inc. sung as our opening hymn.


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