Ghosts (sermon 11/2/14 – All Saints’ Sunday)

 

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After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” – Revelation 7:9-17

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When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:1-12

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They’re all around us, you know. The ghosts. Those people who were so much a part of the church, so much a part of our lives, who are gone now, but whose memory is still so very real to us. We still hear their voices, their laughter, sometimes even their complaining. Now, maybe years after they’ve died, we’ll get a whiff of their favorite after-shave, or their perfume; the smell of their favorite pipe smoke or lilacs like they used to have in their front yard, and immediately we’re back with them, so real that we feel like we could reach out and touch them. We can look at the church pew that they sat in, every Sunday for forty years, fifty years, and we can see them sitting there today, folding and creasing back the bulletin the way they always did; marking the hymns in the hymnal with extra offering envelopes. She was your favorite, or least favorite, Sunday School teacher. He always sang off-key in the choir, his big booming voice making up with passion what he lacked in talent, but he was there every Sunday, rain, shine, or snow. These incredible, wonderful, funny,  committed, and sometimes even irritating people who left such a mark on us; whose very being helped to shape us, to mold our faith to what it is today. People who will always have a warm spot in our hearts. These are our saints.

Of course, they’d probably laugh if they heard themselves described that way. But that’s probably a part of why they mean so much to us. The passage from Revelation that we heard today describes a vision where all of our saints are dwelling in heaven, in the afterlife, in the very loving presence of God. That should be a great reassurance to us, but the scriptural passage about them that I like even more is in the New Testament Book of Hebrews, where they’re called a “great cloud of witnesses,” those people who have completed their journey of faith and who are now watching us from beyond, encouraging us onward in our lives, in our own journeys.

In study after study, surveys have shown that one of the things that people want most out of life is to know that they’ll be remembered after they’re gone. That they made a difference in the lives of the people around them. Today, All Saints’ Sunday, we remember all those people who have meant so much in our lives who are part of that great cloud of witnesses. We recognize that they did indeed, matter. That they aren’t gone or forgotten. That they made a difference, a real difference in our lives and the way we understand the core of our very existence and our relationship with God.

This is a promise that we have from God, and one of the things that should give us the greatest hope. That death is not the end, it’s just a turning of the page, the beginning of a new chapter. It’s a promise from God that in time, we will be reunited with them. The Sunday School teacher. The choir member. The parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, children, dear friends. God says that they still live, they still love, and they still reach out and cheer us on. The message of All Saints’ Day is that we will all be reunited again, with them, in the very loving arms of God. And for that, we should all say

Thanks be to God.

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