Sermon from November 3: Trust the Signs
Trust the Signs
All Saints; November 3, 2019
Let’s start by answering a question that some have asked. Our congregation this year has had fourteen deaths in our church family: eleven members and three friends. We are specifically picturing and naming the eleven members, but not the three friends, nor the many other names listed in your bulletin as people you and I remember this All Saints Sunday. Why is that? Are we so exclusive an organization that we care only about our members? Hardly.
It is because of what we believe about the word “saints.” Today is “All Saints” remembrance, and so we need to talk about saints. Roman Catholics have a particular understanding of saints: a person goes through a fairly rigorous process of post-death scrutiny before being declared a saint. That’s not the way we Presbyterians use the word. But we’re not at the other end of the spectrum either, claiming that a saint is anyone who has died and was a pretty good person.
We say that people are “saints” using the word the way the New Testament uses it: saints are those who have professed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and have been part of Christ’s Church to the end. Remember what it means to be a member of a Church: it’s not simply joining an organization. It is to publicly profess that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior and to commit yourself to following him in the life of a particular congregation.
So we remember our eleven siblings in Christ as “saints” because they professed Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior and they hung in there with Christ’s Church until their dying day. That isn’t always easy, is it? I’ve had days that I wanted to declare I would never darken the door of a church again; have you? But something always brings me up short; now don’t go all cynical on me and claim it’s the paycheck. I could earn a good living doing something else. That’s not why I’m committed to this Church.
I trust the signs. When Moses told the Lord that the people would not believe God had appeared to him, God gave him some pretty nifty signs to convince them. And, if you keep reading the story, you’ll see that they did trust the signs and believe in Moses. In our Gospel reading (Luke 9:12-20), Peter declares that Jesus is “the Messiah of God;” the story suggests that he came to the realization after seeing what Jesus did with five loaves and two fish. He trusted the sign.
If I believe that Jesus is the Messiah then it logically follows that I must be committed to His Church. The only way I can honestly turn away from Jesus’ Church is to turn away from Jesus; people who claim otherwise, who think they can be Christians without being part of the Church, have simply not paid attention to the Bible. And the signs given us by the saints encourage me to hang in there with Jesus and to hang in there with His Church.
Consider our eleven saints (Sue Mehaffey, Ruth Cook, Andrea Sherman, Dave Perry, Jan Blimling, Barb Oertell, Nancy Perry, Maureen Lambrecht, Cathy Heitmann, Bob Corry, Virginia Graham). Some you know better than others; some you may not have known at all. Some may have given you joy and others may have irritated you. Some you may easily call “saint” because of their virtue; with others you may feel inclined to choke on the word. Every one of them professed that Jesus Christ was Lord and Savior and every one of them hung in there with His Church to the end. When they were not members of this congregation, they were members of some congregation. And at the end, they were part of us.
I cannot go through All Saints without thinking of my mother, who died on All Saints Day five years ago (November 1, 2014). Anna is among the saints, but not because of her exemplary moral character. She was, indeed, a good woman and a great mother, but she was far from perfect. I do not care to tell you of her failings, but I will tell you this: she loved the Lord Jesus and his Church to the end. She was sometimes dismayed by the Church, and couldn’t go along with everything that happened, but her commitment never wavered. Anna professed Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior when she was a girl and she lived that faith until the day she died.
This last thought will show you why we observe All Saints. When my own faith and commitment waver, I think of Anna. And I think of Gaynell Rouse, and Refugio Haddad, and Allen Feldkamp, and Bill Raitt, and Beverly Shaw, and Ken Jensen, as well as so many whose names you would recognize… and I trust the signs. I trust by their profession of faith and their commitment to the end that, somehow, they too saw the God who appeared to Moses and who shared the bread and the fish. And they encourage me to profess the Faith and to live it to the end.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master