In-Between-Saints (November 4, 2018)
Today is All Saints’ Sunday. Every year on this day, I tell you that you can call me St. Yme.
It’s true! I am a saint!
And believe it or not, so are all of you!
Just to be clear, we are not saints because we’re such wonderful paragons of moral virtue. We are saints because we belong to a holy, compassionate, and loving God.
In fact, every single character in the Bible is like that. They consistently miss the mark; they regularly screw up; they make mistakes all the time — and we know them as people who are loved by God, deeply cherished as sons and daughters of a God who holds us close in every moment of our lives.
And saints know that. They know their imperfections and flaws. They know how broken they are, and how broken we all are. They know that God’s love surrounds us, not because we’ve got it all right, but because God’s nature is to love without limits. As a mentor of mine puts it, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us any less; there is nothing we can do to make God love us anymore.”
I think Leonard Cohen captures that sense well in these amazing lines: “Ring the bells that still can ring; forget your perfect offering; there is a crack in everything: that’s how the light gets in.”
With all of our cracks, with all of our faults, with all of the mistakes we make, in the midst of all our brokenness — we are saints. Through the cracks in our lives, God’s love comes in. Through those very same cracks in our lives, the love of God shines out into the world.
So good morning, saints of God!
Let me ask all of us saints a question. How is God’s love shining out into the world through the cracks in our lives? How are we living as God’s saints in this world?
The readings from Isaiah and Revelation this morning paint a glorious vision of God’s purposes for life. It’s a new age—death will have been defeated, weeping and crying have been abolished, oppression will have ceased; there will be no more bullying or terrorism or prejudice or any form of pain and sorrow. God will be with God’s people, and all will live within the abundance of God’s grace and compassion and love.
Our gospel reading also talks about the abundant life which is God’s deepest purpose for us. When Jesus raises Lazarus, it is a promise of the fullness of life for all of God’s people. God overcomes death.
But it struck me forcefully this week that even though Jesus knows fully about God’s purpose of life, he weeps when he comes face to face with death. Even though Jesus trusts deeply that every tear will be wiped away in God’s economy, he still stands weeping outside Lazarus’ grave.
I think it struck me so forcefully because we are living in a world of tears. I want to suggest today that as the saints of God, we also stand in our world this morning weeping with all of those who weep in our world.
We are in–between–saints. We live in the hope of what God intends for our world, but that hope is not yet real. We live in an in–between time.
Our world today is full of tears. We weep with the families of the victims and the survivors of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. We weep for how deeply rooted prejudice is in our world against anyone who is seen to be somehow different. We weep.
We weep with the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools, who must live with the horrific memory of what was done. We weep with their families and children, for the effects of that horrific system continue today. We weep.
We weep with members of the LGBTQ community who are still being persecuted for being the people who God has created them to be. Last week, Matthew Shepherd was laid to rest — finally laid to rest — in the National Cathedral in Washington DC. Matthew was a student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten, tortured and left to die on the side of the road in 1998. Why? Because he was gay. At the service where Matthew was finally laid to rest, Bishop Gene Robinson said, “Welcome home, Matthew. You are safe now.” The church is, and ought to be, that kind of safe space for all people.
But there are still people in our churches who think that gays and lesbians are sinners — as if the rest of us weren’t! We weep.
We weep with the victims of shootings and attacks which are becoming increasingly common—on Danforth Ave. in Toronto; the van attack on Yonge St.; school shootings; the killing of black men on the streets; the increasingly rampant violence all around us. We weep.
We weep with refugees who seek a better life, and who are refused by the rich and the comfortable. We weep with the caravan of migrants coming north from central America, and wait with a sense of dread as to what might happen when they reach the southern border of the USA. We weep.
We weep with those who have died because of natural disasters, some of which have happened because we have been so careless with our environment. We weep with the increasing number of species which have become extinct because of our greed. We weep.
As saints of God, we stand with Jesus outside the graves and we weep.
But we don’t stop there. Then we act. In the words of the Eucharistic prayer we will be using today, we pray, “Your Spirit speaks through Huldah and Micah, through prophets, sages and saints in every age to confront our sin and reveal the vision of your new creation.”
That’s what saints do … we reveal the vision of God’s new creation. We point to the dream of God. We are part of the Jesus movement, and what Jesus did was to overturn all those things that stand between God and the world.
So how will we let the light of God shine through the cracks in our lives? How are we living as saints of God in this in–between–time?
This beat–up world filled with tears is watching, wondering if our faith is genuine, wondering if our faith makes any difference. If not, why should they bother with our faith?
They don’t expect us to be perfect. They know, just as we do, that we are broken. But they do expect to see some evidence that the love of Christ is real. And how can they know unless we let it shine?
Either we believe Jesus Christ is the help and hope of the world or we don’t. Either we believe Jesus is the light of the world or we don’t. Either we believe the light of Christ is within us or we don’t.
Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, wrote, “If you cannot recognize the image of God in a person who does not look or think like you, then you have made God into your own image and have begun to worship an idol.”
We don’t worship idols. We worship the God who made heaven and earth, the God who sustains “this fragile earth our island home”. We walk in the way of service with Jesus, who stands at all the graves in this world and weeps, the same Jesus who stands at those same graves and calls life to be born in the midst of death.
So let me close with this: In this in–between–time, welcome to your lives, O in–between–saints of God.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
November 4, 2018 (All Saints’ Sunday)
John 11: 32–44
Revelation 21: 1–6a
Isaiah 25: 6–9