All Saints Sermon
I can remember when I was younger watching the movie Superman. Remember the scene where the kids are on the school bus that’s crashed and is now teetering over the edge of a bridge? That always struck me with a deep fear. “That could be me!” I would think. “That could be my bus!” I would gasp, immediately suspending the reality that in Elkin, North Carolina the only body of water my bus ever crossed was the Big Elkin Creek which was about 6 feet deep.
But nevertheless I was instantly drawn into this scene where a hero saves the day.
After Superman safely lifts the bus back onto the bridge saving the kids and driver,
-sorry if that’s a spoiler!—
everyone involved breathes a collective sigh of relief and offers passionate thanks and admiration to this extraordinary individual.
In our movies and in our lives, we long for a hero.
To come and save the day.
It captures our imagination.
It offers us hope.
So we actively seek out these stories.
Take the Marvel Universe, as it’s known. Its the comic book company who is now bringing these comics to the big screen. Their characters include Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow and Captain America and have all been made into big movies and sequels.
To say they’re popular is an understatement. In fact, as of today, the movies collectively have grossed just shy of $5 BILLION dollars. Yes folks, that’s a b.
The concept of heroes fascinates us and taps into a deep longing that exists in almost all of us.
Obviously, this is nothing new. Heroes, gods, mythological creatures with special powers all date back to the beginning of time.
In a way, these figures served as narrative devices that helped listeners and readers make sense of a confusing and chaotic world. Mythological entities were created to explain how plants grew or how the seasons changed. Dramatic stories of fantastical beings were imagined to explain storms, earthquakes, and other natural phenomenon.
But their influence didn’t stop with the natural world. These stories also served as a way to help us in our human experience. These gods and heroes modeled exceptional traits which most could only dream of exhibiting.
But they became the ideals for which our leaders were compared.
They became the standard for heroes.
The ancient Israelites longed for such a hero to come down and rescue and deliver them from their troubles and despair. But God threw in a twist.
God told them that their deliverer would not be a supernatural being, but a human one. This hero, known as the Messiah, would embody all the traditional markings of a legendary hero: a strong political presence and a legal expert; a charismatic and powerful military leader.
But then comes the ultimate twist.
Along comes Jesus- the fulfillment of this prophesy.
the arrival of the Messiah,
and he is nothing like he was supposed to look.
He wasn’t an epic warrior, he was a peace-maker
He wasn’t an esteemed leader from nobility, he was the peasant son of a carpenter from a little known country.
This was definitely NOT what anyone expected.
Imagine the bewilderment as God seems to be throwing yet another curve ball!
This unpredictable hero is turning over everything.
In the Beatitudes we read today, we hear first-hand as Jesus subverts many of the norms of the day:
Blessed are the hopeless
Blessed are those who grieve
Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
Blessed are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous.
Those are simply unconventional – maybe even confusing messages!
Because it defies our preconceived understandings.
This is why may people at the time weren’t convinced Jesus was the Messiah
he simply didn’t meet the criteria.
He didn’t fit the bill.
He didn’t say what he was supposed to say.
He was countercultural.
But that’s what is so awesome about our God.
God is always subverting our limited understandings to open up a new and incredible life available to us all.
God turns on its head all those preconceived notions we have about what it takes to be a hero.
Because in God’s eyes we are all heroes. By doing God’s transformative work in the world, we are heroes.
Epic feats aren’t required for God.
Super strength and perfection isn’t necessary.
For God, love is the only prerequisite for heroism.
Blessed are the meek.
Israel was indeed delivered as was promised.
In fact all of humanity was rescued.
But not in a way anyone thought.
God was saying something new.
God redeemed humanity by becoming human -entering into flesh and taking on a body and walking among us.
Feeling what we feel
Doing what we do
Trying things we try.
And by doing so God points to the fact that deliverance comes not by supernatural megaheroes but through ordinary folks just like you and me.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in each and every one of us, giving us power- we mere mortals – to be heroes.
to do amazing things.
To be courageous leaders
and brave change-agents.
Who are your heroes?
What are they like?
On Wednesday night I was talking with the Confirmation students about the Exodus story. And it was interesting to discuss how the hero of that story- Moses- was an ordinary, flawed guy, just like me and you.
Just like us, Moses had baggage. I mean, he had even killed a guy!
Just like us, he was unsure of himself and doubted whether he had what it took.
He even had a speech impediment!
So he also failed to meet the extraordinary job description of a heroic leader for the ancient world.
But God used this ordinary man to be the hero of the Israelites!
And it’s not just Moses but all the heroes of the Bible seem to be ordinary, flawed folks just like you and me.
See the pattern here?
So I implored the students to remember this when they started to doubt themselves or second-guess that they have what it takes to do some cool things.
Because there is a long line of folks with modest backgrounds who God has used
for God’s glory.
Today is All Saints Sunday.
The word “saint” can confuse people.
Different faith traditions define saints differently.
The Roman Catholic Church has a very structured process and specific criteria for qualifying someone as a saint. For example, one requirement involves the performance of a miracle. So as a result these heroes are often held in the highest esteem and honor- St. Francis, St. Theresa, St. Paul, and St. Peter, among others.
It would be easy to struggle to relate to some of these individuals as actual human beings,
because many people think a saint was someone who was perfect in life.
That wouldn’t seem to jive with what we’ve come to learn about how God works, does it?
But outside of the miracle, if you read about the lives of these saints, you quickly learn they had mostly been everyday folks who God used to do incredible things.
Just like in the Bible.
And just like today.
And this is the approach we as Lutherans take.
We keep it real simple.
To us a saint is defined as simply a loved one who has died in the faith.
And to us, these saints are as much a saint as the biggest names in the Bible.
This year we have several loved ones- saints- who have died in the faith.
But each of them God used in ordinary ways to do extraordinary things:
Never underestimate the power of small things done in love.
Gary Maillet protected men, women, and children in New York for years before moving South to be a loving and compassionate grandfather.
Gabe Spil left a legacy with his family that challenged them to think bigger. His son wrote, that if he ever said he hated someone, Gabs would correct him and say it wasn’t hate, it was a lack of understanding. Or if he ever said he couldn’t do something, Gabs would simply say, “Cant never could.”
Duane Barrett blessed the world with a beautiful signing voice and by all accounts practiced extraordinary hospitality to everyone in her midst.
Peggy Hall welcomed family young and old into her house to stay as long as they needed.
Worth Vanderburg served his country in the military and then later brought joy to his nephews by getting on the floor and playing with them, leaving lasting memories for all.
Steve Fetner served as a father figure to many, collecting a slew of “adopted” children of all ages.
These are holy legacies.
These are saints.
These are people who through ordinary acts of love made an extraordinary impact on the world around them.
These are heroes.
Gabe might not have been Iron Man, and Peggy might not have been Wonder Woman with a magic lasso.
But they are every much as heroic and remarkable and and saintly as anyone.
And these saints join with us each Sunday in the Divine Service where heaven and earth meet.
So today we remember those that have passed from our midst and rest safely in Christ awaiting the Resurrection of the Body.
And for their witness we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.
Thanks be to God.