Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sermon: The Last Word

Sermon for All Saints Day
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, November 4, 2012

For Readings, click here
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all hearts be acceptable to you, o Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

At the seminary I attended,
there is a large dining hall
with high ceilings and sky-blue walls. 
Along the walls on all four sides of the room and
positioned several feet above eye-level
is an array of formal portraits
depicting a great cloud of witnesses,
all of  them significant and
distinguished figures in the seminary’s history.[1] 

Notably, this includes
the first African American Student,
who later became the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Washington and
a recent female dean of the school,
who transformed the school’s policy
against discrimination on sexual orientation. 

These historic figures, while not formally “red letter”
or even “lesser” saints,
did not let their death have the last word. 
They continually inspired us as seminarians.  
We learned about the resistance, difficulties and
suffering they went through.
We learned about their love of God,
loyalty to the seminary and
their passion to serve God’s kingdom. 

In their witness, they used God’s freely given gifts
of faith, hope, generosity and
commitment to justice,
to shift the world towards God’s dream. 
At the hospital where I served as a chaplain, there is a long hallway outside the pastoral care department.
There, by the exit door,
was a small black and white photo of William,
hung just at eye level.

William was one of the first patients
in 1921 at that hospital. 
William risked his health
to participate in one of the then-newest institutions
of his city.   
By God’s grace, William’s ordinary faithfulness spoke to me. 

William’s witness to the unceasing power of the Spirit
to inspire medical caregivers made him a daily saint,
one whom I greeted as I checked in for work.

These people (great and humble)
strengthened their witness of God’s grace.
In their own ways and in their own suffering,
they remained grounded in the deeper truth
of God’s indestructible grace,
the grace about which we heard
in the readings for today. 

In the Hebrew scriptures,
we heard that “the Lord of hosts will…
destroy the shroud cast on all peoples,
and will swallow up death forever.” 

In the Revelation to John, we heard that
“God will wipe every tear from their eyes
and death will be no more.”

And in the Gospel, the raising of Lazarus,
we learn that through Christ, God, (not death)
has the last word,
so that we will see the glory of God. 
God, not death, has the last word.

We hear Jesus cry out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
and echoing earlier stories about how
sheep know the shepherd’s voice,
the dead man does come out. 
God, not death, has the last word.

Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go!” 
In the lives of those dining hall figures,
in the life of William at the hospital,
in the life of Lazarus, and
in our lives here at St. Philips,
God continually reveals God’s love.

We hear in all these examples that powerful announcement. 

While death is inescapable, it is only part of the journey. 
God, not death, has the last word.

Through Christ, we know a life of faith
grounded in resurrection and new life,
surrounded by all kinds of saints. 

All these saints,
including the saints in the congregation here gathered,
have helped me to become stronger
in my discipleship and ability to do God’s work in the world. 

In observing the ninety-plus ministries,
I see the impact that
your faith has on your lives and the lives of others. 
And so I hope you will join me in tithing to St. Philips. 
This is what the saints ask of us:
to support each other in Spirit and
in Love with our gifts and graces.
I believe that through this community,
we can claim resurrection and
new life in God’s love.

By a show of hands, how many of you keep pictures
of everyday saints
around your house, work place or study?
I do, too. 

We do because in these images
we experience God’s love as the last word on our lives,
not death.

We do because we pray with everyday saints
who give us experiences of faith, hope and love.

We do because we continue to love them
as they love us, beyond death.

And today, just like as every time we gather at the Lord’s table,
we join with them in holy communion. 

Here, at this table, we receive the holy Sacrament
and are brought together in kairos time
with all the saints into the joy of God’s eternal kingdom[2]. 

Listen to your saints. They will tell you that
Jesus, not death, got the last word. 

Nothing can separate us from the love of God, nothing. 

And, that frees us, it unbinds us, it lets us go. 

That frees us to risk everything for the world that God loves. 


[1] Excerpt adapted and inspired from David J. Schlafer, What Makes This Day Different? Preaching Grace on Special Occasions, p. 61
[2] BCP, 363

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