Today we have saints on the mind. It’s All Saints Sunday, the day the church invites us to think about saints…past AND present. Here at St. Peter it’s not hard to keep our past saints in mind. I like to park my car out back because it gives me a chance to walk through the cemetery. I usually read some of the stones as I walk past and see some names I recognize from saints that I know today at St. Peter. There are also family names that I recognize from other times and places in my life, and that makes me wonder if there’s a connection. Sometimes I notice the dates, trying to figure out how old—or young—the person was when they died. I’ve noticed the custom on some of the older monuments to list the person’s age at their death right down to the day. It must have been important to honor every single day that a child of God lived on this earth.
Whether I’m reading the markers or not, the one thing that always happens as I bustle through the cemetery is that I slow down…I remember that I can take a few more moments as I walk between our two buildings or between my car and the building to be present with those who’ve gone before us.
Since I’m such a newcomer, I can only imagine how it feels to you to have the chance to remember the family members and friends whom you’ve loved and lived with, to be surrounded with those memories.
As lovely as it is to remember about the saints who’ve gone before us, on All Saints Sunday we really need to do more. God and God’s world need more from us than moments of nostalgia. We might think about why those saints are worth remembering. I’ll venture a guess that some of those saints in our churchyard were your Sunday school teachers. Those women and men who dedicated time every week to prepare and lead your lessons. From them you learned the stories of the Bible, you learned how to live in God’s community, you learned to love God, God’s people, and God’s church…and you learned that you are loved by God and God’s people. You never know, when you’re a Sunday school teacher (or a preacher) what’s going to stick and make a difference in your students’ lives.
There’s a saint at Good Shepherd in Cincinnati who’s still teaching Sunday school and has been for many years. She taught my kids nearly 20 years ago and we recently learned that even thought there was some evidence to the contrary, Dan WAS paying attention, at least some of the time, in Sunday school. At my ordination, Dan noticed those words in the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer: “…let us pray as Jesus taught us.” After worship he spotted his old Sunday school teacher in the lobby, she had read the Old Testament lesson for us. He walked up to her and said, “Miss Ginny, I don’t know why the bishop said that Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer. I learned the Lord’s prayer from you in Sunday school.” With that statement a couple of things happened. First of all, a strapping young, bearded saint made the day for an old lady saint! But even more important than that, we all learned that sharing God’s love with one another, especially with our youngest saints, really matters. Because Dan didn’t just learn the Lord’s Prayer from Miss Ginny. He also learned, by coming to church and Sunday school week after week that he could trust Miss Ginny …and God’s people…and God. And that’s what saints really need to know.
Maybe you remember some specific lesson that one of those saints in our churchyard taught you. But even if you don’t, you probably learned something about God from them. Maybe you learned that you can trust God from that long-ago Sunday school teacher…or relative…or family friend. That’s one of the definitions of “saint” that I found recently: a saint has gotten an idea of what God wants for the world—the GOOD that God wants for the world–, and trusts that she or he can be a part of it.
And so we’re back to trust. I hadn’t planned on a 2-part sermon, but…If you were here last week, maybe you remember that we talked about trusting that God can love and forgive us even though we’re FROG-SLAYERS. (If you weren’t here last week, you might want to ask someone to tell you the frog-slayer story…) The short version is that “frog-slayer” is a code word for sinner…and we know we’re all sinners. sinners can trust God…and now we hear that saints can trust God. Which brings us around to a bit of Martin Luther theology: we’re all saints AND sinners at the same time. Saints and sinners can trust God…and those of us sinners who are still walking God’s earth really need that trust.
There are so many places in our lives where we face challenges. And of course Church is where we usually talk about being saints…but God’s saints are saints (and sinners) wherever we go. We’re saints (and sinners) when we leave here and go home or to a restaurant for lunch. We’re saints (and sinners) when we go to work, or volunteer, or work in the garden, or hang out with our grandchildren. And in all those times and places, we run into situations where we need to trust God. We need to remember that we can take our troubles to God in prayer. And that God’s will for God’s world will ultimately prevail.
On Tuesday, many of us are going to face one of those times where we need to remember that we’re saints and that God’s got our back. On Tuesday, many of us are going to vote. Recent months have been filled with hostility between the campaigns of the two major-party candidates for president of the United States. Congressional and judge races are only slightly less acrimonious. All of our ballots will include issues that might impact the public services offered by our cities, counties, and state.
Now, the last thing I’m going to do is to stand here and tell you how to vote. That’s not my place. Your vote is just that—YOUR vote. You have to go to the voting booth and decide how you want to use your vote on each of the races and issues. But what I do want to remind you is that you go to the voting booth as a frog-slaying sinner/saint. Please don’t leave your faith behind when you vote. Please use God’s gift of prayer before you go to vote. Please vote with your trust in God’s good will for God’s world in mind. I read a reflection in the November issue of our denominational magazine Living Lutheran. The author suggests a simple practice: that we use “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, that favorite advent hymn, as a voting aid. She suggests singing or humming it softly while waiting in line to vote. Remember that Emmanuel means “God with us” and we surely do want God with us now.
And I have a feeling that God’s sinner/saints will continue to need that trust after the election. The other day Jonathan and I were making plans with some friends for an activity late next week…and one of them mentioned that she hoped she wouldn’t be on her way to Canada by then. These months of challenges and arguments probably won’t magically disappear after the election. More than ever, God’s world will need God’s saints to trust God…and to act in ways that might show others how to trust that things will be OK. That we won’t have to move to Canada or take some other drastic action if our chosen candidate doesn’t win the election.
There’s no question that we’ve managed to make a mess of God’s creation. But there’s also no question that God is still in charge. Trust that. Treat others kindly, even those wearing the badge of the “other” candidate. Forgive others, even when they say things that are hurtful. Trust that, no matter who becomes president, or senator or representative, things can work out. God’s in charge—and God’s sinner-saints are the ones to show the world what it means for God to be in charge. Do that…be the saint who trusts in God.
November 6, 2016 ~ St. Peter Lutheran Church, Trenton, OH