A Message for All Saints Sunday

Last weekend our family attended a family reunion. We used to do these every couple of years when I was a kid. Then for whatever reason we stopped for quite a long time. A couple of years ago my grandfather, approaching his 89th birthday, wanted to do another one, and we've had two more since then. This year's reunion was memorable for two reasons: 1. Half the people went home sick. A stomach bug that attacked my uncle's family two weeks ago has somehow gotten hold of my parents, grandparents, my own kids, and many others. 2. During the reunion there was a video playing in the background- a video from a reunion in 1988 or 89. I know this because my cousin, who I was playing cards with in the video, is wearing his high school class ring.

Watching this video was fascinating. Laughing at the 80s fashion was great. Seeing relatives who have gone on to glory, like my grandfather's brothers, was meaningful. Then my mind began to make some calculations. I freaked my dad out when I told him he is as old today as my grandfather was in the video. I realized I am older today than my mom was in the video. And as my 17 or 18 year old self kept popping up on screen, I thought: what have the last 25 years taught me? If I had a chance to speak to that high school kid, what would I say? Well, that kid really wanted to be the next Donald Trump/ Wall Street guy, so I'd probably say something about my hero shaming himself by demanding to see the President of the United States' birth certificate and college transcripts. I'd probably encourage him to spend more time studying and less time watching soap operas that first year in college. I'd certainly encourage that young guy to move on from, and not try to resurrect, that relationship that didn't work out in high school. Then I thought: instead of going to the past to share life experiences, what would it be like to go from the future? Instead of the 41 year old Frank talking to 17 year old Frankie- no you may not call me that- what if 75 year old Frank- the retired grandfather living somewhere far away from Texas summers- could come speak to me today and give me some advice? How great would that be?

The thing is: we really don't need that. God gives us mentors in the faith that teach us, guide us, and shape us- based on their experiences. I don't have to invent a time machine and serve as my own mentor. Instead, God places in my path people like the ones we celebrate today on All Saints Sunday. People like Martha Hoffman or Jean Pate, who volunteered at the desk by the elevator every week and would allow me to sit and share in their lives. Or Bryan Clark, who served as the chair of my intern committee here at Oak Lawn fifteen years ago. Or Tommy Nance, who testified to his great faith every Sunday climbing into the choir loft to sing despite great pain from a WWII injury. Or Marietta Ragsdale, who taught me about hospitality with the way she loved having people visit her apartment.

You may have noticed I'm using a different Bible this morning. This Bible was given to me after Reba Clark's death. Bryan and Reba were dear friends of Christy and me, almost surrogate grandparents, and Lynda Cagle, their wonderful caregiver, thought I would want this. This Bible was given to Reba and Bryan by the Followers Class in September 1973. I wonder if there was a joke here, because this is a Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic translation- so why a Methodist class would give it is a mystery. But the great thing is everyone in the class signed the Bible- it was a gift of hospitality. Dave and Laverne Marr. Blanche and JD Edwards. PD and Nancy King. Tommy and Dell Nance. Allene and Stephen Nichols. Truitt and Jeanie Brinson. These are all names of great Oak Lawn saints- some have gone on to glory, others have not.
The Isaiah text I read this morning is a vision of a heavenly banquet, but not in the same sense we might associate with heaven. This is a powerful vision of the future. At the invitation of The Lord God, all people are welcome to a great feast- and this is no Healthy Choice type dinner- this is a banquet of the mot delicious, unhealthy food and wine one can imagine. It's a place of great comfort and enduring joy: the mounting veil of the people is removed, the shroud entrapping all nations is gone. Death is destroyed forever. The Lord wipes away our tears, takes away our shame, and we testify, saying to our Host: "This is our God in whom we hoped for salvation. We rejoice that he has saved us!" In a few moments we will receive an invitation from The Lord to this table, where Christ is host. This table anticipates the heavenly table of Isaiah. As we share the Lord's Supper, be aware of the presence of our saints next to, and within, you.

The lesson on All Saints Sunday is not about death- but the promise of a living faith even in the face of death. These whom we remember and name today live on in glory in service to the Lord's eternal kingdom, while at the same time leaving a witness to those whose lives they touched in this world. The writer of the wonderful book of Hebrews uses a powerful image to explain the relationship between past, present, and future saints of the church: "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, we should throw off everything that hinders us, especially sin, and keep running the race that we have started, never losing sight of Jesus, who leads us into faith and to its perfection..." The cloud of witnesses is reassuring to us. The wisdom and experience we have gleaned from others does not disappear at their death. Nor will the impact we have on others disappear when we die.

Watching the video of a reunion 25 years ago brought back memories of my own family who have died. My cousin Ron, the 17 or 18 year old guy I played cards with, just five weeks younger than me, my best friend in the world, died nine years ago. Seeing him in the video was shocking, but not in a painful way. I carry those memories of sleepovers and getting into all kinds of trouble with me every day, and I am grateful for every moment. I didn't know my grandfather's brothers very well, but I know the impact they had- and still have- on him, and he has certainly impacted my life. I was honored by the gift of this Bible and the names listed here, even the ones I never knew. Who knows how to measure the impact those lives on the movie had on my own- or how these names we read today touched all of us. We hope God will use us in such a way that we too may have a similar impact on others, even after our earthly life has ended. All Saints Sunday reminds us that every person is invited to a table where we feast on the best stuff. It's a place where there is no grief, no pain, no tears. Only everlasting glory and praise. So today we give thanks to our great Host, as we anticipate sharing in that meal with our beloved saints. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.