November 4, 2012

Sermon for All Saints Sunday B 2012



Sermon for All Saints Sunday B
November 4, 2012
Michael Coffey

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."    - John 11:32-44


On All Saints Sunday, as we recall the good things
           of those who have gone before us,
                     it is quite a legacy they have given us.
It might make us wonder:
           What kind of legacy are we giving to those after us?
           That’s a daunting question,
                     maybe even intimidating.
           Maybe it feels like we haven’t done enough with our own lives
                     to matter much to the future.
           Maybe it feels like the gallons of mistakes and failures and sins
                     overwhelm the scant cup of good deeds we’ve done.
           Maybe it feels like it’s too late now
                     to leave much of a legacy of love.

If you look at the story of Lazarus
           you can see that he had quite an impact on Jesus.
In what is famously known as the shortest verse in the Bible,
           we hear just this:  Jesus began to weep.
                     It’s actually just two words in Greek,
                      sometimes translated as:  Jesus wept.
It says that Jesus wept because he loved Lazarus so much.
           And the love expressed in this verse is the love of friendship.
                     I wonder how it was that Lazarus so touched Jesus’ life.
                                Was it staying up too late looking up at the stars
                                          by a fire and talking about God
and life and hopes and dreams?
           Was it Lazarus helping Jesus finish his chores
                     when he was a teenager so they could go have fun?
           Was it Lazarus’ quiet, listening ear to Jesus
                      when he talked about how hard it was to lead
                                 and how few people seemed to understand him?
Whatever it was, Lazarus touched Jesus’ life so deeply
           that at his death Jesus is not just weeping,
                      he’s rather fiercely crying and disturbed.
We don’t know the details, but it seems clear
           Lazarus left a legacy of love.

When we gather on All Saints Day, or Sunday,
           we gather to remember and give thanks for
                      the legacy of love left to us by those who now rest in God.
           We know the impact on us of their legacy is great,
                      whether they were close friends, relatives,
                      or distant figures we never knew personally,
                                 but their lives sing to us across space and time.
           They changed us with their legacy of love.

That’s what we’re looking to leave, right?
           We want, when we’re in our better minds and moments,
                      to leave a legacy of love.
           We want something of ourselves to be planted in someone else
                      something good,
                      something that blesses and heals and brings grace,
                      something that lets our own pain and failure and sin
                                 become moments of wisdom for others to benefit from.
But we all know how complicated and messed up that legacy is.
           There’s nothing clear or easy about it,
           there’s no recipe for living human life that makes
                      the bread come out perfectly risen and browned.
           We have regrets about things we do,
                      and we have anxiety about things left to do.
           Yet, we have this unquenchable thirst in our souls
                      to leave a legacy of love inspite of it all.

The complexity and yearning of our legacy of love
           is expressed beautifully in a song
           by my favorite Austin musician, Guy Forsyth.
It’s called Red Dirt and it is on his new album The Freedom to Fail.
           It’s a kind of a bluesy, Gospel song on planting seeds
                      and making them grow in other people’s lives.
           In the notes on the CD booklet,
                      he says he wrote it with his friend Mark Addison,
                      and I quote, “Shortly after I found out I was pregnant.”
Listen to how he reflects on the yearning and complexity
           of leaving a legacy of love:

Plant a little seed in the red dirt baby, how you gonna make it grow?
Too much water and you’re gonna drown it
Too much wind and it blows away
Too much sun and now you've browned it
Down too deep and it's under clay

Plant a little seed in the heart of a child how you gonna make it grow
Too much talk and she won't learn to listen
Too much silence and she won't speak
Too much favor and you spoil her
Not enough and you make her weak

Plant a little seed in the mind of a man How you gonna make it grow
Too much pride and he won't pay attention
Too much money and the soul grows thin
Too much faith you can't see reason
To right to see the shape we’re in
Too stubborn, you won't learn nothing
Too much guilt you can't decide
Too little love makes it easy
Paints everything in black and white


Plant a little seed in the red dirt baby how you gonna make it grow

What a world where we're all connected
What a world with love supreme
What a world with no one neglected
What a world where everyone dreams
What a world where we're all connected
What a world with love supreme
What a world with no one neglected
What a world in one little seed

It might seem so complicated and difficult
           think see our lives as leaving a legacy of love
           that we just don’t bother to spend time working on it,
                      planning it, giving energy to it.
But the yearning in us won’t let us let go.
           It is too much of what it means to be human
                      for us to pretend it doesn’t matter.
So we begin where we always begin,
           but especially on All Saints Sunday:
                      Our lives are made holy, saintly,
                      by God through sheer mercy and grace.
           We don’t have to live in such a way as to prove it.
                      We only return again and again to the one
                                 whose legacy impacts us all so deeply
                                 that he has changed us into something we were not:
                                 Jesus, who is God’s legacy of love in us.
           We are connected to this legacy
                      through baptism, the gift of grace
                      where we died to our old selves of sin and selfishness,
                                 and were raised up to a new life of love as our legacy.

As we remember the saints before us
           we know that their stories are muddled and mixed
                      and full of contradiction and complexity, just like our own.
But through the gift of grace
           we can see their lives through the legacy of love they leave us
                      not merely through their own human frailty and faults.
           God’s grace is like a great sieve, that filters out
                      whatever we need to let go of or forgive or forget,
                      and let’s all the goodness and love come through.
Our legacy is not a perfect one or something we can fix.
           It is to live in such a way that the grace of God is seen in us,
                      to let our brokenness and our doubts and fears
                      be part of our story,
                                 and to love as best we are able even with all of that.

There’s a kind of writing called hagiography.
           It is the way early Christians in particular wrote about the saints.
                      Sometimes this term is used pejoratively
                      to describe an account of someone’s life as being
                                 idealized, or romanticized, or only telling the good stuff.
           But really, it’s about telling the legacy of a life
                      from the perspective of grace and mercy.
                      It’s about letting the faults be what they are,
                                 but making note of the amazing ways
                                 God in Christ created a legacy in that person,
                                            that caused love to sprout up and grow
                                            from the small seeds they planted.
           Hagiography is really about giving glory to God
                      rather than to the person alone,
                      because it is God who hallows our lives,
                      makes us holy,
                      blesses our legacies to be more than they could be on our own.

Today we baptized Norah.
           Allison and Kinnon:
                      Sorry to put all of this pressure on you,
                      but your legacy is at hand.
                                 The love you can give, which is God’s love in you,
                                            to this beautiful child of yours,
                                            this is your legacy to the world.
                                 And just imagine all the ways
                                 she will leave a legacy of love because of how you loved her,
                                            because of how the community of faith loved her,
                                            because of how God in Christ loved her completely.
                      What a beautiful thing to see today
                                 another saint added to the roster,
                                 the list of those baptized in Christ,
                                 those who found in their very lives
                                 they mystery of God’s love lived in the flesh
                                            that transforms ordinary live into holinesss.
It is our work together
           to live by such faith in God’s grace in Christ
                      that we might befriend many,
                                 love family and stranger,
                                 and leave a legacy of love to the world
                                 that doesn’t give us any particular credit or worth,
                                            but glorifies God who made us to love.
We are all together part of this mystical body of Christ,
           the communion of saints,
           the community of humble love embodied in space and time.

What a world where we're all connected
What a world with love supreme
What a world with no one neglected
What a world where everyone dreams
What a world where we're all connected
What a world with love supreme
What a world with no one neglected
What a world in one little seed

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