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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Week of October 23, 2016

All Saints' Day is November 1st, which means it falls on a Tuesday this year.  It's a feast day for our more-liturgical brethren, so many will be in a service of worship on November 1st.  New Kirk Presbyterian, a member of the PC(USA) and akin to all who steep themselves in the Reformed Tradition, will also celebrate All Saints' Day.  But don't worry.  We'll not worship on a Tuesday.  Rather, this coming Sunday will serve as an All Saints' Day worship.

"I don't need no saints a-prayin' for me!  I'll just have a little talk with Jesus to make it right; will come to the garden alone 'cus I'm a-pressin' my way to mansions above, singing his praises, Jesus is mine!"

True...


but we have never, don't, and never will be able to do this faith thing alone.  My guess is that you didn't get to where you are in your faith by accident, nor did you get there by yourself.  Let me be real specific: if it weren't for the church in the world (all denominations included), you never would have heard the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and, without someone taking seriously the ministry of the gospel--praying according to the riches of God's glory that God grant you strength in your inner being with power through the Spirit that Christ dwell in your heart through faith as you are being rooted and grounded in love--you never would have had the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3).  Historically, this is the concept of extra ecclesiam nulla salus ("outside the church there is no salvation").

It's worth noting, too, that our Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Episcopalian brethren--all of whom acknowledge saints--never (meant to) emphasize PRAYING TO saints.  Saints are those who died in the faith.  Churches differ in how they assure people that certain folks who have died in the Lord are definitely on the "right" side of eternity.  Our Catholic brethren have a long, drawn-out process.  Others, like our Lutheran and Episcopal brethren, simply remember heroes of the faith from scripture and from church history.

I would argue that scripture speaks of all of those who die in the faith as "saints."  Sure: how do we ever know someone truly died in the faith?  We don't.  So let's just celebrate the concept that, when we die in the faith, it's like Jesus said in John 11.25-26: I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

We have no problem asking those who are still living with us on this side of death to pray with and for us.  At "sainthood's" most heightened consideration, the church historically has had so much faith in the above words of Jesus that she relates to saints on the other side of death no differently than on this side of death.  Yes, that means going so far as to ask a person who is now in the presence of God in a way we cannot even begin to understand to please pray to God with and for us.  For example, Catholics never PRAY TO Mary.  Rather, they approach her in a scriptural manner: Hail Mary, full of grace.  The Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus (Luke 1.28, 35, 41-42).  Holy Mary, mother of God (Luke 1.43) pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.  Amen.  The "Hail Mary" is no different than asking a church member, a friend, or a family member to go to God on your behalf.  It's just that the church is so serious about the faith she has traditionally proclaimed and the stories of that faith that death is no longer a barrier (1 Corinthians 15.54-57).  And, if we're going to take scripture seriously, then we must at least entertain John 2.3-5 and the notion that Jesus' mama, physically and emotionally, had a special connection with him, even from the very start (Luke 1.38, 45).

Or don't take it that seriously.  Scripture mandates nothing for the Christian except the very faith that creates a saint.  Actions and deeds DO NOT make a saint.  A saint's faith is in the very action and deeds of his or her savior, Jesus Christ--in Christ's suffering and death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.  Jesus is our sainthood.

So we'll do something a bit special on Sunday.  We're moving the Lord's Supper from November 6th to this week (October 30th).  During the Great Thanksgiving prayer, we'll remember those of our congregation who have crossed death's barrier and are now present with God in ways we cannot begin to understand.  Also, we'll have a moment to offer the congregation the opportunity to speak the name of someone in their lives who is a saint--who has died in the faith of our Lord.  And what a perfect place in worship to remember the saints!  The church believes that, in the Lord's Supper, she participates in a feast transcending death's barrier where the Holy Spirit nourishes us with physical elements unlike any physical element could ever nourish us.  It's as if each communion is a reunion of all the saints, here on earth and beyond.

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