A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
November 5, 2017 All Saints’ Sunday
Based on Rev 7:9-17
“Revelation” is not a good translation of the title of this book. The original Greek title is Apocalypse, which means “unveiling” or “disclosure”. It is a book of mystical images, strange symbols, dreamlike visions, and hope. While it describes a heavenly realm, it was intended to convince hearers that God is present now, in our lives, in the events of the world today, offering comfort because God’s grace is greater than anything. This morning we hear a vision of how God’s faithful people are gathered before God’s throne.
also based on Matt 5:1-12
The beatitudes may be one of the best-known sermons of Jesus. The sermon begins with statements declaring “Blessed be.” The poetic word traditionally translated as “blessed” could also be translated as “enviable,” “fortunate,” “favored,” “well off,” or in the Common English Bible “happy.” It is the consequence of divine action. Listen to how Jesus pairs this sense of God’s grace with human experience.
In the 1990s there was an entire industry producing items bearing four letters: WWJD, representing “What would Jesus do?” The idea was to remind Christians when facing a dilemma to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” There were a lot of variations on this slogan:
WWJB: What would Jesus Buy?
WWBD: What would Buda do?
WWGD: What would Gandhi do?
WWLD: What would Lincoln do?
WWMLKD: What would Martin Luther King do?
among Lutheran friends, WWMLD: What would Martin Luther do?
then among my Methodist friends, WWJWD: What would John Wesley do?
Other popular variations included:
What would Brian Boitano do?
What would Johnny Cash Do?
What would Tintin do?
What Would Mary Marvel do?
What would Scooby Do?
And one of my favorites, WWYD:
What would Yoda do?
Among those for whom WWJD was beloved, these variations were not received with humor but rather often considered offensive. How can you possibly suggest that Jesus can be substituted by Buda or Gandhi or celebrities or even beloved church leaders? They are human, Jesus divine. And Yoda is not even real: within Star Wars he may represent wisdom and teaching, but he’s not a holy character. The point is, they would say, you can’t just substitute Jesus with somebody else as an example for righteous living.
But that is precisely the core message of All Saints Day. We remember the persons who died in the previous year, examining their lives for demonstrations of their faith, their response to Christ being in their life, to look at how God’s grace was displayed through them. We do this, not because their lives were perfect, not because every story about them was a story of holiness. We do this because their stories were imperfect – and yet God’s grace was known by them, through them, for them, with them in those imperfect stories – and we do this because until Christ is present on earth again, it is those who follow Christ that incarnate God’s love.
So we’re meant to ask
What would Jane do?
What would Judy do?
What would James do?
What Would Hazel do?
What would Ken do?
What would Larry do?
What would Bill do?
What would Bob do?
What do you expect Jesus would do with such people? We’re already told in Revelation: gather them together and recognize them for the saints that they were – not individually, but as a group. None of the saints we remember today were able to be faithful all by their selves. They could only know Christ and respond to Christ because they were part of the church.
And because saints are not just those who have passed but those who live among us seeking God’s will in their lives, we’re meant to also ask
What would Nayna do?[i]
What would Wilma do?[ii]
What would Marion do? [iii]
What would Rosemary do? [iv]
What would Chuck do? [v]
What would Marvin do? [vi]
What would Laurie do? [vii]
What would Chase do? [viii]
And while you might not realize it, others are asking What would you do? Others are looking at your life and seeing evidence of God at work, seeing God’s grace come through your life, your struggles, your decisions. You have already been summoned and already stand in a great cloud of witnesses who profess Christ’s love for the world, and together we demonstrate what Jesus would do.
None of us as individuals are always right, always righteous, always holy, always saintly. We are human, and we fail. We speak in anger, we act in frustration, we strike out when we are hurt. But together as the church, we always share God’s grace with the world. As the church, we forgive individuals when they have been less than saintly. That it is a tremendous calling. That is a humbling task. That is why seeking to be faithful, seeking to be the church, is a shared activity.
We remember the saints who shaped our faith in the past, especially those who died in the past twelve months because through them we became part of the church and through their legacy we continue to be the church.
Remembering the Saints
Holy Lord, these who we remember today were not perfect, and yet through them we experienced your presence and your grace. We read their names with thankfulness, and ask the examples of their lives will continue to guide us to greater faithfulness to you.
Clarence “Larry” Beutel
Blessed and generous God,
for all the saints,
who from their labors rest,
who Thee by faith
before the world confessed, [ix]
we are thankful for the ways their lives have guided us into your presence.
May we rise to their witness so others may know you through our lives, and may the communion of saints be strengthened through our shared witness, proclaiming the name of Christ. Amen.
[i] Current moderator of the congregation.
[ii] A beloved matriarch.
[iii] A beloved matriarch.
[iv] A beloved matriarch.
[v] Two men in the congregation, both admirably fighting cancer.
[vi] A member very active in missions.
[vii] A member very active in missions.
[viii] An older child.
[ix] From the hymn “For All the Saints”, words by William W. how, 1864.