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Friday, November 7, 2014

All Saints' Day Sermon by Mike Powers, at Edgewater Retirement Community


31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[w] 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Sermon by Mike Powers
Delivered at Vespers Service at Edgewater Retirement Community November 2, 2014

November is a month of remembrance and thankfulness. Early Christians had a tradition of gathering to honor fallen martyrs on the anniversary of their deaths but under Roman persecution the deaths became so numerous they decided to pick one day and honor all of the fallen at once. That day was yesterday, November 1 and is known as All Saints Day. In the United Methodist Church on that day we remember Christians of every time and place, honoring those who lived faithfully and shared their faith with us.

Today, November 2 is known as All Souls Day in the Catholic Church and several other Christian denominations. In Mexico today is known as “La Dia de la Muerte” or the “Day of the Dead”. On this day, all who are deceased are remembered with a particular focus on honoring relatives who have passed away.

November 11 is Veterans Day or Armistice Day in many parts of the world. Here we honor the brave people who sacrificed so much so that we can live in a society with the many freedoms with which we are blessed. At the end of this month in this country we celebrate Thanksgiving. A day when we gather to give thanks for the many blessings that God has bestowed upon us.

As we take note of these special days, it is good that we remember the people who came before us and be thankful that they allowed God to work through them to make it possible for us to enjoy a better life today. But it is probably even more important that beyond being thankful for them that we learn the lessons that they teach us.

I picked the verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans for today’s reading for a special reason. A man was sorting through a trunk in an attic that contained his uncle’s possessions. That uncle had been killed in World War I and the trunk contained artifacts from the uncle’s time in the army. Inside the trunk the nephew found a Bible that his uncle had carried with him during the war. The nephew noticed that the Bible was well worn and it was obvious that his uncle had read this Bible frequently. The nephew then noticed that his uncle had underlined in pencil the passage included in our reading in which Paul was quoting from the 44th Psalm. “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

So let’s stop and think about that. Think about the horror that the uncle was called to endure during the trench warfare of World War I and the reason that this verse resonated with him. Death was all around him and he would soon pay the ultimate price himself. He viewed himself as a sheep about to be slaughtered.

But then the nephew noticed that his uncle had double underlined in pencil the verse that shortly followed: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Many people believe that the eighth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans is a summation of his Christian beliefs and this sentence really captures the central tenet of Paul’s faith. That is no matter what we are facing here on this earth, no matter how horrible it might be, nothing can separate us from the eternal love of God. That belief is where the uncle, who was surrounded by death and would soon die himself, had drawn his comfort.

We are not capable of understanding why we are called upon to endure the struggles that we face. Nobody here on earth knows why bad things happen to good people.

I think you know that because of his faith, Paul faced more than his fair share of pain and suffering throughout his life. Consider this list of the difficulties which he recounts in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27

24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;[e] 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.

Several years after he wrote this, Paul died the death of a martyr being crucified in Rome. So why did God call on such a faithful servant as Paul to go through all of these hardships? Maybe Pauls’ way of courageously facing all of these horrible things may have been a way of demonstrating the strength of his faith to others inducing them to follow him in embracing Christ and finding salvation. Perhaps the way that we face our own difficulties will inspire those who follow us to lead a better life. We need to trust and submit to God’s will and know that whatever we are called upon to endure in this life is nothing compared to the everlasting joy of God’s eternal love that is to come.

The uncle with the Bible and the Apostle Paul both faced life threatening situations and both ultimately gave their lives. These two people—one a true saint of the church and the other an ordinary man called upon to fight in a war, both endured hardship. Both drew strength from the knowledge that no matter what they were facing here on earth, they knew it was part of God’s plan and that what is really important and what will last an infinitely longer than the limited amount of time spent here on earth is the embrace of the love of Jesus Christ. That lasts forever. Our time here on earth is nothing compared to that.

There is a beautiful passage from 1 Peter 1:24-25 that I want to share with you.

“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

I acknowledge that the struggles that many of us may be facing here today-- be they significant medical issues, broken relationships with friends and family, financial issues or other things may seem daunting and insoluble.

I am not here to diminish them and I applaud all who struggle for the courage they have in facing their own personal challenges. If you are in this situation, draw strength from God’s eternal love as it provides help and hope which cannot be taken away. Let’s listen to Paul’s words again.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Paul wrote these words after enduring many of the challenges that he had to face. The uncle double underscored these words while struggling through the ongoing horror of war. These two men—one a saint and the other an ordinary person placed their faith completely in God’s love.

Life on earth is temporary—a flash in the pan. God’s love is forever. That is the shelter that I seek and I hope you do the same. That is what we should honor and remember in November and throughout the rest of the year as well.

Amen