Together We Give: Witness

This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on November 3, 2019. To watch the full recording, visit Mission Hills’ Facebook Page.


Ephesians 1:11-23

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

 

Luke 6:20-31

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,

    for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now,

    for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now,

    for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,

    for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now,

    for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who are laughing now,

    for you will mourn and weep.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.


Today is a really important day in our church for a lot of reasons. We have just welcomed friends from our church family into membership here at Mission Hills. In a little bit, we will celebrate our gifts, through the presentation of our commitment cards. Both of these things honor what is now and what will happen in the future. Today is also All Saints Sunday, where we remember and honor all those saints in our lives who are no longer with us in body. So there is a celebrating element to today, and also one of grief and loss. What do we do about that?

How can both exist in the same space today?

I want us to remember, especially today, the story of Jesus. The story of Jesus, while it is brutal and graphic and traumatic, while we grieve parts of the story, the story is still overwhelmingly one of great joy, of resurrection, of life eternal. Jesus reminds us that death is not the end of the story, and today, we honor that truth, and together we celebrate it.

Our passage today from Luke is an example of this story lived out. These beatitudes can remind us of the goodness those who have died brought to our lives. When we remember, we can remember the love someone showed us. We can remember the good they have done in the world, the ways they have blessed their community, the ways they taught us to pray and give and do good. We can remember them, just like the blessings portrayed in the Beatitudes, as models of the kind of faithful living we all are called to.

Jesus reminds us that death is a part of life, certainly, but that we can still remember and honor those who have died, because their story is not over either. Today, we remember those who have died, remembering them as saints, part of the communion of saints. We remember the ways they have impacted us, the stories they’ve shared with us, the memories, the learnings, their witness. And in turn, our remembering allows us to hold those people with us, as we move towards the future. It’s a sacred, real, raw moment of bringing what we’ve learned with us as we look ahead in our timeline.

Today, on All Saints Sunday, I am reminded of my friend Nancy Egbert. Nancy was a member of one of the previous churches I served in Alaska, but she wasn’t just any member, she was THAT member. You all know the one I’m talking about. She’s the one who was helping with anything that needed help with, the one who taught Sunday School and cooked something delicious for potlucks and volunteered in the community. Everyone knew Nancy. Now, Nancy had been sick for longer than I’d been there, going through several different kinds of cancer, and coming out of each one seemingly stronger than ever. This woman had a faith that inspired me. She believed in healing so much, that nothing could stop her.

A month or so after I started at the church, Nancy got really sick. Each time I’d visit her, there was this optimism she carried, that again, she would make it through. “There’s just too much I have to do”, she’d tell me. But her condition was getting worse and worse. On September 23, I walked into Nancy’s hospital room, which for once, was not full of other visitors, and the room felt different. Nancy couldn’t talk much, her face was heavy, and she simply looked tired. I sat with Nancy and her daughter for a while. We prayed together, and I held her hand. A few minutes later, she told her daughter she wanted communion.

I snuck away, eventually re-entering her room with a pack of saltines and mini bottle of grape juice from the nurse’s station, and I blessed the elements. As I served Nancy, she couldn’t chew, so we placed a small crumb on her tongue, and she let it dissolve.

“The bread of life, and the cup of blessing”, I said.

The next day, Nancy died. She left us to join the communion of saints. I can’t help but think of her when I serve communion, when we together get to remember Jesus, the fragility of life, and also the eternal life we find in God.

Today, in the words of Ephesians, I give thanks. I give thanks for all those who have gone before us, for the people who have taught us what it means to be disciples, to serve, to give. I give thanks for the ones who carry with them the spirit of their departed loved ones, never forgetting their witness. I give thanks for seeing newness emerge around us, moments of bloom in new members, babies, celebrations, and commitments for the future.

I give thanks that our Christian story is one where life and death, past and future, and grief and joy come together in a beautiful way. As bearers of this story, we too are called to be a part of it. We are called to remember, to mourn, to grieve, and we are also called to carry on the future work of the church. We are called to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us, to continue giving all that we have, to make disciples, and to move the story forward into the future, this beautiful story with a rich history and theme of redemption.

As we close today, hear these words from Paul, from Ephesians.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Friends, as we leave this place, may we give thanks as we remember, grateful for all those who have touched our lives. May we be inspired by the words and works of this communion of saints, taking with us the inspiration they have left with us. May we use what we have learned as we go forth, witnesses of this beautiful Jesus story we are invited to carry forth. And may we remember, joyfully and graciously, that we too are also those saints, who others learn from and are inspired by, now, and forever.

Let us pray:

Holy God, who lives and breathes among us. We thank you for you, your story of life and redemption, death and resurrection. We thank you for all the saints who remain inspirations to us now. Inspire us to go forth with our memories, giving witness to all those in Christ’s kindom. In your name we pray, Amen.

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