Message preached on
November 5, 2017
I love this word picture from the last book of the Bible, because it connects the dots of our fractured humanity. Here is “a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes, peoples, languages…” At the end of all things, which but the beginning of a new journey, we are not divided in all the ways we have used over all the years to separate ourselves from others. In God’s new heaven and new earth, lines on a map, genealogy diagrams, skin colors, language barriers do not prevent us from standing with one another. All these divisions ultimately matter little in God’s eyes. The walls humanity has construction are hollow and these hallowed ones cry out in love and praise to our Creator.
Yes, I said “hallowed ones.” On Tuesday, children dressed up to trick or trick. It wasn’t long ago that some Christian folks made a big deal about Halloween being the devil’s work, and that we shouldn’t let our children be corrupted by it. To which I say, “malarkey.” So what if the ancient Druids celebrated something they called Samhain to deal with their yearly fear of days growing shorter. Followers of Jesus, like St. Patrick, came and shared good news, and this festival shifted into laughing at what scares us, giggling at the devil, even – for ultimately evil has no power over God, nor over those who are sheltered by the Lamb who was slain, and who rose from death.
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” That’s what the “hallowed ones” cry in St. John’s vision, here at the end of the Bible. Their song is not a hollow one. It rings true. We laugh at the hollowness of evil on “All Hallows eve,” also known as “Halloween.” What follows is “All Hallows Day,” also known as “All Saints Day.” By the way, we know this word, “hallow.” Every time we dig into the familiar words Jesus taught, we pray “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”
Hallow, holy, sacred – the deepest ground of our being, the highest of heights, that which is beyond our ability to comprehend - yet most intimate, almost touchable. Like a unconsumed burning bush which Moses beheld with bare feet. Remember that story? Like Jacob’s dream of a ladder between heaven and earth. Remember? Like the chariot of fire Elisha saw, carrying his mentor, Elijah, home. Remember? Like the sheet that St. Peter saw descend before him on a rooftop filled with unclean things which a voice said, “Take and eat,” thus shifting this apostle’s life mission to include more than he ever thought possible. Remember? Like the blazing light which blinded the angry Saul and transformed him into St. Paul. Remember?
Hallow, holy, sacred… Hallowed ones, those touched by God most high… Saints… Wednesday, the first day of November – in the Christian calendar, is known as All Saints (or all hallows) Day. Now, this day is not exactly high up on our list as Brethren. It’s a bit too high church. For our Catholic friends, it’s one of their high and holy days. Of course, in their calendar are all sorts of festivals for this saint or that. These are these officially recognized holy ones, canonized, having met a rigorous test of miracles here and mission there and, in some cases, martyrdom. All Saints Day pulls them all together in the imagination of the faithful.
As I said, however, Brethren are not big on this. but maybe we need to pause and pay attention to these hallowed ones on this Sunday after All Saints Day. Now, I’m not really thinking of the official list of Saints – though these are important for us in our present journey. I’m thinking of all the saints, God’s hallowed ones, who have gone before us. It’s good to remember and derive strength from their journey. For their stories are not hollow.
Hallow, hollow… Last week, I underwent a bone biopsy on my left femur – just below my hip. Afterward, the doctor mentioned how, when he drilled into the bone, it seemed like it was hollow inside, which he wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. It was a good thing, maybe, that he didn’t go into my skull. There are days I think that might be empty, also. Anyway, this word, “hollow,” has been part of my journey this past week. What does it mean? How do I walk with it, literally? I need God’s saints around me, not just the dead (who inspire), but the living.
Indeed, in a way we are all saints – you, me. Not perfect, tho’ in the process of being perfected. Not holier than anyone else, just touched by God. Not blessed more than others, but blessed in our own ways: in the poverty of our spirit; in our mourning; in our meekness, and our hungering and thirsting for what is right; as we extend to others the mercy we’ve found in Christ Jesus; as our hearts beat for more than our own selfish desires; as we try to make peace; even when we face rejection or hatred, sometimes physically, just because we seek to follow Jesus, to love as he loved… In a way we are all saints – here on earth. And there are saints who walked this path before us, who are now in that “great multitude no one can count, from every nation, tribe, people, language.” As I face the living of my days, uncertain as they now may be, I need the example of the saints who have gone before me, and I need the support of the saints around me. We all do. I no more or less than you.
What I would like us to do now is to recognize some of the saints who have walked the walk of faith before us; to be inspired, if only by a name that helps us remember. For the light of Christ shines through them to us today. I need 5 volunteers, persons who can write legibly so all can read (not some doctor’s script, sorry Dave). Please stand at the windows. On the ledge are some crayons that write on glass. As the names flow from us, you will write legibly (as you are directed) the names we say. Try to use as much of the windows as possible i.e. don’t write everything on one single pane. Understand?
To prime the pump, let’s think of the early saints, persons like St. John, who wrote the book of Revelation. ____, write “John the revealer.” Then there are, of course, (point to window writers) St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John who wrote the Gospels. Within those gospels we hear of the many disciples. ____, write “the twelve,” along with (point) St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus, Mary Magdalene. We need to include St. Peter as well as St. Paul, the two big names of the early church. What other saints do you remember from the New Testament….
Now, we may not be able to list many of the saints of earlier days, but let’s try. We may be able to think of more than we realize. Anyone? St. Augustine. St. Benedict. St. Francis of Assisi. The words to our prayer song earlier came from St. Teresa. I’ve already mentioned St. Patrick. Can you think of others?
Turning to the time of Reformation, of which this is the 500th anniversary year, the is Martin Luther and John Calvin. From the radical reformation and our branch of the story comes Menno Simons, Conrad Grebel, and Felix Mantz. From England comes George Fox and William Penn of the Quakers. Of our Brethren forebearers, I think of Alexander Mack, Christopher Sower, John Kline (who, on his horse, Nell, held the Brethren together during the Civil War). In this century, I think of Dan West (Heifer Project), M.R. Zigler, and Anna Mow. In the larger church are Martin Luther King jr., C.S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, John XXIII (who led the reformation of the Catholic church thru Vatican II, theologian Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Can you think of others?
Now, all of these saints who have preceded us are only names to most gathered here. Let’s turn to those we have laid to rest since the year 2000, starting with the most recent: 2017: Belinda Eichhorn, Margaret Bayless, Bruce Hedrick. Are there more from this year beyond our fellowship you want us to remember? 2016: Jane Propst, Zermain Breidenbaugh… 2015: Mark Breidenbaugh, Bill Albright, Chris Tipton… 2014 ???... 2013: Mary Reed, Mary Stephen… 2012: Don Dorman, Wilbur Gosnell, Carl Palmer, Israel Rosas… 2011: Lois Webb… 2010: Ida Mae Tombaugh, Charles Barringer … 2009: Lew Breidenbaugh… 2008: Edna Barringer, Margaret Currens, Leon Kagarise… 2007: Terry Gervais… 2006: Gayle Lane, Chris Breidenbaugh… 2005: Paul Smith… 2004: Betty Tracey, Jo Currens… 2003: Richard Tracey… 2002: Boots Reichart, Verlin Tombaugh, Bea Currens… 2001: John Propst… 2000: ???...
That takes us back to the start of the millennium. If you want to include a loved “hallowed one” who entered their rest before this, please speak their name now, so our scribes might write it….. (leave time for this)…. We will leave the crayons on the window sills if you wish to personally write a name later this morning…
On these windows around us are a small portion of the “great multitude from every nation, from all tribes, peoples, languages…” mentioned in the last book of the Bible. These have been called the “saints triumphant,” who surround the throne of God in heaven, however we may picture it. We, sisters and brothers, are the “saints militant.” We still walk the walk of faith in the here and now. May we be blessed by their witness for the living of these days.
As it says in the book of Hebrews, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1-2).
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Our final hymn awaits. It is long and taxing, as is the race of
faith. The middle verses get quieter, with voices breaking into harmony,
for they speak of darker moments. But then comes the dawn. Shall we rise
and sing “For all the saints,” #636