Sermon for Sunday, November 2, 2014
All Saints’ Sunday
Preached at the Parish of the Messiah, Auburndale
I recently went to “curriculum night” at my daughter’s school, the night when parents get to visit their kids’ classrooms and meet their teachers. As part of curriculum night, the principal met with just the sixth grade parents to tell us how sixth graders are a special case. Sixth graders really aren’t kids anymore, he said, but neither can we yet see in them the young men or young women they will become (like we usually can in a seventh grader). Sixth graders are something of a “tweener.” And it’s not just a physical difference, he said, but a developmental one. Sixth graders are much more capable than a fifth grader of taking in the world around them and making sense of it. They begin to comprehend, for example, much more complex mathematics. In science class they begin to understand “the big picture” of how systems fit together, e.g., a watershed’s ecosystem or the human digestive system. Sixth graders are able to read and appreciate on a deeper level more complex literature, and to comment on it in with greater sensitivity. And while seventh graders are used to having these capacities, for sixth graders it’s still all new. “Sixth graders,” he said, “are in a constant state of being amazed.” They’re amazed as they study the solar system, or dragonflies, or the American Revolution, or as they read or as they study Spanish vocabulary. Likewise he said that, because of their amazement, sixth graders usually aren’t genuinely mean. And so, for example, when a sixth grader says, “I can’t believe you’re wearing that,” she probably didn’t intend for it to be a put-down. She was quite probably saying – in amazement – “Wow! What an outfit. And you have the courage to wear it!” The principal closed his remarks to us with an invitation: “I invite you to enter into your students’ amazement this year. Because if you’re able to enter into your students’ amazement, this can be an amazing year for you, too.”
In just a few minutes, we will baptize Jill. I like to think that the saints, whom we celebrate today and who gather around with us at each celebration of the Eucharist, are amazed at what we are about to do. They are amazed that in today’s world people are still willing to say – as Jill’s parents and godparents will soon say – that they renounce “Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness.” (I mean, Who still talks like this?) The saints are amazed that people today are still willing to say, as _Jill’s parents and godparents will soon say, that they turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as their Savior. (Nobody says things like that – at least not in public!) The saints are amazed, too, that somebody in today’s world is still willing to undertake the mission that Jill’s parents and godparents promise she will undertake, to do things like “continue in… the breaking of bread and in the prayers,” and “to seek and serve Christ in all persons.”
I have a hunch that the saints – all of them! – whom we celebrate today, are amazed at what we are about to do. Or – to borrow imagery from sixth grade and also Paul, who talks about being “clothed” with Christ – the saints are saying, “Wow! Look at that outfit” with which we’re about to clothe Jill! “And you have the courage to put her in it! That’s amazing!!”
I think the saints are inviting us to enter into their amazement. I think they are inviting us to be amazed with them at God’s plan for this world, how, despite how fallen and broken things may seem, yet God will in the end restore this very world to himself and will even dwell with us in it. The saints are inviting us to enter into their amazement at how God has called some of us into the covenant of Baptism, to be the salt of the earth, the lights to the world, to help God in His work of restoring this world to Himself. And the saints are inviting us to be amazed with them because God has called Jill to do things that almost nobody does, things like renouncing Satan, like accepting Jesus as her Savior, or seeking and serving Christ in all people, to help God in His mission. I have a hunch that the saints, as they gather with us here this morning, are saying, “Wow, what you are doing here this morning, clothing Jill with Christ – that’s amazing!”
And it is all of our tasks to help Jill have the courage to wear her new outfit.
Jill is not yet old enough to make these vows for herself, which is why Jill’s parents and godparents make the vows on her behalf until she is old enough to be Confirmed in these vows herself. But even with the support of Jill’s parents and godparents, it will still take a whole parish – even two, as our parishes’ discussions proceed – to raise up Jill into a disciple for Christ. And that’s our task for the next fifteen or twenty years: to help nurture Jill in the knowledge and love of the Lord until such a time when she is old enough to make an adult, public affirmation of the faith in Confirmation.
If we are to take on such a task, it helps to be amazed, not only what God is working in Jill, but also at what God is working in us. In one of the Church’s other sacraments, Holy Matrimony, there is a prayer that asks God “that all married persons who have witnessed these vows may find their own lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed.” For those of us who are married, watching somebody else make their marriage vows can be a powerful strengthening of our own marriage. In similar fashion for those of us who are Baptized, watching Jill’s parents and godparents make her Baptismal vows can strengthen our own lives and confirm our own loyalties. So with our lives strengthened and our loyalties confirmed, and standing with the saints in amazement, not only of what we’re about to do, but also of what God has already done in our lives, then perhaps we can be a “community of amazement” for Jill, a community that can help her to live into the extraordinary, amazing life she is being initiated into this morning. Which is the same life that all of us who are Baptized have been initiated into: the extraordinary, beautiful, wonderful, amazing life of Jesus Christ.