Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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All Saints Sunday 11/02/2014

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve preached on Revelation. It’s not my favorite book of the Bible because I’ve always found it a little too weird, a little too hard to figure out at least in any way that makes sense to me so on those occasions when it shows up in the lectionary I’ve tended to avoid it. My view of Revelation has changed a little bit though; I do have a greater appreciation of it now than I once did, even though I still find it difficult to preach on; but I remember that my first step toward a greater appreciation came from a friend of mine back at seminary.

His name was Bill Williams, I think I’ve mentioned him before, but he was kind of computer geek who had made a lot of money designing video games prior to going to seminary, particularly some Star Wars game. He knew George Lucas who produced all the Star Wars movie and he was still receiving very generous royalties checks. Bill also had cystic fibrosis and being in his 30’s he had lived far longer than most people with that disease. He knew though that in all likelihood his time was short and he wanted to do more than design video games and make more money in whatever time he had left and that’s how he wound up at the seminary.

Anyway, even though we had very little in common we became pretty good friends and at some point along the way he mentioned that he loved the book of Revelation. When I disagreed and expressed skepticism about its value his advice was to stop trying to figure it out. “Just try to picture the images,” he said. “They’re pretty spectacular!” I know that I still didn’t get it right away, I didn’t really understand what he meant; that didn’t seem like the right way to approach the Bible. I was still too intent in wanting to figure it out, where Bill, being more imaginative could just enjoy the images of Revelation, strange as they might be, without worrying so much about what it all meant.

Bill didn’t live too much longer; he died in 1998. He finished the two year Master of Arts program and then served a small congregation in Texas for about a year, but particularly with this text from Revelation, he’s one of the saints I think about today. There are others I think about, you’ve got your own saints who you think about, some of them perhaps named today as the bell tolled, some remembered with a picture or with a candle, some only in your heart. All of them though are part of that great multitude robed in white, seen in the vision of John of Patmos and described in the book of Revelation.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, that multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. Some of them are people we think about all the time, loved ones who are gone but whose presence we still feel. With them we don’t necessarily need an All Saints Day to call them to mind but even with those saints who are closest to us, the ritualization of the remembrance does have an impact in how we think about them.

What this day also does though is to give us an opportunity to think about those saints who exist more on the fringes of our life, for me, people like Bill Williams. He didn’t have a huge impact on my life, but for a couple of years he was part of the multitude that surrounded me enough so that any time a text from Revelation comes up, I think about him and I think about what he inadvertently taught me about the power of imagination.

There are lots more though, lots more of those saints on the fringes, those who may have played a relatively small but still meaningful part in my life. I think of a couple of teachers who were tough but also encouraging, I think of my JV basketball coach who I didn’t really even like very much but he gave me a chance to play apparently seeing ability in me that no one else up to that time, including me thought was there. I think about Mr. Reiner at church, a friend of my father’s who would always pleasantly greet me on Sunday morning like I was important, giving me the impression that my being there really mattered to him. I think about the first school principal I worked for who was very supportive as I struggled with a pretty tough group of kids.

I could go on, the list is long when I start thinking about it, but maybe I’ve brought to mind for you some of your own saints on the fringes. I could now ask you to turn and tell the person beside you about one of them but I always want to sneak out and go to the bathroom when that happens so I’ll spare you. What occurred to me though, was that I’m pretty sure that none of the people I’ve mentioned would have thought that they were doing anything saintly. It might well be that if any of them are still alive they wouldn’t even remember me and if they did they might be surprised that I remembered them.

Maybe though, that’s part of being a saint. You don’t set it as a career goal; you don’t wake up in the morning and decide that today I’m going to do something saintly. It occurs to me that we are perhaps most saintly when we’re not trying, but that’s a reminder too of what this day is about. We are surrounded isn’t just about the saints who have gone before us. We are also surrounded by living saints throughout life. We’re reminded that we too are saints for someone, very possibly in ways that would surprise us.

I think, for example, about last Sunday with the First Communion kids. When they received communion they were surrounded by family members on either side and that’s good, that’s important; but when they were up here at the end of the service they could also see that they were surrounded by a much wider community. They might not know who you are, you might not know them, but at that moment, they were surrounded and who knows, even though it might not have really registered at the time, maybe it’s a moment that will stay with them in some fashion. It was just supposed to be a chance to introduce the kids, but it was a saintly moment, a multitude moment.

I think about our Homework Club kids. For an hour or so on Thursday afternoons this motley little group is surrounded by a small group of adults who know their names and interact with them and pay attention to them, on a good day they might even learn something. We don’t do it to be saintly, in fact on some days it can drive us crazy but then we’re occasionally surprised by comments parents make about how much their kids look forward to it.

The Thursday evening Bible study group has been watching a series of videos by NT Wright, a prominent Biblical scholar and historian. Among other things, he talks about how the biblical view of heaven isn’t what we usually think, it isn’t an otherworldly place up there, beyond the clouds. Instead he says that the biblical understanding was that heaven and earth are more like interlocking spheres of God’s creation. In other words, heaven is right here, it exists in the midst of this world. Especially on All Saints Day, that’s a good image as we think about being surrounded by that multitude of saints, those who have gone before us, but also those who are still here.

We are surrounded, if we open our eyes and imagination to see. We are surrounded by and we are part of a great multitude of saints. But it’s also important to remember that what ultimately makes us saints is not those saintly actions, important as they might be. We are saints because our robes have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. That’s another great image from the Revelation passage: made white in the blood of the Lamb. It doesn’t make sense but I know it’s true; I get it, but I won’t try to explain it to you because I can’t. As Bill Williams told me a long time ago, just imagine it.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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