Sunday, November 07, 2004

Sunday after All Saints' Day

Ecclesiasticus 2:1-11; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-36

When my brother and I were little, my dad read to us every evening after dinner. We climbed up on the sofa and listened as he read to us about brave adventurers, great journeys, talking animals and distant lands. The books we read together are still among my favorites, and I look forward to reading them to my own son, to little Charlie, one day.

Already story time is an important part of our routine. When his pajamas are on and his teeth are brushed, Charlie rushes to his room to pick out his favorite books. We climb up on his bed and take turns reading or telling the stories. Charlie knows the books as well as we do, which isn't hard when you've read The Cat in the Hat eighteen nights in a row....

I hope that Charlie will always love story time. We've actually been reading to him since a few weeks before he was born, when we discovered the first Harry Potter book and decidd to read it out loud. It was a fun way to mark off the evenings - each chapter one night closer to Charlie's due date. Harry Potter will always remind me of Charlie, just like the books my dad read will always remind me of him.

I will never forget the day I arrived to pick up Charlie from daycare just minutes after he had fallen and bumped his head pretty hard. His teachers had cleaned up most of the dirt and tears, and when the sniffles finally stopped I asked him what had happened. And then Charlie told me a story. I didn't catch all the words (he was just 2), but the story definitely ended with a dramatic, "and...and...and then, crash!"

The goose egg on Charlie's forehead was impressive. But even more impressive was the long, thin, red scratch right down the middle. He looked like Harry Potter.

In the book, Harry learns that the scar on his forehead was the result of an evil spell gone awry, cast at him by an evil wizard, but intercepted by his parents. The scar marks him, but underneath it is a deeper mark still. Harry's wise old teacher explains, "Your parents died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort (the evil wizard) cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your parents' for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign....but to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loves you is gone, will give you some protection forever. It is in your very skin."

We, too, are marked by such a love. Do you feel it, just there on your forehead? At our baptism, our foreheads were marked with a cross. Not a scar, no visible sign....but to have been loved so deeply....With the sign of the cross we are sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever. It is in our very skin, and as we rise dripping from the waters of baptism, it seeps into our souls.

Harry's mark sets him apart from other people, and so, in one sense, does ours - we are set apart by God in baptism. Set apart to do the work of God in the world, to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. Set apart to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. Set apart to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.

Doing the work of God sets us apart, because it is so often not the way the world works. The world asks us to proclaim ourselves; to seek and serve what is best for us; to be in competition with our neighbors; to strive for getting even or, worse, getting ahead; to rank rather than to respect the dignity of every human being. It is not easy to be set apart by God.

Which makes this morning's gospel take my breath away. 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 one 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.

It seems the baptismal covenant lets us off easy. In these words from Luke's gospel, we are given our most basic - and most difficult - instruction in what it means to bear the mark of Christ. The instruction? Love. Love. At all times, and in all places, Love. For in everything we do - at home, at school, at works, in the streets - in everything we do, we carry with us our vocation as baptized people. The mark of the depth of God's love for us is indelible - it goes where we go, and it meets who we meet.

We are set apart. But, unlike poor Harry Potter, we are not set apart alone. Today we are celebrating the great feast of All Saints, celebrating the lives and witness of all those who have gone before us in the faith. The dictionary defines a saint as "a holy person, a faithful Christian, one who shares life in Christ." A holy person. A faithful Christian. One who shares life in Christ. Almost as an afterthought, the dictionary adds, "the term may also indicate one who has been canonized or formally recognized as a saint by church authority."

And so All Saints' Day is about Mary and Jospeh, Peter and our own Paul, Augustine and Julian, Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa. But it is also about us - it is about Bryan and Greer and Suzanne and Bill. It is about Christopher and Laney, who we will be baptizing today. It is about Edna and Faye and Christopher and Louise and all the others we will name in our prayers, those whose faces we no longer see but whose mark has been left on our lives and in our hearts. Holy people. Faithful Christians. People who have shared with us life in Christ.

Every Sunday we affirm our belief in the communion of saints, which the catechism of our prayerbook defines as "the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer and praise." We are not set apart alone. We are set apart into a family, into a community - the household of God, the Body of Christ.

In just a few moments, when we are asked, "Do you believe in God the Father?", let us imagine as we respond how many voices across time and space have said, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth." When we gather around the font, let us imagine how long must be the procession of those who have entered the waters of baptism. When we kneel at the table, let us imagine how many hands have reached out to take Christ into themselves. We are not alone.

In this place, at this font, at this table, our stories come together with the stories of all who have gone before us and all who will come after. Our stories come together and are rooted in the story of God's love for us, in the story of the cross, in the mark on our foreheads. Not a scar, no visible sign....but do deep a saturation of love in our souls that, as we go out from this place to do the work of God in the world, we may say together with conviction, "I will, with God's help." For we are all of us saints of God, and I mean, God helping to be one, too. Amen.

No comments: