All Saints - Now It's Our Turn

Feast of All Saints’ C’19

3 November 2019

Ecclesiasticus 2.1-11; Ep. 1.11-23

Luke 6.20-36

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone


Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  – Matthew 5.16

 

Today is the Feast of All Saints’ when we commemorate all those whose light shined so brightly in their generations that their names and deeds continue to echo into the present day. Today we enter the hallowed halls of faith and recall the faithful who have gone before us leaving us an example to follow.

 

Apparently, this commemoration of the faithful departed started with the first martyrs of our faith, during a time of great persecution. The custom that began was not to remember the dates of their natural births but the dates of their deaths, a day that was referred to in Latin as dies natalis – literally their “birthday to eternal life.”

 

The persecution of the early Christians continued after the martyrdoms of those first apostles, and they followed in their footsteps. One such early follower of Christ was a man named Polycarp who knew St. John the Apostle. He was martyred in the year 155AD and is the earliest record we have besides what is written in scripture. Here is a brief account written down by early Christians in Smyrna: “When it was all over, we gathered up his bones, more precious to us than jewels, finer than pure gold, and we laid them to rest in a place we had already set aside. There, the Lord permitting, we shall gather and celebrate with great gladness and joy the day of his martyrdom as a birthday. It will serve as a commemoration of all who have gone before us, and training and preparing those of us for whom a crown may be in store.”[1]

 

This account was written and shared orally with the other churches and passed down to us. Widespread persecution of Christians ceased in the Roman empire when Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity. The Church continued to remember these as well as new generations of believers who, although they weren’t martyred were known for their faithfulness to Christ by living exemplary lives of faith.

 

Moving forward the Church got a little carried away, particularly in the middle ages when they began to make saints into gods and started viewing them as mediators of salvation, a role that had traditionally been given only to Christ. With the doctrine of purgatory and selling of indulgences to get people into heaven, a reformation became inevitable.

 

One of the early reformers in England, Bishop Hugh Latimer back in 1533 attempted to clarify this point: “Regarding the saints in heaven, they be not our mediators by way of redemption, for so Christ alone is our mediator…the blood of Christ is enough for a thousand worlds. But by way of intercession so saints in heaven may be mediators, and pray for us…I say they wish us well and pray for us.”[2] This belief was much more consistent with the earliest creed, the Apostle’s Creed that says: “I believe in the communion of the saints.”  The writer of Hebrews did a marvelous job of describing this communion between the saints in heaven and the saints on earth when they wrote: “1Therefore, 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…”[3]

 

I have to say this idea of the great cloud of witnesses has been a great comfort to me and it was something that I came to a bit later in life. Growing up Baptist I got a version of Church history that cut me off from many of the saints. The history I learned was that there was Jesus, the apostle Paul then a period of about 1,500 years of great darkness and then John Wesley showed up! Well, what a treasure trove those 1,500 years of darkness turned out to be for me! Time will not permit to talk of Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Clare and Francis of Assisi, John Donne, and Hugh Latimer who was martyred during the reformation, on and on and on the roll call goes.

 

We have the legends and stories about the great faith they demonstrated while they were on the earth. These dear saints pray for us, and our tradition does encourage us to remember them and to pray for them. For those saints that are patrons of various things we can ask them to intercede for us, just like police officers who ask St. Michael for protection from the dangers in their work to serve and protect others.

 

The echoes of their lives continue to resound and it gets even better when we start remembering those whose lives were much closer to home who greatly impacted out lives.

 

I brought something to share with you that is quite personal, it is one of the ways that I remember the saints that have gone before me and who have had a powerful influence on me.

 

(Show congregation, the picture cards and the wooden “bleacher” they are mounted on. Take a few of the cards out and mention the saints by name and what they mean to me: R. Wilbur Herring – first pastor, Mom, Dad, Bishop Duncan gray, Jr., Sister Mary Ann Nuce, Alfred Skoog – college choir director, Gussie Turner – Counselor, Gladys Bailey – the Baptist nun, etc. )

 

What a legacy of faith these dear ones have left and I am the inheritor, the beneficiary of their labors. When they left the earth, they took nothing with them, nothing but the love of Christ and the love they shared with us. We are the beneficiaries and as beneficiaries we become the stewards of their legacy. We at St. Luke’s are the stewards of the special legacies left to us by Fran Moffat, Nancy Gray, Forest Pollard, BD and Mildred Ford, Annie Lea Shuster, and so many others. These modern-day saints have invested in us and now it is our turn to share our lives and invest the inheritance entrusted to us with others who will come after us.

 

Please take out the prayer book and turn to page 28 in the calendar portion you will find names of those very ordinary people whom God used in extraordinary ways, like St. Francis, Sts. Simon and Jude, and many others who chose to give their lives over to God and God shone so brightly through them that we remember them to this day. As you look at the calendar you will note there are dates without any names, these my friends, are dates that are still open and haven’t been filled yet, could one of them be filled with your name? What will your legacy be?

 

Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Amen.



[1] Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9.

[2] Latimer, Hugh, Sermons and Remains of Bishop Hugh Latimer (Cambridge University Press:1844) pp.234,236

[3] Hebrews 12.1-2 NRSV

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