Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“God is For Us”, Sermon, Year B, All Saints/Souls Day, November 4, 2012
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber

On this All Saints’/All Souls’ Day I want to keep things simple: God is for us. God is for us.

There you have it.

That is the message of scripture. That’s Jesus’ message to us. God is for us.

Because that’s who God is. And God was for us even before we knew God. Or had heard of God. God was for us. And so on this All Saints’ Day, I say with all assurance that the dead we remember in our hearts, I say in full assurance that they have eternal life. Whatever that means. We are not entirely sure eternal life means or what it looks like. But we do know that we have the promise that we will never be separated from God. Even death cannot separate us from God. So we can proclaim that those who have died have eternal life.

Why do have it? Not because of anything they did, but because of who God is. That is God’s nature. There have been times in our faith’s hisotry, and some faith traditions have thought of our faith is being something that is mostly focused on “getting to Heaven.” As a kind of insurance policy, that the goal of a Christian is to get to Heaven, or at least to avoid hell. But that’s a very inward-looking and selfish faith. To say that it’s all about my own personal salvation, and me working toward gaining it. And as I preached a few weeks ago, thinking about God that way turns God into a merchant. Not that there is anything wrong with merchants, but that it portrays as a seller of grace. Who has grace, and says, “I will let you buy this from me by doing what I want you to do.” And then we have to hope we have done the right thing. That’s not who we are, and that is not who God is.

We are a faith that follows Jesus. It’s not about getting to heaven or avoiding hell, it’s a faith that very much is about trying to bring a taste of heaven to those who are here and who are in a hell of their own, whatever that might look like. We are to make this world look more like God’s world. More like the Kingdom. And to do so by living in a community of love as a model to others, that this is what God calls us to be as humanity. And so we gather here in these walls on Sundays partly to train ourselves on how to live as this community of love and to be a model of what it looks like. But not in a way that expect others to look in our windows and say, “Oh, that’s what it looks like.” But the expectation that we take what we learn here about living in love, and take it outside the walls and live it in our daily routine with whoever it is that we encounter during the way, wherever that might be.

We are the saints of today, training the saints for tomorrow, just as we have been trained by the saints that have come before us, including those that we remember this morning.

On Thursday we had our Northwest Association Executive Committee meeting, and we always start those meetings with devotionals. Rev. Burbury from Medfrod led us in devotionals, and part of that time she had all of us go around the table and answer the question, “Who were or who are the saints in your life.” And not looking back at the capital-S Saints that have icons and candles and days named after them. Who are the normal people we have known in our lives who are the saints for us. As we went around the table, all of us that were gathered there, the saints that we remembered were all normal people. They weren’t particularly heroic, they’ll never be canonized, won’t have a day named after them. But they all had profound effects on us. Showing us how to live as faithful people. How to live love, compassion, and mercy. How to treat our neighbors.

There are some who say that the Christian vocation is that we must be out there saving souls. That puts a lot more burden on us than we are capable of. We cannot save souls, only God can. And God already has done that in Jesus Christ. We can’t be out there saving souls. It is something that God has already done. But we can be out there saving people from the hells they are in. We can save those who feel unloved, by loving them. We can let them know that they are loved. Those that are lonely, we can be with them so they are not alone. We can let people know that they matter. We can save people by letting them know that they are cared for, that we care about them, or that abusive relationships are not normal, not what they were made for. That they have the dignity and the worth to go above that, and find ways out of it. To be liberated from their oppressions, or liberated from their exiles.

That’s the Christian vocation. Not to “save” people from going to hell, which isn’t a very biblical concept anyway, this idea of a Hell as a place of eternal torment. We’re not saving them from that hell, but we are to help them and each other out of the hells we are already in. The hells that are in our society. In our culture. Whether it be poverty, or even those who suffer from affluenza, those who are so affluent that they’re bored. That also can be a kind of bondage and a hell. Or whether it be homelessness, or too much home. Or hunger, or overconsumption. Whatever causes suffering. We are here to help with that.

There is enough evil in the world, and enough suffering in the world, that we don’t need to add more by telling people that there is this afterlife of eternal torment if they don’t do the right things, and say that just to keep people in line. There is enough evil in the world already. That’s a religion of fear. That is not a religion of a God who is for us. That’s a religion of a God who is very much against us.

And unfortunately those words seem to get preached around all the natural disasters and big accidents that we have. And it drives me crazy. I’ve mentioned this before, so you probably already know that it drives me crazy. We had hurricane Sandy this last week, and it seemed like it was within minutes of Sandy making landfall in New England that some of these preachers were already on TV, radio, and Internet saying that this hurricane is God’s judgment on the Northeast or on the U.S., because we tolerate homosexuality. That seems to be the big sin du jour that these like, or if not that, it’s feminism or abortion. That is a perversion of scripture. That’s not God. That’s not God. And they do this after every disaster, it seems, whether a natural one or a human disaster like accident or mass shooting. When I hear them say that, what I hear is that they think that God is a god who is ready to hate. Maybe even eager to hate. Or if not that, certainly eager to smite and destroy whatever it is that the god is against. And often their god is an omnipotent, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing god that can do whatever God wants, but also this god they think is all-powerful is a very poor marksman. That god has to shotgun this 800-mile wide hurricane to get rid of a few people that god doesn’t like and cause suffering for tens of millions of innocents. And in the case of Sandy it wasn’t even New England, it started down in Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic and worked its way up. This is a god that doesn’t mind terrorizing tens of millions of people and is apathetic enough not to care about them. That’s a god who is very much against us, and not a god who is for us. And I don’t think it is good Christian discipleship to say such things, especially in the midst of tragedy, to blame it on the victims. And I also never hear these people say that it is God’s punishment because we allow hunger, or poverty, or homelessness. It’s never that. Always something else.

God does not send hurricanes. They are a natural part of our climate. Same with earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes. Accidents on the highway or not God’s plan or intent. Mass shootings are not God’s intent. War is not God’s intent. But God does inspire us to community. That is the lesson of the saints that have gone before us. The lesson of community. It is what Jesus talked about. Inspiring us to send aid when there is disaster.

I saw a photo on facebook this past week of a house in New York that a had an extension cord out the window up the sidewalk and a little fence it was draped over, and it had a few of those multi-outlet strips with a sign that said, “We have electricity, so please use it to charge your phones and computers.” Freely given. That’s God at work. Those are the saints of today. Neighbors helping neighbors. Hotels that opened their rooms to the homeless before the hurricane, and have opened their rooms to people who are homeless because of the hurricane. The New York City marathon got cancelled for today, but many runners were already in the city and they said, well, we don’t have to train for the run anymore, so they are out helping people dig out or do whatever it is that they need to do. And those runners that weren’t able to get into the city yet, many of them have given their hotel rooms to those who don’t have a home. All those utility workers, doctors, construction people, all going to help out. Those are the saints of today. That’s God at work. Not sending the hell of a hurricane, and certainly not to punish, but inspiring us to serve in ways that help people get out of that. That is a God who is for us. That’s what God’s realm looks like.

And in that realm we can put aside our differences and dine together, as we will dine at this table today. The Church is a unique organization, along with synagogues, mosques, and temples and other religious institutions. The Church is one of those few intentional communities in the world where people of the whole political spectrum, the whole financial spectrum, educational spectrum, where people who are so different come together intentionally to be with one another. Where we are so often segregating ourselves from people different than us, the Church is a unique place where people where people intentionally come together who have differences, but who do so knowing that we all have our primary identity in Christ, as God’s people. That I think is a very wonderful thing.

We gather and we say to the world, “People with differences can live and work together. All it takes is love and a willingness to let go of their egos, pride, lust for power, at the door.” The saints have passed to us this tradition that in so many ways, especially those that gathered as the Church where the Church was persecuted, and there are those even today, places where being a Christian is to be persecuted. We have gathered in defiance of the evil forces of the world that want to separate and want to divide and what us to be against one another. The Church has gathered in defiance of that to say “No, we are gathered for one another. That is what we are called to do. This is how we are meant to live.” Because God is for us. God is for us soo much that God has sent Jesus to set this table and invite everyone to give up our differences and come and eat together. You may have seen in the news, but there are lots of church around the country that on Tuesday night, election day, are going to holding Communion services to remind us that whether were Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green, whatever, this is our table and we come to it together, no matter our political differences in the hopes of reminding us that when we get outside these walls we are still a people together. We are still God’s people.

And so God sent Jesus to set this table and invites us to come to it, despite our difference and come eat in fellowship and in love with one another and to do so with all the saints of yesterday, and all the saints of today, and all the saints of tomorrow. Because God is for us. Amen.

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Plymouth United Church of Christ
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