Grace to you and peace from God who is our peace, even and especially as we find ourselves in the mix of the mix.
Here on this All Saints Sunday, as we celebrate and give thanks, as we bring our pledges forward in a sign of our trust and joyful thanksgiving for God and all of the blessings of this life, as we brace ourselves for a big election week and all the division that comes with it, as we move into the hectic holiday season, as we sustain all the changes all around, with work and school and family and news...here in the mix of the mix, God meets us again, and Christ speaks peace, calling us back to the center: Love God, love neighbor. What if we measured every word that came out of our mouth, every thought in our head, every tap of the keypad or phone screen, every action from our bodies on these two core commandments? Love God. Love neighbor. (I read these as equated...loving God = loving your neighbor.) What a simplifying gift that might be!
Today in the thick of it all, and in light of this text from Mark’s Gospel, I’d like to share a bit about 2 saints in my life. They are not pictured up here, but I can certainly see them here with all the rest. All Saints Sunday is a day when we remember that the dearly departed saints are looking down on us saints still here, cheering us on. Lining the balconies of our churches and our world, rooting us on...like Ann’s team at the marathon.
Well, first illumination on this text comes from a dearly departed member of the last congregation I served, Lois Hellberg. Lois was a saint from the beginning, a passionate advocate for those who were overlooked — always the poor, the immigrant (she and her husband set up a library in Mexico and when everyone else was screaming about the dangers of crossing the border, she would take Saturdays to go down to Tijuana and deliver books to the library, visit with the families, and then sometimes she’d race back to host a fellowship event for church at her lovely, modest, peaceful home. Her hosting always included strong coffee and singing. Anyway, in my visits with Lois, as health problems accelerated toward the end, one time she told me a parable as we were talking:
“Two able-bodied men were walking along the beach in San Diego,” she paints a picture for me. “And suddenly, they both hear the screams of a little boy drowning and struggling in the undertow, out in the water!
“The first man drops to his knees in the sand and starts praying: ‘Dear God, please don’t let that boy drown. Please don’t let that boy drown.”
“The second man looks around incredulous that no one is doing anything. ‘Goddamnit, that boy is drowning!’ he shouts and goes running out to rescue him...even with bad knees.
“Now,” says Lois like a rabbi, “which of these two men took the Lord’s name in vain?”
Wearing our Christianity on our sleeve is one thing. But Christ is about something else: “Show me your discipleship by your actions,” Scripture calls us back again today, “by the decisions you make, by how you spend your time...and your money...and your able-body. Don’t tell how faithful you are. Show it. Love God by showing me how you love your neighbor,” Christ nudges us again today.
In this text, Jesus is not actually arguing with the scribe. He’s agreeing with him. The scribe gets it, the scribe is the one who says all this, and so Jesus commends his deep wisdom and says to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” In other words, you got it! Love is not about right doctrines and showy sacrifices, but rather about faithfulness, humility, trust and grace.
In a moment, we come forward and place our pledges on the altar. That’s not a showy sacrifice ritual, like the scribe was describing: “Hey, everyone, look how great I am!” Rather, physically coming forward at the Offering time on pledge Sunday is ritually ‘getting our bodies’, i.e. our whole lives, into our giving. In other words, we’re running out into the waves! Bringing our whole being up to the altar, and of course that includes our money. We bring our whole lives before God, right past our beloved saints, gathered cheering us on. As broken or crude or lost as we might be, bad knees and all, here we are, God! Where we’ve been, what we’ve done, doesn’t matter; God is calling us now.
My prayer in this pledge campaign this past month, has always been that every BLC member participates and pledges something. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Everyone according to their ability brings something forward.
All ages, all levels of income, give from the top of our baskets, first fruits, proportional to all we have, weekly, in a way that stretches us, and most importantly, we pledge joyfully. We all come forward and bring what we can because it’s a reflection of how much we trust in and love God. We’re not “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” we’re running into the waves. Love God, love neighbor, you see?
The second saint I want to tell you about is my Grandpa Roschke, my dad’s dad. Grandpa was a loving pastor for more than 60 years! [cross] He served so faithfully. Sidenote: As the churches Grandpa served grew, every 7 years, he would gather the leadership together and say, “OK, as I say every Sunday from the pulpit, we are called to go outward and spread this Gospel. So who’s going to go?” Can you imagine?
No one ever wanted to “run out into the waves” at first, they were liked where they were. But he Grandpa would pastor them...and new churches were born all over Kansas City. Just a glimpse into his evangelical, i.e. good-news-sharing spirit.
After Grandpa died a few years ago, my dad discovered these laminated cards in his files: John 12:21. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” You see, Grandpa would put these in every pulpit he ever preached from. It was a reminder to himself and all preachers to ‘get out of the way’. All preaching is meant to point to Jesus. “Love God, love neighbor,” you see? Stay to the side. This isn’t about you! In all our preaching and teaching, in our giving and sharing of our resources, in all our living, this world needs to see Jesus. We knew Grandpa prayerfully liked to install these cards. What we didn’t realize, was that he lived with the hope and vision of preaching so much more, of sharing so much more Good News of God’s love, so many more pulpits to go...
I’m growing to love this pulpit off to the side. Altar center.
Friends in Christ, God shines through in the mix of the mix. And it’s the saints of God, both those looking down on us and you...you are all saints too! Ye watchers and ye holy ones — it’s the saints of God that get out of the way, and run into the waves to serve a world with everything we’ve got! All Saints bear witness to the mighty works of the One who is deeply alive and abiding among us. All Saints bear witness to the One who forgives us and challenges us. All saints bear witness to the one who sends us now back out to love and serve in peace. ALL SAINTS bear witness to Christ Jesus, who lives and reigns, this day and forever more. AMEN.