All Saints Sunday sermon, which fell this year on Bonfire Night, so hope it’s not too ‘explosive’ but enough to fire up your faith!
Sermon No 64
Life and Death, Death and Life
All Saints Sunday
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 5th November 2017 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Matthew 5; 1-3, Revelation 7:9-17, 1John 3:1-3 and Psalm 34: 1-10)
‘Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot’.
A rhyme that I am sure most of us heard in our child hood? For it calls to mind a time in British history that really was truly a significant event. Some of you may have seen the recent BBC adaptation of that story starring Kit Harrington, which contained some quite graphic scenes of torture
The story of the intended plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament centres around the struggles of the Roman Catholics in Britain around 1605 which started from the protestant reformation some 100 years earlier by Martin Luther (when he sent his 95 Theses in 1517), and although we still feel and experience the effects of that time today, it has become somewhat trivialised to just some yearly event in our back gardens firing loud rockets into the sky, with few people now even having any knowledge of the true significance and history behind those celebrations.
So, on this November 5th as it falls on Sunday I thought it appropriate to mention this story of treachery solely to try and connect it to what we also celebrate today which is of course All Saints Sunday.
Now firstly it must be said that a little stated fact is that Guy Fawkes was infact a Yorkshire man, born in Stonegate in York in 1570, did we know that?
So, of course as a fellow Yorkshireman I have to obviously acknowledge that fact, but in no way, do I wish to associate myself with someone willing to commit murder. However, some do say that he was the ‘last honest man to enter parliament’ (apart from our very own honourable MP of course!) And if we have watched the current news, we might actually agree with that statement (‘Pestminister’)
Now we have to understand that during this period of history, life for any Roman Catholic trying to practice their faith was very difficult indeed, and many were put to death for not following the protestant religion, and at the heart of that catholic persecution was the Westminster Government in cahoots with the protestant King James.
And through practicing the catholic faith, or expressing any papal support you really did seriously run the risk of losing your life, and so our infamous Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators would have been fully aware of the consequences of failure to their traitorous plan.
So, death was in many ways much more a reality to the majority of people then than it is now perhaps, it was always just around the next corner, as infant deaths were the norm rather than the exception, and adult life expectancy was perhaps not much more than forty years of age.
So, life in 1600 was lived with perhaps a more spiritual than a temporal view than today. Their faith was all encompassing in every aspect of their life. The sheer fact that for Catholics at the time, to avoid a place known as purgatory, would pay a fee, highlights just how serious they took their faith- buying their way to heaven or so they thought at the time!
Now All Saints is traditionally a time that we too as Anglicans can take time to think about death and those loved ones that we have known and lost and especially for those that have shone the light of faith before us.
But for many people today death is difficult to talk about. One example that I heard just this week was by the celebrity Stacy Solomon from ‘Loose Women’, who stated that whenever she even hears the very mention of the word death, she is sent into a physical state of panic and fear, and she subsequently went on to receive treatment for that condition on the show.
For others that fear may be expressed in other more subtle ways, but dying for most people is always going to conjure up questions of what ‘if anything’ lies beyond the grave.
So today is hopefully a day when we can try and allay those fears through prayer and contemplation and focus on what as Christians we can expect when this earthly life comes to an end.
And we do this by trusting first and foremost in what God has already said about it in the scriptures.
Our bible readings this morning all give hints and promises of just that, and leave us in no doubt that this life here is not the end. Our Psalm talks about being protected by the Lord, verse 8 says, ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in Him (v8). Followed by verse 9, ‘Oh fear the Lord you His Saints, there is no want to those who fear Him’ (v9)
So, we are to be blessed, if we trust in God. And there is no one that will want for anything if we are fearful of his mighty power.
The reading from Revelation, that book written by St John as he lived out his days on the island of Patmos provides us with some vivid imagery of what it will be like when we cross through into that next dimension, listen to what we can expect, ‘They shall neither hunger nor thirst anymore, the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of water, And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7:16-17)
So, Jesus will be there amongst us right in the centre protecting and leading us to our heavenly home where all will be well, there will be no pain, we will not hunger or thirst anymore, and God Himself will wipe away our tears.
But what about saints, who are they? Well the word saint comes from the Greek word hagios which means simply being ‘consecrated to God’
And we often today use the term Saint to describe a ‘good’ person or someone who has lived a Godly life, but scripturally speaking, saints are simply those members that make up the body of Christ, in other words the church. So the good news is that all Christians are considered saints. You are all saints here today if you have been baptised and have faith in Jesus, so look to your neighbour here today in church and think of them as a fellow saint.
Now before you think to yourself, well that is ok to say that Roger but I know that person and I know that he or she is not perfect, well none of us are! We are all saints and sinners at the same time, as Luther said. There was only one perfect person and that was Jesus.
And on that note, if anyone thinks that they are too bad to become a saint I thought I would share with you the stories of two saints who didn’t live such saintly existences in their formative years.
The first was St Augustine who rejected his Christian upbringing and lived a life of hedonism and partying. He once famously prayed ‘grant me chastity, but not just yet’ He fathered an illegitimate son with his mistress whom he then abandoned at the prospect of marrying an heiress, yet his holy and devout mother never gave up on him and eventually her persistent prayers paid off and Augustine went on to become a priest and writer of one of the most influential books still referenced today.
The second is St Mary of Egypt, she became a prostitute at the age of 12 and lived that life for seventeen years until her dramatic conversion on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After renouncing her sinful life she became a desert hermit, fasting, praying and living alone for 47 years.
But of course there are countless more examples of saints through history too with similar stories to tell.
So, remember that no one is beyond redemption. St Augustine of Hippo himself wrote ‘There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future’.
But it is good to think of living saints too and not just those that have already died, for we are a communion of saints, both the ‘living and the dead’ as we say in our liturgy and will say shortly this morning
Our faith believes that when we die we join that communion of saints not by being perfect or by doing great acts, but we will find our way there because God’s grace has been given to us, and once accepted, it is that connection between us that makes us whole, and causes us to be intrinsically entwined as one body and in so doing we become inseparable.
And as an evangelist it is important that this message of life after death is preached and understood, for as Christians, Heaven is our ultimate destination and we are here on this earth for but a short time and need to connect ourselves to our eternal future.
But let’s make a difference in the time that we do have left on this earth, let us be saints to others, let us influence others in our faith. Let us be proud to call ourselves saints, and be good role models, generous, unselfish and good teachers, so when then people that are yet to be born look to us, we can connect with them from beyond our own grave.
So, let us pray that we may all be granted something of the saints ‘love of God’ and their desire and longing to be like Christ, and to start afresh on our own personal journeys today to be better saints, ready to take our reserved place in heaven amongst that ‘great multitude’ with Jesus at its centre.