The Eyes of the Heart
All Saints Day has been a Christian religious tradition since the fourth century. It is November 1st on the calendar, but we recognize it in worship the Sunday after November 1st. — But many churches do not recognize All Saints Day at all. Many do not include a prayer or liturgy, let alone lighting candles in honor of the saints. The loss of this tradition has been the result of fear of looking like Roman Catholics. Independent Christian, most Baptists and non-denominational churches do not remember their saints on All Saints. The same is true for many church traditions like the season of Advent, Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent, Maundy Thursday, and even Good Friday.
The Protestant Reformation is what we call the time when Protestantism began and there was a split from the Catholic Church. In 1517, Martin Luther started the reformation. Nearly 500 years later and we are STILL trying to show prove that we are NOT Roman Catholic; even though catholic means universal. As ONE Holy Universal church, we should (in my opinion) lift up and participate in the practices and traditions that connect us to each other and to all churches past, present and future. As long as those practices center on and point us to God, I see them as good. There is much that older traditional churches like us can learn from newer contemporary churches – like not getting caught up and bogged down by the traditions and symbols of the church, but let’s not throw “the baby out with the bath water.” Traditions ground us. They connect us to each other in the present and to our collective past. They can be very powerful.
Yesterday was the annual Hack family reunion. All of my husband’s father’s people get together one Saturday every fall to reconnect. While I completely understand why teenagers and young adults do not want to attend family reunions, it is important that they do. There were only 4 teenagers at the reunion yesterday and 3 of them were mine. One mother said that her daughter did not come because she is too cool for family now. Getting together with extended family is how we learn how we came to be —and how we are connected to the others in our family. When we have a face and a story for each person or family, we can put together the family tree. We realize through time with extended family that we are not alone and also that we are not as important as we sometimes think we are. It is both empowering and humbling.
At the Hack reunion, people always bring photos of family members who are no longer with us. Throughout the day people pick up the photos, tell stories and remember the family saints. —
So who is a saint? How do you earn that title? The Roman Catholic Church has canonized around 921 saints, although there does not seem to be an official list and number. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes that there have been many saints that are unknown to the church. But after a special Roman Catholic person dies, they can be honored with the title of Saint if they dedicated their life to serving God and there have been miracles in their name.
We usually think of saints as special people of the church who served God in significant ways and did great things with their lives. We think of people like Mother Theresa who loved and served God all her life or special people we have known at church. Saints generally refers to people of the church who have passed from this life to the eternal home.
But in the New Testament, “saints” is the most commonly used title for Christians. It means “holy ones.” While we might not feel worthy, especially when compared to Mother Theresa or influential church people– the New Testament writers give us all the title of saints. We ARE “holy ones,” created by God in God’s holy image. We were made holy and created to BE holy. We are all saints and part of God’s purpose and plan, a mystery that has been active since the dawn of creation, now revealed and fulfilled in Christ Jesus.
On All Saints Day, we remember and recognize the saints who are no longer living with us, not because they lived perfect lives, not because of the ways they loved and served the Lord, but because they were and continue to be Holy Ones. We can do nothing to deserve the title of saint, there is nothing we can DO because it has already been done – by God – when we were perfectly formed. We call it grace, it is Love, it is of God. It is a title conferred on us by God.
We are part of something much greater than ourselves. We are part of the body of Christ which encompasses all followers of Christ, in all places, of all times. Each church is but a small part of something much, much greater that we can even imagine. .
In Spirit, the loved ones who have passed on are still present – here with us today. Imagine, with me for a moment, how many saints there are who have been part of this congregation. Imagine them here with us this morning – the men and women and even children. Imagine them dressed as they would have dressed for church when they were alive. Imagine them in their dresses and suits, in their hats and gloves. Imagine them filling this room, sitting and standing with the congregation and the choir, standing in the lectern and here in the pulpit. Imagine ALL the saints of Providence Christian Church. —
One of the first theories I learned about and really connected with in school was what is referred to as Nature vs. Nurture Theory. This continues to be debated and studied. What is more important in determining who we are, our personality, our intelligence, our appearance? Is it more influenced by our DNA or our life experiences?
All of us were born with a particular intellect and temperament and physical abilities. Those of us who have educator minds lean toward the notion that it is our nurture, our environment, our experiences that matter the most in determining who we are and who we can become. Many, many, many studies have been conducted on this subject. Studies that include identical twins separated at birth who have the same DNA but different life experiences.
When I first became a teacher, I thought I could take any child and with patience and love, mold them into “a kind child with a high self-esteem who loved to learn.” While there were many problems with that thinking, and many children made me question my conclusion, the greatest problem was the power I assigned to myself as the teacher. — My thinking did not include God.
We are shaped by our DNA. We are shaped by the family and community we were born into. We are shaped by our experiences. But Christians are shaped by more than our experiences; we are shaped by our hopes, by the future into which we are living, by the Holy Spirit. We are shaped by our faith that is developed and grown in the company of all the saints.
We are more than our DNA, we are more than our experiences, we are holy ones, in communion with each other and with God. We are NOT victims of our DNA, experiences or our families. We are saints and when we recognize this, when we see with, what our text calls, the eyes of the heart, we have hope.
We cannot figure out God and God’s purposes for us with our brain. We cannot reason ourselves to God. We cannot do scientific studies to learn about God and God’s will for us. We can go out and look for the rest of our lives, all over the world, and never once see God if we use our eyes and our brains. We can only know God, find God, see God and God’s will for our lives with the eyes of our hearts.
So that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.
“Eyes of our hearts enlightened.” Enlightened that how the world works, is not how God works. Enlightened that we are connected to each other – connected to all others of all times and places. Enlightened that we depend on each other – that we depend on the earth from which we have come and to which we will return. Enlightened that we are but a blip in the great expanse of time and at the same time knowing that our lives matter – we are partners with God to be God’s hands and feet and face.
When the eyes of our hearts are enlightened we will know “the hope to which God has called us.”We will know hope – we will know hope – not because our life experiences lead us to hope. In fact, they often logically lead us away from hope. When we have suffered real pain and fear, when we have lost parents, spouses and children – there is little that should lead us to hope. But only when we use our five senses and our brains – only when we use logic and reasoning. When we use the eyes of our hearts and we know God and God’s love – we also know hope. We have hope.
I believe that this is the message our saints bring to us today – a message of hope – but not only hope for our glorious inheritance that is in the hereafter but hope for the great power we have through Christ today – right now. We have the power we need to get through the problems and struggles of today. We have the power to find joy in the messiness of life. We have the power of love through Christ and we know this through the saints in our lives – the holy ones we know, as well as, the saints that have gone before us.
As we move to into our time to remember our saints, I want to leave you an image. I read this interpretation of the meaning of the cross– this week and want to share it with you. As we look at the cross, we can imagine that the vertical beam, the one that goes up and down symbolizes our unity with God and the heavenly saints ABOVE and the Earth and those yet to come BELOW. The horizontal beam, the one that goes side to side, symbolizes our unity with each other – all others in the present – in the now. In the middle, at the point the two beams intersect, we find Jesus the Christ. It is in him, through him that all creation, past, present and future connect.
Let us now remember the saints that today bring us a message of hope.
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