First Reading Revelation 7:9-17
Second Reading 1 John 3:1-3
Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:1-12
Sermon “Standing on Tall Shoulders “
Well, it’s been quite a week hasn’t it. But living without power and working hard to clear a massive amount of storm damage does tend to remind me of the importance of the basics – things like good neighbors, family, and all those folks that taught me how to improvise and do things for myself. None of us are self made, not even those few who dare claim such. We all stand on tall shoulders – those who formed us and taught us, nurtured us and fed us – physically and spiritually too. Some of those who have blessed me, I never actually met, but through what they wrote and built and invented, have blessed me never-the-less. Though we should always live with gratitude, this is a special Sunday set aside to remember those wonderful Saints who have gone before us, and especially those who ran their race with grace and love in the light of their Lord Jesus Christ.
As I have told you before, my sister and I grew up in our Grandparent’s houses. She at our late mother’s parents and me at our dad’s parents. We were just a few block apart and it was a great way to grow up. We further benefitted from extended family that as I look back on it spent special care and attention to show up regularly in our lives. I particularly liked it when my uncles – Jim and John would come to town. I liked playing with the cousins, but most of all, I loved it when my Uncles would play with us too. They would play in ways the Grandparents wouldn’t or could not. They would swing us around in circles and let us ride on their really big, tall shoulders. It seemed so high up there! Later, I would learn that they were Godly and talented men as well. Both earned PHD’s in Physics and later, encouraged me in my own academic pursuits. My grandparents themselves were quite accomplished in their own ways and taught me so much about the world, how to deal with people, and most of all to love the Lord. They sent me to First Lutheran Grade school where they knew I would learn even more.
The church supplied a whole other set of auxiliary parents, teachers and councilors as well. They taught me the books of the Bible and wonderful stories of God’s faithfulness and great everlasting love. They taught me to sing and speak in public in spite of my stuttering voice. People like Ben and Mary Lou Edwards taught my confirmation class and prepared me to take up my part in the life of the church. Later, in High School, Lilian McReynolds noticed an awkward, bored young man in the High School class and invited me instead to help her teach the 3rd grade Sunday school class. I loved it! And it seems I’ve been teaching ever since. So many names, so many saints, so many gifts given in love. I particularly remember one couple in the church that truly became an extra set of Grandparents – Dean and Vivian Stallard. They had no children of their own but I was one of several that they “adopted” over the years. They would come by just to go have lunch at Reisen’s cafe – where I first learned to love lemon meringue pie, or to go out to the Salts plains or the little Sahara.
The gifts have continued throughout my life as I went through college, and started my own family and career. A whole parade of loving and Godly saints pouring their gifts and talents into my life. Please pardon my brief remembrance of some of the saints in my own life. If perhaps you have been thinking along with me of those people in your own life who have similarly gifted you, then my purpose is accomplished. That’s what this Sunday is all about – Giving thanks to God – For those redeemed of God who have gone before us and gifted us with their lives. I am pretty sure that all of us are where we are today because we have been carried there on some wonderfully tall shoulders and loving laps. We’ll pause and give specific thanks for them a bit later in the service.
John writes in his epistle: 1 John 3:1-2 NIV  See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Children of God, receivers of lavish love, by the hand of God and by the hands of those who have become like him. Its both who we have been and who we are now, and still who we will be with God forevermore. Just as we are never fully sure what final shape a child will take as they grow up, we do not know the exact form we will take when we are with God for eternity either, but we are promised that we will be like our risen Lord.
So this morning, you are invited to consider all three times of our lives with thanks to God. Thanks for those who have gone before us. Those who have nurtured us and helped us on our Godward journey to this point. Those who have accompanied us on life’s road as teachers, mentors, friends and mates. Some have passed and are now as those we heard in the passage from Revelation – in the presence of God and the Lamb giving perfect praise to God in that divine presence where hunger, thirst, pain, death and tears are no more. We thanks God for their lives and wait with eager anticipation for the day when it will be our turn to join them.
But now, in the present, let us also be aware of their example and the call of God on our own lives.. This is not only a moment to look back to past grace, but also the consider our own lives and fellowship right here and now. You see, God is present here, now and still calls us to minister in the name of his Son Jesus, our Lord. As we remember with thanks the blessings we received, let’s also consider how we can be conduits of blessing now. A couple of weeks ago we talked about some of the things we are doing financially to minister in our community and world. This morning I want us to focus on the personal gifts – Gifts both simple and rare: The gift of a listening ear to someone who is hurting or confused over circumstances in their life. Perhaps the gift of time and companionship – a cup of coffee or tea with someone who needs a warm and loving presence. Taking the time to notice and enter a child’s world – to hear about a favorite toy or that really cool spot up in a tree.
What do Saints do? How do they live? – Just like we have described – simply and lovingly like Jesus taught. Matthew tells us of a time when the crowds came to Jesus – the curious, the sick, the physically challenged – all kinds of people. He sat them down on that hillside beside the Sea of Galilee and taught them and healed them. He told them of the special blessings – the deep God given joy of those who live for God. We call them the Beatitudes. They are some of the characteristics of the Saints of God: The humble and poor in Spirit – those who notice and care for the least and the lost. Those who don’t consider others to be too much trouble – these are uniquely blessed. Those who mourn and are meek – those who care for others – who hurt for the ills of the world, who understand the depths of emotion that the human condition can cause. Those willing to enter into another’s grief as well as to be vulnerable to their own. These find the peace and the presence of God even as they share their presence in his name.
Saints hunger and thirst for Righteousness. They recognize the brokenness and emptiness caused by sin and yearn for the ways of God instead. They seek peace and Justice for the oppressed and forgotten, for the vulnerable child and adult as well. They seek the peace of God – Shalom as the Hebrews say – an active and loving peace, not merely the absence of violence. Saints are willing to be God’s people in this world even though they may be unappreciated at times, even criticized and unrealistic or opposed and even slandered in their efforts to be like Jesus. God notices and God cares even if others in this world may not.
We are Christians, we are Disciples, we are Saints of God – we are not perfect, just forgiven by the grace of our Savior. We are limited in strength and vision, but through faith, the power of God flows through even such hands as ours. What a privilege it is to be part of God’s family. To live and love and serve for God’s sake is to be a Saint. We have been blessed by many such. We live today as such and we will be with God forever in that same way.
Today as we come to the table, Remember with love those who have gone before us: Those who served and loved and taught us and those who came before them and generations uncounted before, those of the church throughout the ages – all of these are somehow present with us. We are who we are because of them, because of their heritage and their examples. They are with their Savior to who’s table we now approach. We look forward to the day when we will all feast with our Savior in glory at the great banquet he has prepared. Come and commune in his presence in gratitude and remembrance for the grace we have received through his death and resurrection and the gifts of the Saints serving in his name that have brought us to this day in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Let us also come in rededication to our present service and in joyful anticipation of the feast yet to come.