- Author: Tania Haber,
senior pastor of Westwood Lutheran Church, St. Louis Park, Minn.
- Updated: 08/02/2010
- Copyright: Pastor Tania Haber
All Saints Sunday: Today is a celebration of our blessings and the offering of our gifts to the ministry.
Today is a celebration. It is a celebration of HOPE in that it is All Saints Sunday, the day we remember all those who have died since last All Saints Sunday. The names of those from our St. Luke's family are printed in the bulletin, there is a candle lit on the altar for each of those 14 saints and we will be reading those names and remembering them during our prayers this morning.
Today is also a celebration of our BLESSINGS and the offering of our gifts to the ministry here at St. Luke's.
Those of you who are guests with us today - we are especially glad that you've joined us. You have come on our Celebration Sunday, when we will bring forward our financial pledges for the next year. This is something we do once a year. And there are a few things you can also fill out to bring forward, as we bring our offerings up. There are Welcome Cards in the pew racks.
Today, as you come forward for Communion, all of you will be bringing one, two or three things with you: everyone can bring their welcome card; members, your pledge envelope with your commitment written down for the General Fund and the Capital Appeal. Some of you have already dropped those off or mailed them in. The mail was slower than we'd hoped and if you didn't receive the packet in the mail this week with your pledge cards and information in it, those cards are included in each bulletin. They can also be mailed in this week.
If you have your regular offering today, you will bring that check or envelope up.
And there is a prayer card in each bulletin as well. On this card, we encourage everyone to write down a prayer concern, or a prayer of thanksgiving, and that can also be brought up.
So, sometime before Communion, we ask that you have those pieces filled out and you can bring forward your commitments, your offerings and your prayers, and place them in these baskets.
Over the course of our four services this weekend, many of the members of the families of these 14 saints that we remember today are here in worship. It may be your spouse for whom one of these candles is burning, your mother, father, grandparent, your child.
The rest of us carry our own grief and memories of our loved ones and the candles in our hearts that are burning for them will never go out.
You may have noticed that there are 15 candles burning on our altar and 14 names in the bulletin. The last candle is lit in honor of the 5,000 plus victims of the tragedy on Sept. 11.
On this day, as we remember our dead, we also claim LIFE. We claim the HOPE that our scripture reading from Ephesians talks about, verse 18 says, "So that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he 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."
What marvelous promises!
Yesterday, my aunt asked me, "What do you tell people, Tania? Where is God in our world today?"
And I said, "Aunt Barb, God is in the same place he was when my Mom, your sister, lay dying. God was in that room with the promises of new life and hope. That's where God is still. Right here. With us! Still offering his wonderful promises of new life and hope amidst the darkness.
She was quiet for a second over the phone, and then she said, "You're right. God is here. I just need to be reminded of that sometimes."
We all do. Today I want to remind you of the promises of Jesus Christ and of the marvelous blessings that God has given us, and then ask the question, "So what?"
The promises of Jesus Christ before us today are the promises of new life after death, of hope that we have been called to and of God's great power for us who believe. And as we receive bread and wine tonight/this morning, we also receive the promise of forgiveness for today and a foretaste of the feast to come in the next life.
As I serve communion on All Saints Day, I don't think a year has gone by when I don't tear up as I'm distributing the bread and wine because this meal is a meal shared with ALL the saints in heaven and on earth. When you are at this altar rail today, you are in a place, in a moment that lies somewhere between our daily lives and heaven itself. The veil between heaven and earth becomes very thin at times like this. Don't take this lightly.
In addition to these promises, let's look at the blessings that God also gives. You need to count the blessings that God has provided in your own life. But as your pastor, let me lift up for you the blessings that God has bestowed upon us at St. Luke's this past year.
I'll start with last weekend.
We had almost 700 people in worship and over 300 people at the evening celebration supper and concert. What a day it was! I called it a feast, not only of food, but also of our musical talent. It was incredible!
Some other things that I see as blessings to celebrate from this past year are Pastor Karen's ordination here, last spring, and her ministry now amongst us. The new CrossWoods Sunday School, the people who worked on it and the children who come bubbling out of that hallway every Sunday. Nearly 100 new members in the past year. Dozens of people who took off work to help build a Habitat for Humanity house. Thousands of homeless and poor fed by our caring St. Luke's hands up at Loaves and Fishes. Colorful quilts and shoeboxes full of toys sent out from this place to countries all over the world. A dozen of our youth and adults going on a mission trip and about 50 of our kids to Bible camps.
Watching New Life Lutheran Church become a congregation of the ELCA after 3 years of sharing some financial support with them. Seeing the Martin Luther Manor van pull up at the front door every Sunday, with happy drivers, and even happier riders, some of our dear seniors who could not have gotten to worship otherwise.
Our list could go on and on.
Some of these blessings have come to us. Others are blessings that we receive by blessing the lives of others.
Now, I told you that after I looked at the promises of Jesus and the blessings we have, I would ask "So what?" So, what do we do with what we've been given? Do we bask in our own comfort here? Do we pat ourselves on the back for the small ways we've served?
Let me share with you a story that says it all.
A while back another pastor told about a wonderful saint in his congregation down in Texas named Idalia. Idalia's grown children called this pastor and asked if he would stop in and visit her because they admitted that seeing her very often was just a chore. She was crotchety, she was negative - not the kind of person even her children really wanted to hang out with. So, being the good pastor that he was, he set his watch for one hour and went to put in his time with Idalia.
Idalia was 90 years old and hadn't been to church in years. This wasn't the first time the pastor had been to visit her, but all of a sudden as they were talking he noticed a green house kind of room that went off the back of Idalia's house. And from the living room where they were sitting, he could see in that greenhouse ivy plants with the hugest leaves he had ever seen in his life. Leaves this big!
He said to Idalia, "I never noticed your greenhouse before. The plants are remarkable!"
"Well, you're always in such a rush to get out of here, you probably haven't noticed a lot of things."
My friend thought that was probably true. He hadn't really looked before. Suddenly, he had an idea. Every Sunday after services, within 2 hours,
members of his congregation delivered a small plant to the home of all the 1st time visitors.
"Idalia," he asked, "would you be willing to give us some of your beautiful ivy to share with those who visit our church for the 1st time?"
"No." she answered.
"Well, what are you going to do with them? You have so many?"
"I just throw 'em out when they die," she said.
Well, he talked her into giving him just a few to share this one time. He decided this week that he would personally deliver these wonderful ivy to a few of their first time visitors. And as he brought them around that Sunday, he told the people about Idalia and asked if they wouldn't mind giving her a quick phone call to thank her for this exceptional ivy.
A week later at church, there was Idalia out in the Narthex, all smiles.
People who hadn't seen her in years were greeting her, hugging her, welcoming her back.
Well, of course, Idalia continued to grow the ivy for the first time visitors at Colonial Hills Church. And a year and half later, this pastor asked Idalia if she would give a testimony in church. She stood up in front of the congregation at 91 ½ years old, and said, "I became a Christian at age 90 when someone taught me that it's better to give than receive."
She said, "Life has got to be recycled. Everything we get has to be passed on to someone else."
Idalia had finally answered the question for herself, "So what?" She had spent her life hearing the promises of Jesus Christ. In her own life, she'd experienced many, many blessings. But she had stopped there.
Idalia had been given the gift of a green thumb, but she never connected what she'd been given to her faith life. She had discovered, at age 90, that giving, giving our whole life back to God, is what it's all about. It is, isn't it?
Will you pray with me?
Great and generous God, we thank You for all the saints in our lives, the friends, perhaps parents or grandparents, neighbors, who demonstrated lives of faithful service to others and modeled for us what the Christian life is really all about.
Today, we remember those saints, along with those saints from our own faith community who have died this year and those in each of our personal lives that we think of on this day.
Lord, we thank You for your promises of love, hope and forgiveness. We thank You for blessing us as a congregation this year. And we pray now that we would respond by being faithful stewards and worthy servants.
We pray for all those who today are grieving the loss of a friend or family member.
We thank You that amidst our grief we can claim your promises to us of new life and of one day being reunited with those we love. At the altar rail today, unite all your saints as we come with open hands and open hearts.
We pray that we would all come to a fuller understanding of our responsibility as good stewards of the gifts You have given us. Help us to be conscious of the blessings we have, and then to pass on those blessings to those in need.
We thank You for all those who served in our Stewardship and Capital Appeal this fall, for their responding to the call to serve and to lead. We pray that together now we will move into a strong and vibrant future, following your will for us with joyful hearts.
In Jesus' name. AMEN.