Monday, November 05, 2007

All Saints Day Homily: "She Went on"

We lifted up the following people who have "Gone on" during our All Saint's Day Great Thanksgiving, if you would like to add the name of a loved one, click the comment tab below and we can have a sort of "virtual All Saint's remembrance"
Jerry Holland
Dixie Standifer
Esther Moore
Genevieve Ledbetter
Grace Lemon
James Lemon
Nelly Admire
Latricia Phillips
Johnny Shock
Ruth Garrison
Deanna McAlister
Barbara Luttmer
Soldiers and Casualties of war during the past year.

The homily was based on the following Texts:
Romans 6: 3-11
Hebrews 11:1- 12:1-3

She went on….
I’m not quite sure I’ve heard this phrase in this part of the country, but in Arkansas and other parts of the south, this is a way to refer to those who die. We also say, “pass away.” I’ve always been intrigued by the way we speak about death. The word “dead” just has so much finality, it has a muffling effect, it seems. I do think it is appropriate to use the word in a theological sense, but perhaps the words “pass away,” or “went on” communicate better our understanding of death that has been shaped by our religious perspective.
We believe that our departed have “passed away,” and have “gone on to glory,” and thus, death is as much a beginning to celebrate as it is an end to mourn. Because this life is not all that God has in store for us, we live on in a way that our mind cannot quite comprehend, but in a way that God has assured us will bring us great joy. We are born, we live life, we die, and then by the miracle of resurrection, we shall live again. This is an aspect of our faith life that sustains many through trials and hardships, through pain and illness, and so it deserves our focus for at least one day out of the year—and judging by how often this congregation chooses the hymn “When we all get to heaven,” when you are given the chance, I’d bet that this aspect of our faith life is pretty important to you.
On this day, we give thanks for the individuals in our midst who have “gone on” to the great cloud of witnesses. That is a Biblical term that we use to define who the dead have now become to us, the living. They are a cloud of witnesses who surround us, encourage us, and speak to us in a way that is not necessarily detectable to the five senses of this earthly body, but instead to our Heavenly spirits.
Whenever we think of the word “saint,” we most likely have several mental images come to mind. We may think of some of the famous saints of the past, like St. Nicholas or St. Francis. Perhaps we think of ourselves? For me, hearing the word “saint” brings to mind the words from the Anglican communion liturgy, when the saints are weekly lifted up and blessed with the words, “may light perpetual shine upon them.” I don’t know why I like these words as much as I do, but it aptly describes for me the experience of being in the presence of God.
Today I want to speak a little bit about someone many of us think of as a saint, though she has not yet made it through the official “process” of being declared a saint by the Roman Catholic church, still when many of us hear the word “saint” we think of Mother Theresa, who spent the majority of her life working for and among the poor in India.
Though she seems to be universally loved and appreciated by Catholics and Protestants alike, she has been in the news lately because some of her writings have surfaced that may cause some to take pause.
Basically, in a book that recently came out called “Come be my Light,” those whom she came to for pastoral care and corresponded with over the decades have revealed that she felt a deep and abiding emptiness when it came to the experience of God. She privately referred to Jesus as “the absent one,” and wrote about the hardships of “keeping up appearances” while the world watched. What is shocking is that the onset of these feelings of emptiness came immediately after she obtained the patronage and blessing of the church to begin a new order of women dedicated to the service of the poor in India. She felt God pull her toward realizing the goal of beginning a ministry, and then after she had gotten there, it is as if God disappeared from her life entirely.
This darkness did not abate. She didn’t “get through it.” She stayed in it until she died. This is a heartbreaking realization for us, and yet it is also hopeful. It is heartbreaking because those of us who may experience an absence of God’s presence in our lives may take note and assume that it will never get better for us, especially because it never got better for Theresa. It is hopeful for us, because even after 60 years of the felt absence of God, Theresa “went on” with the charge she was given. She stayed faithful to the truth that God cared for the poor and wretched, and that her love for them was showing his love to them, even if she did not experience it herself.
She was willing to stand by her commitments and finish the course that was set before her because that is what she had heard Christ call her to do. Perhaps these revelations about the absence of a felt sustaining presence are a testament to us about the importance of the unequivocal call of God on our lives. Perhaps we privilege the “experience of feeling” too much in our society and need to understand that God stakes a claim on us whether or not we feel “moved” to be a good Christian, or come to church, or give to the poor.
Maybe, especially when the experience of giving to or helping the poor leaves us feeling drained or unsatisfied or even used—perhaps Theresa’s witness to us is that…it does not really matter how it makes us feel---when God calls us to action, we should give it our all to respond as faithful servants of our master!
So, Theresa “went on” with her calling and now she continues to “go on” to us as a member of this “cloud of witnesses.” And those others whom we will name today who have “went on” in the past year to the great cloud of witnesses also push us to “go on,” in our own witness of Christ in the world. As the author of Hebrews has said, “they have died, but by their faith they still speak.”
Listen! Do you hear them speaking? If you can’t hear their voices, then listen with your hearts. If you can’t honor them with your words, then honor our God with the words of your actions. We are called to make complete their faith—let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us—with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. And may we pay tribute to those recent additions to the “great cloud of witnesses” who encourage us to “go on” living for Christ no matter what difficulties face us. And in this way, we too shall “go on” in the life of the community of faith after we have “went on” ourselves.

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