Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Saints and the Stars: A Sermon

The Saints and the Stars:

A sermon by Mark Harris, 

St. Peter’s Church, Lewes, November 3rd, 2013.

To God alone be glory.

The Gospel today involves a man named Zacchaeus. His story is told with some familiarity.  He may have been notable for being in the wrong profession – collecting taxes – but he was also known for being short, clever, happy and enthusiastic. When the story is over what we really know is that  Zacchaeus is clearly “one of us.”   A regular paid up sinner with a story.

Zacchaeus is remembered, remembered as long as the Gospels are read and the stories told.  "Remember Zacchaeus?" We will ask. And people will nod. “He was the short guy who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus go by.” “He was glad to have Jesus invite himself in.”  We will remember as long as the stories from the Gospels are told.

In terms of the point of the story, however, Zacchaeus is not the point. The point of this story is that Jesus engages the sinners of the world, and that Jesus seeks us all out and saves the lost (read you and me.) 

Apparently, if we invite him in, Jesus will come.

If we invite him in, Jesus will come.

That’s it. That’s the point. And that’s the sermon.

But of course there is more, for we are a story telling people.

We still have Zacchaeus.  We do remember him. We remember him and so many others who have been the conduit for God’s grace and presence in our lives. 

We remember people who knew the presence of God, who knew the Jesus who invited himself into their lives and hearts, and they accepted.  

What we say about Zacchaeus and so many others, others we know or who are nameless, is that they are the Saints of God, they are those who made their home with Jesus. Many of them are people of no account, poor, poor in spirit, beaten up by life, beating up on life, beaten down.

Some are just plain ordinary people. That is, most of the people we call saints are people just like you and me. What they share is that God’s grace, a grace we know in Jesus Christ, was with and in them.

I want to talk for a moment about the saints.

As I just suggested, most saints are regular paid up sinners who live by the Grace of God mostly as they know that grace in Jesus Christ.  They are everywhere. The Saints are a strange lot, not all are proper people, not all are even “good” people, some are not Christian in practice.  But they live in Grace and reflect that grace.

Take a moment and think of someone you know who has left a mark on your life, a mark for the better, and has now died. Not your mother or father – too close, not Jesus or Paul, too big – but someone, an aunt or  a teacher or a friend, someone – a Zacchaeus, someone – someone, a regular paid up sinner,  who has been a Saint for you, a source of God’s grace in your life.  

Think on that person for a moment. Try to picture that person, if you can.

OK… Now as I start from over here on the right and move across to the left, say the name of that person out loud.  Ready? Say the name loud enough to be heard by all of us, and maybe by the Saints as well.

Let’s do it again, but this time quite loudly, calling out their names.

What we have made is a kind of prayer for all the Saints….In the mighty wind of names called out it has become a prayer of gratitude for all those who have given us a sense of God’s grace and presence.

Several weeks ago Nathalie Willard and I visited the Cheyenne River Lakota Reservation in South Dakota, where we were given a star quilt .

Gift giving is an important part of Lakota life, and one of the understandings of such gift giving is that “the gift always moves.”  Receiving a gift means you also must take responsibility for giving it to someone else when the occasion arises. 

In their better moments, for the Lakota, wealth is not measured by how much you have, but in how much you give. So giving the quilt away is a source of much pleasure. Giving makes one a truly rich person.

When we returned Nathalie and I asked the St. Peter’s High School youth who to give it to.  We all first decided to give it to Jeffery our Rector, but then the young people asked him to give it to the older Godly Play kids use it to sit on for their story time. They did this, and after several weeks Mende George, our family and youth minister, has now passed it on back to Fr. Jeff, who has placed it as the altar frontal for All Saints Sunday (that’s this Sunday) and for the next while.

Star Quilts are made in different communities. We have another over in the parish house that is Amish made.  

The Star Quilt has many meanings for the Lakota, but one of them comes from the fact that the stars hold a fascination for the Lakota, just as they did for the people of ancient Israel.

 In some of the stories the stars are the ancestors, the saints, who are always looking down on us and blessing us. In others the star in the Star Quilt is the bright morning star, a promise of blessing for the future.

So sometimes the star quilt reminds us that our loved ones, our ancestors are all around us, and we are wrapped in them. At others we recall that the stars are also the number of those who are the children of Abraham, and later the number of the people of God, a swelling number like the stars in heaven. So the stars are both reminder and promise – reminder of the ancestors and promise of the future.

It is fitting then that we hang the quilt here to remind us of All the Saints.  Maybe somewhere in that star pattern there is Zacchaeus, my aunt Sarah, your cousin John, and David who didn’t come back from the war, and that lovely woman you met once on a plane trip, and the nurse at the hospital who was kind to you at three in the morning, on and on… Saints of God, just like you and me.  

And they are joined by all those in the graveyard whose stories are still told, and by children in the Sunday School who sit on the quilt and who make fantastic drawings, and on and on.

And maybe we will wrap ourselves in the Saints of God, and be Saints too. And there will be so many of us, that we will be numbered like the stars.

It is fitting that we hang the quilt to remind us that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive. The quilt is a blessing to us, yes, but the greater blessing is what it evokes – a memory of all the ancestors have given us, and all that we have to give to future generations. The hope that the Lakota have is ours as well – we hope that the saints that have gone before and the saints that will come will bless us in this moment.

The quilt is also a remembrance that we too must view our stewardship as a matter of holding in trust only for the purposes of giving it away. The gift always moves. We are the richer for our generosity.

That is why stewardship is not about getting funds for the work of the Church, but is about giving gifts that always move.  The purpose of stewardship is to find new ways of giving it all away.  We give away our possessions and receive riches beyond measure.

But in the end the Star Quilt is mostly a means of blessing. When we are wrapped in the stars – the ancestors and the ones to come, we know we have been sought out and found, and that Jesus, God with us, has asked to come be with us. And with him all the saints, past, present and future.

Zacchaeus knew that. The saints in your life know that. You know that. I know that.

It is enough.


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