Saturday, November 6, 2010

It Takes Two to "Gospel"

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Barnesville
November 7, 2010--All Saints Sunday
Luke 6:20-31

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Today is one of those “second string” festivals in the church year. All Saints Sunday isn’t on a par with Christmas or Easter or Pentecost….it’s called a “lesser festival”….but we would be mistaken if we thereby assume that it’s no big deal.

Today is much more than the Sunday after the start of deer hunting. It’s more than a kind of “Memorial Day in November”—more than a nostalgia trip or a sentimental journey recalling loved ones whom we still miss.

All Saints Sunday, rather, is about two things that really, really, really matter.

First, it’s about Easter all over again—so much so that some call it a “little Easter.”

All Saints Sunday is like a second Easter on the church’s calendar, and it comes our way when we need it the most—not in the lengthening days of spring, when hope is easier to stir up, as the sunshine bathes us in light, as the world comes alive again.

All Saints Sunday hits us in the autumn, when the leaves have almost all fallen, when shadows are lengthening, when we’re hunkering down, getting the snowblower ready to run, groping our way toward the shortest day of the year, frantically blowing on the glowing embers of hope in our lives.

All Saints Sunday hits us in early November when we need to hear—desperately so!—this good news: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! And that’s not just something we make a big fuss over for a few weeks in April and May.

No—it’s true, indeed it is the truth of our lives ALL the time—most especially when hope is harder to sustain, when it appears as though the darkness might win out, when the chill in the air produces a corresponding chill in our souls, All Saints Sunday comes around, whispering in our ears: “It’s still true, even now. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!”

And that is not just a promise hanging out there in thin air, either. It is not just the world’s greatest Tweet, the very best Facebook status update we could ever read.

It is true in the dailiness of life. It is true in the lived-out lives people we have known, people we still know—persons who have come through the water of Baptism and staked their lives on the fact that Jesus has died for us and God has raised him up….the first fruits of all the saints who have fallen asleep.

All Saints Sunday is that little Easter that says the resurrection is real, not just for Jesus, but for all who live and die in Jesus, all who have known the dregs of life—the emptiness, the hunger, the sorrow, the reviling that comes to followers of Jesus.

All Saints Sunday is that little Easter in autumn for all the faithful ones we’ve committed to God’s unending love and mercy in Jesus Christ. And to make that even more concrete, more real, on All Saints Sunday we name them—both the newly baptized next generation of disciples—and also those sunk deep in their baptism, the saints who have lived and died in faith.

For them, for us, too, the Easter proclamation rings out, in early November (say it with me): “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!”

But there is another reason, a second reason why All Saints Sunday is so much more than a “lesser festival.” And that’s because this day opens our hearts to ponder how God does vital business with us—how God chooses to make himself known among us.

It’s a one-to-one, deeply interpersonal thing, you see. Eric Gritsch who taught many years at our seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, once put it this way: “It takes two to ‘gospel’.” (Quoted in Philip D. Krey, editor, Luther’s Spirituality, 2007, page xxx.)

“It takes two to ‘gospel’.”

…which means, the Good News about Jesus always comes to us in some me-to-you, you-to-me way. That’s how God operates on us—through his called, chosen, baptized ones. God gets under our skin to save us and to send us to our neighbor.

A week ago our children put on masks and outlandish costumes to shake us down for candy, which moms and dads now have stowed away in ziplock bags in the freezer, doling out the goodies, one by one.

Here’s the connection: God puts on a mask, God dresses up like someone else, in order to get close to us, wash us, feed us, utter saving promises to us, and hook us on the gospel.

God puts on the mask of our neighbor, God dresses up like some saint, God comes to us through one another, because it always, always “takes two to ‘gospel’.”

Have you ever thought of it that way before?

I’m guessing that none of you carried yourself to the baptismal font; someone else—some saint—got you there (even if you were an adolescent or an adult when it happened).

And none of you were just sitting under an apple tree one fine day, when the gospel “dawned” on you, out of the clear blue, like the proverbial light bulb turning on in your head. Someone introduced you to Jesus, spoke Jesus, acted out Jesus—made Jesus real for you.

None of you have rustled up a little Holy Communion self-serve snack for yourselves. The table, rather, has always been spread for us. The Body and the Blood of your Savior are brought to your lips, handed over to you. Someone else’s vocal cords have proclaimed the promise, so that you might hear it: “The Body of Christ, given for you….the Blood of Christ, shed for you.”

Gospel-talk is not self-talk!

It takes two to “gospel,” which is the deeper truth of this festival, All Saints Sunday. None of us pulls ourselves up by the bootstraps in the Kingdom of God. We are carried into it, lured into it, won over by the Gospel because someone else, some saint of God, “got through” to us. That’s how God works, how God does vital business with us.

And this isn’t just about the happy, celebrative, “up” times in life, either.

“Gospeling” happens to us chiefly when we’re on the skids, at the end of our ropes. That’s why the appointed gospel for All Saints Sunday focuses on the blessed emptiness, the blessed hunger, the blessed sorrow of those who know they can’t make it on their own—who know that they and the whole world needs Jesus.

When we have nothing going for us, God has room to do something with us, to call us and claim us and fit us for his Kingdom. When you and I are willing, even, to suffer in some way because Jesus lives in us—God does some of his most amazing work. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” an ancient father of the church once observed (Tertullian, Apologeticus, Chapter 50).

If this is worth suffering for, if this is worth dying for, then perhaps it is also worth living for.

Make no mistake about it, my dear friends in Christ: praying to dead saints will never save us. But rubbing elbows with living saints, those who walk on the same ground as we do—that certainly IS one of the ways God saves us and sends us to serve his mission in the world.

So do not let this day pass with a ho-hum yawn. This may officially be a “lesser festival,” but it surely points us to a greater hope.

And just so that it doesn’t pass you by, let me spell it out for you one more time.

The saints—those who by God’s grace have been washed, fed, saved and sent—the saints who have gone before us, still live in the fullness of God. That’s the “little Easter” aspect of this day. We never speak these words alone—we always speak them in unison with the saints and archangels—we live by this promise (say it with me one more time): “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

And even now, before we die, we stake everything on speaking and living this promise with one another. Eric Gritsch got it right: “It takes two to ‘gospel’.” The saints among us, the saints I’m looking at right now, are God’s hands, God’s lips, God’s incarnate invitations to everyone who’s paying attention.

Through you, God is going to bring the saving Word of Jesus to someone else--maybe even today.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.