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For all the saints

[Holy Trinity, Nice, France] Today, we are celebrating, two days in advance, the festival of All Saints – all of the people who are with the Lord, past present and future. You know that we don’t have to be Anglican in order to go to heaven, though I am told that it will help a great deal to know which fork to use at the heavenly banquet! All Saints’ Day is an odd festival because all of the other festivals of the church are festivals of things past, whereas All Saints’ Day is really a festival of the future. This is the only church festival that is about the future…Whose future? Your future, my future.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today, we are celebrating, two days in advance, the festival of All Saints – all of the people who are with the Lord, past present and future. You know that we don’t have to be Anglican in order to go to heaven,  though I am told that it will help a great deal to know which fork to use at the heavenly banquet.

So, since we all understand each other, I am going to tell you a little story. In heaven, the angels love to welcome people with blares of trumpets and hallelujahs and choirs singing, but on this particular day there were so many people crowding into heaven, that they got mixed up and finally no one could get in, and as the people were complaining that they were being kept from getting into heaven, the angels flew off to find the Lord. They found him on a mountain surrounded by his friends. They explained the situation, and he became rather cross. He said, “I always have to straighten out your messes; I am going to do it this way.”

“I will stand at the gate. I will ask one question. If they answer correctly, they will go in – no trumpets, no choirs. If they don’t, they can sit down until you straightened this out. “ “Yes, Lord,” said the angels. And so Jesus stationed himself at the gate, and asked the first person, “Who do you say that I am?” And she answered, “I am a Methodist. And at our last district conference, we…” And Jesus said, “Stop! I love your district conferences, I never miss one, and I know exactly what you decided but I would really like to know what you think, so please have a seat and the angels will be with you presently. The second person came up, and Jesus said, “Who do you think I am?” “Well, I am a Baptist, and according to the Bible you are…” And Jesus says, “Wait, you are quoting the Bible to me? Really, I know what it says; I know it very well, in fact. Why don’t you have a seat and the angels will be with you presently.”

The third person comes up. “Who do you say that I am,” Jesus asks. “Well, I am a Roman Catholic she says, and according to Pope Francis, you are…” “Wait a minute, Frankie and I talk everyday on the phone for a half an hour. I know what he thinks. I want to know what you think. Go sit down.”

And the fourth person comes up, and says, “Who do you say I am?” “I am an Anglican, and you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,.” And Jesus begins to smile, but then the man goes on…” “But the again, on the other hand...”

All Saints’ Day is an odd festival because all of the other festivals of the church are festivals of things past, whereas All Saints’ Day is really the festival of the future. Whose future? Your future, my future. Everything else is part of this church year, this teaching instrument we invented thousand of years ago, and it starts by telling the story of John the Baptist and the beginning of Advent, only a couple of weeks away now, on Jordan’s bank the Baptists cry and then it tells about Jesus being born, and then his teaching ministry, and then his passion, his death, his Resurrection, his ascension, the ascending of the Spirit at the Pentecost, and then all of those Sundays after Trinity, and suddenly we end up here at All Saints’ and all of those other things celebrated things past, but this is about the future.

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, has this wonderful line – its in the second paragraph – “I pray that the God of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him 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 states, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us to believe, that you may know what is the hope that we share. Hope is crucial for every one of us. When I was a brand new priest…before I was even priested…I was sent to a church that I didn’t really care to be sent to. It was a small parish on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the days when all of the industry was collapsing, steel mills, the coal mines and so forth, rather like Sheffield in England, if you know what I mean. And being this hot, young seminarian, fervent to teach justification by faith, I strode out among my people, Bible in hand. I have to confess…it soon dawned on me, however, that they didn’t need to be preached to about having faith. They had plenty of faith, what they had was no hope. The circumstances of their lives were collapsing all around them. The culture that their ancestors had built around steelmaking was dying, and they were being told that they were useless, and that it was their fault. It was their fault that the steel industry was leaving for Japan. And they had swallowed that lie. They were without hope and I’ll tell you – and you know what I mean – if you don’t have any hope you might as well be dead, because you are already dead.

And so, ever since then, I have been preaching hope rather than faith because hope is what makes us get out of bed in the morning…allows us to look forward to the day, and to believe that tomorrow is going to come, and that we will make it from here to there. That is what hope is good for. So that you may know what is the hope to which God has called you is what All Saints’ is all about…

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