Giving Honor To Those Before Us
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 11/01/2015
Based on Revelation 7:9-17 and 1 John 3:1-3
This morning is All Saints Day. This is the day we in the church take time to honor those who have preceded us in death. As a part of this day, we in this congregation have brought pictures representative of those we love and light a candle in their honor. It’s a small thing that we do, yet it is also a most powerful act on our part. The light from the candle represents the gift of life, wisdom, and nurturing that they gave tous.
I think it is safe to say, that most of us have some sort of believe or assurance that life goes on after we leave this physical world. What this belief or understand maybe, varies widely however. Some cultures believe in the soul recycling it’s self many times over. In the Tibetan book of the dead, they even believe that as a spirit, you chose which parents you plan to be born to. There are people who believe that life continues as pure energy, existing in the universe. Within the Christian traditions, we believe that once we pass from this life, our next is lived in accordance to how we behaved and what we believed in this life. The book of Revelation speaks quite vividly to how souls are either rewarded or condemned.
In this morning’s scripture we are assured by the author that for those who are on the side of God, they will live in the presence of the Creator, “never again to by hungry; and never again will they thirst. They will not be plagued by scorching heat due to the sun beating down on them.” Over the centuries of the church interpreting scriptures such as these, we have come to believe that they are addressing what life will be like in heaven. In fact, a large portion of the modern church has pretty much come to believe that the book of Revelations deals solely with Heaven.
Being more of a traditionalist, I am not sure that I would agree with many theologians about understanding the Book of Revelations as dealing with heaven. And here is my reasoning why: As a collection of writings, the books found within what we call the New Testament need to be consistent with the teachings of Jesus. When you read what Jesus talked about, you will find very little teaching about Heaven in the way that most of us have been taught to think of Heaven. What Jesus generally talked about was how life is to be lived here on earth. Jesus tells us that the Kin-dom of God is present here on earth. For Jesus, Heaven or God’s Kin-dom was a place where people lived in peace, looking after one another, making sure that everyone had enough to live each day. This was the accusing finger pointing to Cain when he responded with, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In Jesus’ understanding of Heaven the answer is “Yes” we are our brother/and sisters keeper.
So if we re-read this section of passage in light to how Jesus understands the Kin-dom of God to be, we would start to recognize that, “the never being hungry or thirsty again”, speaks to equal distribution of resources to everyone. Of making sure that every person has equal access to medical care, of housing, of food, access to education. When scripture speaks about, “not being beaten down by scorching heat”, it is talking about equitable wages and working conditions, where field laborers hold equal value to stockbrokers. It’s a world that challenges the 1% type of behavior and the living by scarcity thinking.
Last year the former Secretary of Labor and presently a Professor of Economics at Berkley, Robert Reich, was featured in a documentary titled “Inequality For All.” This film tries to explain the impact of the widening gap of wealth in our country and what the effects are having on our democracy. What I found most informative as a Christian in this film was his sharing a personal story that he says changed his life forever.
As a boy growing up he was very short and the bigger boys would pick on him. Then one day Robert realized that if he could make alliances with older bigger boys to protect him, he wouldn’t get beat up so often. This worked very well for him. Then in the summer of his tenth year, one of his older protectors had gone off to Mississippi to help sign up voters. This friend was one of three people who were kidnapped, tortured and murdered in the summer of 1964. Robert realized that at that point, he needed to dedicate his life at trying to help protect those who had no voice from the bullies of our world. He has in effect been ministering to this country through his knowledge and understanding of economics. In that story, my mind was immediately recalling stories and actions of another man who fought against the bullies of his world, Jesus of Nazareth.
We come to this table this morning because of a man who fought against the bullies of his day, who went through great tribulation, and was murdered because he spoke up about God’s Kin-dom. Jesus saw the inequality of his day; of how the Roman state took resources from the Hebrews for their own use, and of how the laws of God had become overly burdensome by misuse and perversion by their own religious institution. For these reasons, Jesus began a ministry to those who suffered the most, giving them assurances of God’s love, and calling into accountability those who perpetuated a system that abused and denied justice to those without a voice.
This morning we take time out to remember not only Jesus through the bread and the wine and of his teachings and his call to help build and reshape the kin-dom of God, but we are also remembering those people who were very important in our life. Remembering heroes really, who we not only looked up to, but received those foundational instructions in which we have built our lives upon. We call them saints, not because they were perfect, but because of the profound influence they have had upon our lives.
We come to this table because we believe in a man who spoke truths about what the kin-dom of God was like. We come to this table, because we believe in the man who showed us how we are to live the kin-dom existence. We come to this table because we believe in the man who was so passionate about equality, about justice, and about mercy for all people. We come to this table to remember the Life and the teachings of Jesus and of his courage to stand up against those who felt they stood as equals to God.
It is God’s desire that we live in a world where everyone has the basic needs of life and that each person is not just black, or white, or brown, or yellow, gay or straight, or transgendered, or Christian, or Muslim, or Hindi, or short, tall, thin, fat, rich, or poor but that each person is related and connected in a real relationship of care, concern, and love for one another; for we are all the children of God.
As we remember those saints who have helped shape part of who we understand ourselves to be, we also have the assurance that we are still being shaped into who God wishes us to be. And what is that? His children! Amen