Happy All Saint’s Sunday! You may not be aware that today is that day, or that such a day exists. Christmas and Easter you know, but maybe not All Saint’s Day. It’s worth knowing about and being at church today, and not just because of the extra hour of sleep last night. So what’s it all about?
The first thing to do is clear up the confusion about what a saint is. People talk about saintly behavior – a person is called a “saint” who does good things. This is not the way the bible talks about saints. The collect of the day, in my humble opinion, gets it all wrong when we pray to “follow (the) blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living.” Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for virtuous and godly living. We need people who exhibit this kind of fruit, maybe now more than ever. But virtuous and godly living has very little to do with the deeper meaning of All Saint’s Day.
All Saint’s Day is not about minding one’s P’s and Q’s. We need a more powerful message than one of self-improvement. Dave Zahl gave a children’s sermon last week that bears repeating. It captured the true essence of this deeper meaning, and you could tell that the kids got it by their exuberance. All Saint’s Day is the day after Halloween. Dave told the kids that we learn more about God at Halloween than at Christmas. How? Here was the exchange:
DZ: “Ok. On Christmas, what do you get if you are good?
DZ: “And On Christmas, what do you get if you are bad?
DZ: “Right! Now, On Halloween, what do you get if you are good?”
DZ: “And on Halloween, what do you get if you are bad?”
There was a slight pause as their little minds were working this out, then all at once “CANDY!!!!!”
This is another way of saying that we are saints not because of any lifelong project of self-betterment, or because we have followed any example of virtuous living, but because God has chosen to make us saints through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, All Saint’s Day has a lot more to do with dying than with living.
In our reading from Revelation this morning, we glimpse vision of our life after death – the new heaven and earth in which we will join “all the saints who from their labors rest.” Though the prophecies in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken literally, they are meant to be taken seriously. We are given a true glimpse behind the curtain separating this life from the next.
I get a kick out of reading church signs when I’m driving through rural areas. The small Baptist churches seem to have the best ones. Lots of them are concerned with life after death. A few favorites included: “Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him.” And, “The fact that there is a highway to hell and a stairway to heaven says a lot about anticipated traffic numbers.” And finally, “Whoever stole our A.C. units, keep one. It is hot where you are going.”
I saw a sign last week in Madison County that I liked so much that I’ve made it the title of this All Saint’s Day sermon. It said, “When you are down to nothing, God is up to something.” When you are down to nothing, God is up to something. So good. So true. So easy to remember. I’ll bet if someone asks you what this sermon was about as late as next Wednesday, you’d be able to say, “When you are down to nothing, God is up to something.” And maybe something about getting candy when you are bad. But if you remember only one thing, make it “when you are down to nothing, God is up to something.”
Why? Because how often are you down to nothing? Once in a while? Once a month? Once a day? Several times in the same day? In some way, right now you are down to nothing. I know this because I know that each of you is carrying a heavy burden. I know that each of you is shouldering an overbearing weight. I know that this burden, this weight you are carrying causes you to worry, to feel anxious. I know that you cannot lift this weight off yourself.
Sometimes you don’t know how you are going to make it from here to there, from the beginning to the end. I know that if I paused this sermon right now, and could somehow create a safe space even with all of these people around, your burden and your weight would make you burst into tears.
I have something to tell you this morning. When you are down to nothing, God is up to something. This is true for you right now. And it will be true the next time you are down to nothing, whether that is tomorrow or the next day. We know that this is “trustworthy and true” as our reading says, because when Jesus Christ was down to nothing on the cross, God was up to something by raising Him up on the 3rd day.
And the same will be true when you are truly and finally down to nothing, when you have gone from the beginning to the end of your life, when you have completed what Faulkner called “the long journey to the bone yard.” Because what will you find there? You’ll find that those tears that I just mentioned will be wiped away by none other than God Himself.
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
And when your burden is so heavy that you do not know how you will get from the beginning to the end, you will hear Jesus Christ saying “I am making everything new! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” He is the beginning and the end. And at every point in between, when you are down to nothing, God is up to something.