(Preached at Alger First UMC on Nov. 2, 2014-All Saint’s Sunday)
- Grandpa Burns
- We all have saints in our lives. We all have those people in our lives who have passed on who have really taught us with their lives what it means to follow Christ, what it means to be faithful. They give us something to live up to.
- When I think of the departed saints in my own life, I think of my Grandpa Burns. He was my Dad’s dad and he passed away when I was in 5th or 6th grade, so he died just as I was starting to get to really know him as a person past how I saw him as a child- someone who my family saw a lot who always had candy and toys for me when we would visit him.
- So a lot of what I know about my grandpa has come from the memories that have come out from my dad and my aunt and uncle. And there are a lot of really cool stories that have come out.
- My grandpa played trombone in the OSU marching band back in the fifties. When I found that out, I also found a couple records of the OSU marching band from when my grandpa was playing in it. Yeah, I know what those are, it’s crazy! So I figured out how to work my grandma’s old record player and would listen to them whenever we visited her house. Now my family didn’t really appreciate it like I did because, like I said, this record player was real old so whenever you turned it on it started letting out this really loud deep hum that seemed like it made the whole house vibrate. But I thought it was awesome because “Hey, that’s grandpa playing on this!”
- My grandpa and grandma were also deeply committed United Methodists. My grandpa was a lay delegate to Annual Conference for years and years. And they were both deeply, passionately committed to their church. They raised up my Dad and aunt and uncle in the church, which is where my Dad got his own calling to ministry, and it was through my Dad that I also started feeling the stirrings of my own call to ministry, so the influence of my grandpa has really laid claim on my life.
- My grandpa also started a Men’s Choir at his church. They called themselves the Partners in Praise, or the PIPs for short. And he really affected their lives. Just a couple months ago when I went to be interviewed by the District Committee on Ministry to get my Local Pastor’s License, one man on my interview team had sang in the PIPs and when he found out that I was Jim Burns’ grandson, he got all excited and started telling me all these stories about my Grandpa and the influence he’d had on his life. This was at least 8 years after grandpa had died, and this man still had all of these fond, vivid memories of him.
- At grandpa’s funeral, the minister opened the floor for anyone to share stories and memories that they had from grandpa’s life, and there was one person who stood up and I can’t remember exactly what they said, but the story ended with them saying that in my grandpa’s life, they had truly seen the image of Christ.
- Saints of this church
- I think we all have people like that in our lives. But we as Alger First United Methodist Church have saints who have gone before us as a church family. I’m still working on visiting all of you, but in the home visits that I’ve done so far, one of the biggest joys that has come out of these visits is hearing stories of people in this church’s past who have profoundly affected the life of this church family.
- We have saints like the ones who started the Missions Conference, which has had an amazing impact on this community and the world. Think of how much money has been raised for missions in the past 38 years. Another past saint from this congregation was instrumental in bringing the Gideons to this area and beginning their ministry in this corner of Northwest Ohio. There’s the woman who when she died she left a large portion of money to the church to help with our general operations and to help with Missions.
- One of the greatest stories I heard was about the elevator shaft. Two of our more senior members were telling me about how men from this church family dug out that elevator shaft themselves. They had to hire someone to install the actual elevator, but they actually constructed the elevator shaft themselves. That’s an amazing story! And what a great legacy to leave behind. They invested all that time and energy on top of their jobs and careers to dig out that elevator shaft to allow access to the building for people who are handicapped so that they could continue to join their church in worshiping God. That’s amazing.
- The saints embody a new creation
- And there are some great truths that we can find in the Bible about this. If you would, turn with me to Revelation 7:9-17.
- “After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands. They cried out with a loud voice:
“Victory belongs to our God
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
All the angels stood in a circle around the throne, and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell facedown before the throne and worshipped God, saying,
“Amen! Blessing and glory
and wisdom and thanksgiving
and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and always. Amen.”
Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
- The saints that we remember today are in that crowd standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They are the ones wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They are the ones crying out “Victory belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. They worship God day and night and God shelters them-they don’t hunger or thirst anymore, and the Lamb of God leads them to the springs of life-giving water, and God wipes away every tear from their eyes.
- During their lives, the saints that we remember today brought God’s future into this world. Sometimes it came peacefully, other times it came kicking and screaming, but these saints that we remember did the work of bringing God’s kingdom into this world. They helped build this church, they helped build the elevator, they sent missionaries out to every corner of the world, they ministered to the community of Alger, and above all, they loved God in a way that led to loving God’s people. In their lives, they brought God’s future into this world.
- In heaven, they embody that future. They embody the future that God has in store for the whole world, a future where there is no more crying, no more pain, no more suffering, no more bitterness, no more destruction, no more death, no more evil. They actually live that future in the Kingdom of God.
- And since they lived into God’s future while they were on this Earth and are now living completely the future God had in store for them all along, it is now our job to continue their work here on Earth. It is our job to continue this work of living into God’s future now. We have their example of faithful service, and we have the inspiration of knowing that they are not truly gone, that they are among the great cloud of witnesses that the writer of the book of Hebrews says is always surrounding us. With that, we must continue their work here on Earth. We cannot let it fall flat. These saints would not have us sit and just try to keep this church looking the same and doing the same things that you have always done. These saints would have us move forward, they would have us take that next step forward in faithful service to God. They would have us go where we need to go, do what we need to do, change what we need to change in order to take the next step in the mission that God has given us. They would have us continue the work of living into God’s future now.
- With that in mind, I’m really glad that we have Communion today, and let me tell you why. To some of us, celebrating Communion every month might seem like it’s taking the meaning out of Communion, that repetition brings about boredom. But today, I think it’s incredibly important that we celebrate Communion. As we remember and celebrate the lives of the saints who have passed away in the last year, we also remember that for those who are in Christ, their bodies might die and pass away, but their spirits will be resurrected and renewed into the kingdom of God. So in celebrating Communion today, we are not just celebrating it with the people who are physically here today. We are celebrating it with the saints who have gone before us. We are renewing our connection with the saints who have passed, remembering their lives of service to God and what that means for us today. And we are reminded that we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses, who strengthen us to run the race that is set before us. Let’s be silent for a minute to reflect on this.