A Search for the Saints Sermon

So in case any of you guys missed the Facebook announcements, I GOT A CALL.

Excuse me for a moment.

You guys wanna join me?!

I’ve been called to Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Steelton, PA.  My happiness cannot even be superceded by the fact that now I have to do all the moving.  So much moving.  BWAH.

Nope, I still feel like this:

But anyways, I thought y’all might actually like to see the call sermon, since you show up and read all the other sermons that aren’t even call sermons for reasons that I cannot fathom, but am ever grateful for.

So here it is!  A call sermon for All Saints’ Day!

When I was growing up, every year around this time my home congregation would host “Search for the saints,” which was this strange and wonderful crossover event between Halloween and ­­All Saints Day. Members of the congregation dressed up like different saints and hid around the church, and the youth group would gather there when it was dark, and walk around with flashlights and candles and find the saints.

Bob was always St. Francis of Assisi, wearing a long brown robe and carrying a staff with little toy birds glued onto it. Olive was always Clara Barton. One year I got to be St. Lucy, and I dressed up in a white alb and wore a wreath on my head and gave the kids grapes while I told them the story of how Lucy plucked out her own eyes to discourage pernicious suitors.

She got to be the patron saint of optometrists, so there’s that…

Because when you think about it, the lives of the saints make the best Halloween stories ever.

And it occurred to me while I was reading through the gospel this week: this too is a story of the saints. So I thought I would share with you this childhood tradition of mine: I invite you on a search for the saints in today’s gospel. I won’t even make you leave your pews. Just help me set the scene:

There, is a massive wall of rock. A boulder stands just about there, and behind it is a cave, and inside the cave is Lazarus’ body. Nobody wants to stand too close to it, because it’s been four days since the burial, and it’s not like that boulder is airtight. Sorry, people in the back pews, but it’s gonna be a little whiffy back there.

Imagine that Jesus is here, the center of a moving knot of people.

Most of them have come from Jerusalem. They’ve come because they love Mary and Martha, and they loved Lazarus. They really aren’t too sure about this Jesus guy. Some of them are thinking that he must have really loved Lazarus. Others are asking, “If he can heal the blind and the lame, why didn’t he do something for his friend?”

Has anybody found a saint yet?

Jesus’ disciples are over here, near the back of the crowd, all kinda grouped together, keeping one eye on Jesus, and one on the people who have come from the city. They’re painfully aware that the last time they visited this neck of the woods, some people tried to stone Jesus.

Thomas, though, is standing here, by Martha. When Thomas understood that Lazarus had died, and that Jesus was going to see him come hell or high water, he’d had a little aside with his fellow-disciples, some of whom had a real aversion to stoning. “Let’s go,” he’d said to them. “If we die, at least we’re dying by his side.”

For Thomas, it was simple. He loved Jesus; Jesus loved Lazarus. If Jesus was going to his death in order to see his friend, then Thomas was going right with him.

Saints? Anybody? Can you see them?

.

Here’s Mary, arms crossed over her stomach. Overnight, she’s become an old woman. She didn’t rush to see Jesus at the first news of his coming, but waited until he asked for her. And when he did, all she said was, “If you had been here, none of this would have happened.”

She doesn’t mean to be cold. But she’s having trouble feeling anything at all right now. Mary Oliver wrote a line of poetry once that said, “I have not forgotten the Way, but, a little, the way to the Way.” That’s how Mary feels right now.

Have you found the saints yet?

.

And beside Mary is Martha. She’s gripping her sister’s hand, and staring right at Jesus.

When Martha heard Jesus was coming, she ran to meet him. And she greeted him the same way Mary would: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then she says, BUT. “But even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Here is Martha, usually so hospitable and retiring, but today she’s claimed a place at the front of the knot of onlookers, and her eyes are fixed on Jesus. She doesn’t know what’s about to happen, but she suspects, and hopes, and fears, that it is the terrible, wonderful thing that she cannot bring herself to name aloud.

Where are you in this crowd?

.

All of this brings us again to Jesus, who is weeping.

The people from the city think that it’s because he’s grieving for his friend.

The disciples wonder why they didn’t come when they first heard that Lazarus was sick.

Mary doesn’t understand, and right now, she doesn’t want to.

But on Martha, a realization dawns. Jesus is not looking at the tomb and weeping. He’s looking at them.

And she remembers the moment his composure broke: it wasn’t when he saw the tomb. It wasn’t when he saw their tears. It was when they answered his question, “Where have you laid him?” with the words, “Come and see.”

She’s heard those words before, in stories the disciples tell:

When the very first disciples began following Jesus, they asked him where he was abiding. And Jesus said, “Come and see.”

When Philip found Nathanael and told him about the man, the Nazarene, whom they had found and followed, and Nathanael asked whether anything good could come out of Nazareth, Philip said, “Come and see.”

When the woman at the well was astounded by Jesus, she ran back to her village, and the words on her lips were, “Come and see!”

These people stand here, on the far side of signs and wonders and the growing realization that God’s Son walked abroad in Judea, and his name was Jesus. And when Jesus asks these people, his friends, his beloved, where the body of Lazarus is buried, knowing already what he was going to do, they say to him, “Come and see.” And they point toward death.

Jesus wept.

All throughout his ministry, Jesus kept showing Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus, and the disciples, and the people from the city, THE WAY…and they follow. But the one time he lets THEM show the way, they lead him to death.

Jesus leads us to life, always. But then, when Jesus asks us to lead the way, we don’t have anything greater to lead him to. Except… there is one thing, the thing we fear and cannot fix or change. There is a thing to which we are bound, a thing whose weight on us bends the shape of our entire lives: we are always trying to ignore it, escape it, or bargain our way out of it. And that’s where we lead Jesus: to death.

And God, loving us, looks at us and our pointing, trembling fingers, and will not let death have the last word. So God breaks into the realm of death, and grabs Lazarus, and marches him out of that tomb still dressed in his grave clothes, right in front of the death-fearing people who said, “Come and see,” and says, “Yeah? See what?”

The lives of the saints really do make the best Halloween stories ever. Like, ever. You start out with what sounds like the start to a zombie-slash-mummy story of horror, but all of a sudden, it breaks upon us that this is a story of HOPE. Of the ultimate hope: that the thing we cannot fix, and cannot change, has lost its power. God has swallowed up death forever.

So, did you find the saints? I admit that they’re a little harder to see when you don’t have Bob dressed up in a big brown robe and trying to hide behind a potted plant. Let me give you a hint:

Being a saint doesn’t have to do with getting it right all the time. It is not a question of two verifiable post-mortem miracles. It doesn’t even have to do with living an exemplary life, or dying a martyr’s death.

Being a saint means looking with God’s eyes. It means being willing to see God’s vision, and believe that it’s coming true.

Did you find the saints?

They are there…and there…and here…and there. (At them.) Martha and Mary and Lazarus, and the disciples, and even the people from the city. Even you. Even me.

Because in that moment, in that beautiful, blessed, scare-the-pants-of-you moment when the dead man came out of the darkness, we all saw what God sees: a new creation, where death is no more, and God stoops to wipe away every tear from our eyes.

And in that moment when we share God’s vision, Jesus gives us a job to do. He asks us to take the grave-clothes off of Lazarus’ body, and the burial shroud off his face, so that he can look into the eyes of the one who called him out of the tomb.

The world is full of people who are locked in the darkness and surrounded by the smell of death. As far as they know or can imagine, there is nothing else to hope for. They need someone to roll back the stone. They need someone to tell them about this vision of God’s, and to say, “Come and see.” They need someone to take off their grave-clothes, so that they can see the light.

God willing, may it be us.

Amen.

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7 thoughts on “A Search for the Saints Sermon

  1. It was a pleasure to meet you as an intern at Christus Victor Church in Bonita Springs, Florida. And as a bonus, I listened attentively to your moving messages of God. Your interpretation was such an inspiration and the congregation you have been called to, is truly blessed. My prayers and best wishes on this next step in your life 🙏

  2. We’re so happy, happy for you, Victoria. You bring such blessings because of your Jesus perspective. Martha and Jerry and Mac (Dog Devotions yesterday).

  3. I am so happy for you and Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Victoria. May you and your new congregation enjoy the journey on which you are embarking. We continue to be nourished by your Blogs, Ruth Keller

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