When life seems so confusing, where can we look for direction, inspiration, and perhaps even some interpretive clarity? Our faith story offers us some help. Our family history does as well – remembering who we are and where we came from helps us identify ways that God has been present and at work in our past that provide guidance in the present. The Bible has some of these stories in creedal formations, intended to be repeated in worship and over the dinner table, as reminders of who God is and what God has done. Reminders too of stories about the people who have chosen to follow God, and reminders that God has been with them on the journey. Like Deuteronomy 26. 1-11
When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. 5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him.
Tell the stories of the Saints
We gather on All Saints Sunday to honor our saints. Saints are the people who show us what God is doing in the world, whether as characters in the stories we hear or read, or people that we watch in our everyday lives, they hold the potential of opening windows into God.[i] When our important stories attaché to a person, Michael Williams explains, those people become guiding lights for us. “Certain people in our lives even become windows into God for us. Their stories open a divine encounter with the presence of God which we may never catch a glimpse of otherwise. That’s why we call these people our saints.”[ii]
While Deuteronomy 26 tells of the litany one should say when bringing gifts to God, Deuteronomy 6, our first scripture reading this morning, speaks of the importance of sharing the commandments as well as the story.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The commandments are the laws and expectations of God – and stories go with them, perhaps even emerge from them. Teaching the commandments and telling the stories i teach the next generation, as well as create reminders for us as our memories start to become less reliable, of the stories that are most important. Talk about what matters – not just the current events or gossip about the neighbors. Talk about the stories that provide guidance for our lives.
Today we celebrate our saints. We remember them and light candles in their honor. Hopefully we tell their stories of how they were windows into God for us over dinner with family gathered to hear. We never know when the story of a saint might connect with the wrestling of a younger generation.
And perhaps we will share the memories associated with things…remembrances that perhaps are upon our doorposts, or perhaps some we wear.
The Oak Park Art League had an exhibit during Open House Chicago that featured Argentine artist Stephanie Mercedes' exhibit of the photo lockets which Mothers of the Missing Children wore in protests. The larger exhibit is called “Luz del Dia: Copyrighting the Light of Day,” combating an effort to close the photographic archives of the Argentine dictatorship. The lockets share the faces of the children whose disappearance was enacted by the Argentine Dictator Videla from 1976-83. Women would wear lockets with pictures of their missing children and grandchildren publically as protest. The lockets in the exhibit were suspended to let the light shine through, emphasizing the point of the exhibit for the artist – to ensure that the stories were not lost – even though the dictator had asserted to Henry Kissinger that the number of people he had killed did not matter because the information would “never see the light of day.” So with thanks to Mercedes we remember – and their families wear the relics of their lost ones, saints through which the light shines through.
One of our members has a memory of some of our closer saints. Ken Johnson made a wooden wall hanging from an end of a pew. It was given to Liz Gracie by Betty Johnson, one of our saints named here today. In the wood Ken carved the beginning of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” This relic of Ken and Betty’s love for God and the church hangs at the end of her kitchen counter – where she sits for her daily devotions. She says that it helps to center her in turning her attention to God as she reads those words, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Remember the saints. Tell their stories. And share how they were windows into God for us. It helps us remember God’s place in their stories – and ours.
II. It’s all about Love.
When we think of our personal saints, often the first thing we would say to describe them is love. Love is a precious gift in this world – and too often we assume it, presume it or discount its impact on our lives. St. Paul explains what love looks like, just in case we have gotten confused with popular understandings of what love is.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
Love offers us windows into God. The persistent love of parents who never give us on us. The affirming love of grandparents who take the time to focus on us individually and affirm who we are. The love of our mentors in faith who encourage us to be our best selves. All are windows into God.
One saint put the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13.7 into an affirmation.
“I will be loyal to you no matter what the cost. I will always believe in you, always expect the best of you, and always stand my ground in defending you. Always.” And he practiced this. When someone said or did something that was hurtful, he would take off his hat and scratch his head and say, “I don’t pretend to understand his (or her) thinking…but I believe that he (or she) is doing the best they can with what they have to work with at this point in time.” A saint. A window into God through love.
Our beautiful stained glass windows contain some of our saints – in this case, quite literally windows into God. Abraham, Sarah and Lot starting out on an adventure with God, Moses in the wilderness, Isaiah in the temple called to God’s service… sharing the stories of people of faith in years past whose love for God led them unexpected places – which just might give us the courage to do the same in our own time. Saints. Windows into God through love and service.
Let us gather on days like this to remember, to tell the stories of our saints both public and private, celebrating the ways they have been windows into God for us. Especially by their love.
US. And let us remember that in the ways that we love, we too can be windows into God. That is part of the lesson of the saints we know – that God can be glimpsed through all of us.
“Look, how they love on another” was said of the early church.
“Peculiar people” is how John Wesley described the Methodists because they stood out in contrast to the culture in which they lived.
Let us live in ways that others will glimpse God through us. Let us love with persistence, as we promise to be loyal to each other no matter what the cost, believe in each other, want the best for each other, expect the best of each other, and stand our ground defending each other. So may we love. . Saints. Windows into God through love. So may we be windows into God.
Loved and saints, even imperfect as we are. Tell the stories old and new, share the places and the relics. And remember – because this is too important to allow forgetting. These are all windows to God.
[i] Michael E Williams, Spoken Into Being, 39.
[ii] Williams, 49.