All Saints' Sunday
Alright, this morning we are going to start with a neurological physiological experiment. Turn to the person next to you and yawn. That’s right, a big, gaping, open mouth yawn. I’m yawning, you’re yawning, we’re all yawning. We all look like a bunch of fools.
So this is called the mirroring reflex. When we see somebody else yawn, we also yawn. I mean, I’ve even yawned after seeing my dog yawn. How weird is that? Or, this is why when you watch a funny movie at home you don’t laugh nearly as much as when you watch a funny movie in the theater. It’s the mirroring reflex. We do what the other humans around us are doing.
When you hear a parent lament that their kid got into the wrong crowd of friends, this is what they mean. It’s why gangs are so powerful. It’s the mirroring reflex. If we surround ourselves with bad behavior, chances are we will start behaving badly. Think of the power of this idea. It’s why support groups are so powerful; if you surround yourself with people going through a similar struggle, they will all pull you through. in order to help pull you through. You do what the other people around you are doing.
This is the power of Church. Church, not as the building, but Church as the gathered people of God. We mirror each others’ behavior. If we surround ourselves with godly and virtuous people, the hope is that we too become godly and virtuous people. One person yawns, we all start yawning. One person leads a holy life, we all start leading holy lives.
That’s how St. John the Divine puts it in his Revelation. John sees, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” And notice what they are all doing there in the heavenly throne room. It’s the mirroring reflex. They are all crying out in a loud voice, worshipping the Lamb on the throne. They are all falling down on their faces singing praises to God. One glorifies God, they all glorify God.
It’s an image of All Saints’ Day. We remember and celebrate those Christians who have gone before us because they were the ones who taught us how to be Christians. We mirror their faith.
So often I hear people say that they are Christians, but that they don’t go to Church. I do not think that their faith is insincere, but I think they’re missing out. Because Christians need community. We need to see each other leading holy lives so that we too are inspired to lead holy lives.
This morning we are going to baptize Ceceilia King. Cecilia is not going to learn how to follow Jesus from reading a book about how to follow Jesus. She’s probably not going to learn how to be a saint from any sermon preached from this pulpit. No, she’s going to learn how to follow Jesus by watching you. By doing what you do. Cecelia will learn how to be a disciple of Jesus by mirroring other disciples of Jesus. So, are you ready for that? Are you ready to be that example of compassion, of love, of mercy, of generosity? Are you ready to be that community that shows children how to follow Jesus? If we are worried about kids these days and how they don’t go to church - well, here is your opportunity. To live a holy life so that she can see what it means to live a holy life.
From the very beginning, following Jesus has meant being part of a community. When Jesus called his first disciples, he called brothers. When Jesus sent out the first missionaries, they went two by two. Or think of our own church community, Holy Comforter. This church wasn’t the idea of one person. No, it was thirteen Episcopalians gathering together for prayer and worship. There is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. In St. John’s vision of the heavenly throne room, it’s not like there are a bunch of individuals, in their own little rooms, worshipping Jesus. No, there is one throne and one throne room. And everybody, the vast multitude, the angels, the elders, everybody, is in it together. We’re in this thing together. We yawn together, we laugh together, we cry together, we pray together, we follow Jesus together.
And yes, it would be easier if we could do it alone. It would be. Imagine if you could sleep in on Sunday morning. If you didn’t have to sit behind that person in church that really, really annoys you. If you didn’t have to worry about being a good example to the other Christians in your church. If you didn’t have to make a promise to show Cecelia how to follow Jesus.
And let’s admit it, it would be easier if you didn’t have to make a pledge. It would be easier. But I stand here to tell you that the Christian life is not meant to be easy.
I hate to break it to you, but following Jesus is hard. That’s the other thing we can mirror from the saints. Think of it: Saint Bartholomew was skinned alive because of his faith in Jesus. Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket was murdered in his own cathedral because he was more faithful to Jesus than he was to the king. Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky was an Episcopalian stricken with paralysis while he was translating the Bible into Chinese. But rather than giving up, he typed some two thousand pages of Bible translation using only one finger of his partially crippled hand. Constance and her companions were Episcopal nuns and priests who died while caring for people stricken with Yellow Fever in Memphis, Tennessee. Being a saint of God was never, never going to be easy. Being a saint of God means self-sacrifice, and constant labor, and hardship, and heartache, and more often than not, death. That is what we are supposed to mirror.
In the modern Church, we get a little uncomfortable when we start talking about martyrdom and death and persecution. If we get our feelings hurt by what the cashier at Wal-Mart says, then how in the world can we live up to the example of Perpetua and her companions, Christians who were killed in a Roman coliseum because they refused to worship the emperor? We have made the Christian life look fun and hip and cool as a way to attract fun and hip and cool people to church. But do not be mistaken. Following Jesus, being a saint, will demand everything we are and everything we have. And that includes the two most prized American possessions, time and money.
If you want to take an assessment of your Christian life, of your life with Jesus, you can look at two things. First, it’s your bank statement. Jesus says, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Is your heart with Jesus and the Church, is your heart with charities and good works? Or is your heart, your treasure, somewhere else? If you pay more for your monthly cable bill or your car payment or season tickets than you give to good causes, then I can tell you what you worship, and you might not like the answer. I know what this is like. I know what it means to look at our own pledge card, and consider all that money could do for us. Starbucks more often. Some nice dinners out. I mean, who wouldn’t want Astros season tickets now? But no, my heart and my treasure is with Jesus. If we wish to worship Jesus with our hearts, we must prove it with our wallets.
And second, look at your calendar. What are your priorities? If you set aside time everyday to watch TV, do you also set aside time to pray? Look at your daily list of activities, and you’ll see what you worship. And I don’t buy the excuse that you’re too busy. You are too busy not to pray.
What the Church, what God calls us to do is to die for Jesus. To let our old lives die so that we can live for God. I mean, we do not bat an eye at the idea that our country might ask us to die for it. So why should we be so shocked if the same was required of us for God’s Kingdom?
This takes us back to St. John’s vision of the heavenly throne room. “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” The angel answers, “these are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The great ordeal. A life of sacrifice for the Kingdom of God. A life of living for others and not for yourselves. Like the saints of old, a life of living for Jesus.
I know you might be thinking, “Jimmy, this runs against the theme of your last few sermons. You just said last week that God loves us no matter what.” True, I did say that. And I meant it. But the clearest example of God’s love for us is the cross. The love which we are to have for our neighbors and for God, should look like the cross. I mean, if our Lord and Savior died on the cross, we would be deluded to think that our Christian lives will be easy. No, they will be hard. We will look at the cross and mirror all that Jesus did there. We will mirror this life for Cecelia, who is starting this life today.
God loves us so much, that God will meet us wherever we are. But God also loves us so much, that God will not let us stay there. That means going through the great ordeal. Going to cross with Jesus. Then will we understand the great promise God gives to the saints: “they will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes.”