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Category: Sermons

Who are the Saints/Souls in your life?

What follows is a sermon I gave on All Saints Day, November 1, 2020 online at Spirit Song Church in Vistancia, Peoria, Arizona.

Good morning. It is an honour and a joy to be with you today. We pray that Pastor Misty will have a speedy recovery. As you know this is a special day, and no, NOT just the day after Halloween. To make sure I got it right, I went to google and came up with the following from Wikipedia.

All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, Hallowmas, the Feast of All Saints, or Solemnity of All Saints, is a Christian solemnity celebrated in honour of all the saints, known and unknown.
In the Western Christian practice, the liturgical celebration begins at Vespers on the evening of 31 October, All Hallows’ Eve (All Saints’ Eve), and ends at the close of 1 November. It is thus the day before All Souls’ Day, which commemorates the faithful departed. 
The Christian celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the “Church triumphant“), and the living (the “Church militant“). In Methodist theology, All Saints Day revolves around “giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints“, including those who are “famous or obscure”. As such, individuals throughout the Church Universal are honoured, such as Paul the ApostleAugustine of Hippo and John Wesley, in addition to individuals who have personally led one to faith in Jesus, such as one’s grandmother or friend. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Saints’_Day

So this is a day to

commemorate all Christians, living and deceased, to remember all Christians both past and present. In the United Methodist Church, All Saints’ is held, not only to remember Saints, but also to remember all those who have died who were members of the local church congregation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Saints’_Day

Who are the Saints/Souls in your life?

First on my list are my parents, John and Laurel Buck. While, as it has been said, God has no grandchildren, I would not be here in front of you except for their lives and witness. 

I also owe a great debt to my in-laws, Warren and Mary Fairman who adopted my wife, Irene, when her birth father did not take responsibility for the child he caused to be brought into the world. 

I barely knew my paternal grandparents who both died a few years after I was born. My London, England born grandfather was a good provider throughout the Great Depression for my dad and his family. However, he was an accountant at brewery; whose open fridge policy turned him into an alcoholic who could be abusive.  

I did know my maternal grandparents who lived to see their great grandchildren born. They had a very positive and important impact on my life.  Despite my grandfather’s struggles with depression, he was ultimately triumphant. I also well remember my grandmother’s father, my great grandfather, William George Little. He was born in 1872, almost 150 years ago and died when I was 11. If I am blessed with a few more years, I may even live to see my grandchildren’s children, as my great-grandfather did. I, like him, will then have known seven generations. 

So, yes, today we are remembering the dead. But while the dead are solemnly remembered during worship today, the festival is ultimately a celebration of Christ’s victory over death.

And that leads us nicely to today’s scripture reading from

The Revelation of St John.

Also called the Apocalypse of John.

The final book of the New Testament.

The book about end times.

Watchman Nee, who was baptized as a Methodist, was a Chinese church leader and Christian teacher who worked in China during the 20th century. In his daily mediations, A Table in the Wilderness, he asks, “Who is qualified to study the end times?”

His answer? Only those, like John, whose first vision is not of events, but of Jesus Christ Himself. Nee writes, “for not until we see Jesus are we equipped for conflict.” 
The aim of Revelation is not to show us the gentle Jesus, meek and mild, of the Gospels, but to show us Christ Jesus as King on the throne.

Nee goes on to say, “In the book of Revelation, God shows us an aspect of His Son not shown to us in the Gospels. In the Gospels we see Him as Savior, the Revelation as King. . . . It is not enough that we know Jesus as Lamb of God and Savior of the world; we must know Him also as God’s King, God’s Judge.”

There are hints of this God the King in the gospels. Last Sunday Pastor Misty preached on Matthew 22 and the Greatest Commandment. Jesus was asked what commandment in the law is the greatest. He replied,

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Earlier in Matthew 22, Jesus spoke to his followers about the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. Jesus said,

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Ok. So far so good. We are invited to the wedding banquet, to be with God. If we turn down the invitation, then he will go out to the wider world and invite everyone to the wedding banquet. Sound good? Then there is this in Matthew 22 starting at verse 11.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

That set me back on my heels. If wearing a wedding robe means to be found worthy, what are the implications. The preacher of preachers and a 19th century Saint, Charles H Spurgeon writes,

True members of the church of God wear a distinguishing mark. If you are not different from other people, you have no right in the church of God. If a servant can live with you for years and never discover your love for God, I should think there is none to discover. If you are just the same as those you lived with in your former days, if you have undergone no change, and are like the rest of men, you do not have the distinguishing mark which authenticates your right to be in the church of God. There ought to be something about us which sets us apart — something which can be seen and understood by common people, even as a wedding garment could be seen, and its meaning at once perceived. Your religion must not require a microscope to perceive it, nor should it be so indistinct that few can discover any meaning in it.  https://answersingenesis.org/education/spurgeon-sermons/2024-what-is-the-wedding-garment/     

Of course, that leads us back to the two great commandments. Putting on your wedding garment means loving God with all your heart and soul and mind. And like unto it, loving your neighbor as yourself.

I want to introduce you to another man named John, a 20th century saint who wrote and sang about the Apocalypse of John and God’s judgement in his song A Man Comes Around

The song begins with Cash’s spoken words.

And I heard as it were the noise of thunder 
One of the four beasts saying come and see and I saw 
And behold a white horse 

Then that very distinctive music begins.

There’s a man going around taking names 
And he decides who to free and who to blame 
Everybody won’t be treated all the same 
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down 
When the Man comes around 

Johnny Cash is very special to me. This song, one of the last he wrote before his death, makes numerous Biblical references, especially to the Book of Revelation. The first three spoken lines of are from Revelation 6:1-2. The ‘man’ he sings about is Jesus Christ who will one day come to pass judgement. 

The chorus echoes the celebration of the Lord’s Second Coming in Revelation. 

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singing 
Multitudes are marching to the big kettledrum 
Voices calling, voices crying 
Some are born and some are dying 
It’s Alpha and Omega’s kingdom come 

The next verse begins with a dream Johnny had, and the inspiration for this song.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree 

He dreamt that Queen Elizabeth II said to him, ‘Johnny Cash, you’re just like a thorn tree in a whirlwind’. He thought about that dream for a long, long time. He finally got a concordance down and found the reference to a thorn tree in a whirlwind in the book of Job. http://sylviesimmons.com/johnny-cashs-dream-about-the-queen-of-england/

The next line of the song is a reference to Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13.

The virgins are all trimming their wicks 

The parable tells about ten virgins who await the bridegroom, Jesus. The five who are prepared go on into the celebration. The five who are not prepared are left behind. 

The whirlwind is in the thorn tree 

Then we have a line from Acts 26:14 where Jesus speaks to Paul on the road to Damascus. 

It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks 

This is a reference to a Greek proverb about an ox pulling a cart who tries to kick against a goad or sharp object attached to the front of the cart, meant to encourage the ox to move along in the right direction. Kicking against the goads will only cause the ox to injure itself. This represents the futility of resisting God. 

If the link above does not work, you can hear the complete song by googling ‘The Man Comes Around”. It was that same google that led me to Johnny Cash’s last interview just a few weeks before he died.  He was asked about death. Here is what he said.

I have great faith. I have unshakable faith. I never turned my back on God. I never thought that God wasn’t there. He is my counsellor. He is my wisdom. All the good things in my life come from him.

When asked, “Where do you think we go?” Johnny Cash replied, “Where do we go when we die, you mean?” “Well, we all hope to go to heaven.” 

So we are back to where we began. What is All Saints Day?
It is a celebration of Christ’s victory over death. The Revelations 7:9 – 17 passage that Ann read to us presents John of Patmos’ vision.

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Who does salvation belong to?

I believe it belongs to Johnny Cash, even though he does not insist this salvation is his just for the taking. I identify with Johnny Cash, who like me is of English and Scottish descent. 

However, salvation does NOT belong to just my tribe, my people and those who speak my language. 

I was born in the French speaking part of Canada, Quebec. My first 12 years of life and every summer of my childhood were spent there. My brothers and I would play with the English speaking Roman Catholics who went to a different school. However, we’d throw rocks at the French speaking Roman Catholics. Hugh MacLennan’s novel The Two Solitudes exemplified the lack of communication between Anglophone and Francophone people in Canada. I atoned for this sin by sending both our children to French immersion schools. As a result our daughter is now comfortable living and working in the largest French speaking city in North America, Montreal.

In the mid 1960s my family and I move to Calgary in the western province of Alberta, just north of Montana. At this time the only people of colour lived on reservations or in Chinatown, but certainly not in our neighbourhood. That changed when I went to the University of Calgary and met Bethuel Okalla Okatch of Uganda who was completing his doctorate of education at the University of Calgary. Bethuel joked that with a name like Okatch, he was an African-IrIshman, but he was black as black can be. I came to know Bethuel as a Christian brother and part of the great multitude of believers. 

Years later here in Arizona I came to know another black man with an Irish name who taught me about white privilege. He had lived a variation of the Sandra Bullock movie, The Blind Side, where an African-American boy was adopted by a white family and became a football star. My friend helped me see a bit of what it is to be a black man in a white culture. I now can look into his face and see a brother and a member of that great multitude of believers. 

Our daughter and son’s generation are different. They did not have to wait for adulthood to see that people from all tribes and peoples and languages will be standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.  

So what does Revelation 7:9-17 mean? I quote from a commentary at bibleref.com.

John’s . . . vision is of a staggering number of people, from every race, ethnicity and language, dressed in white and shouting out praise to God. This is a poignant reminder of God’s love for all people, and the essential unity of mankind. Despite efforts to divide humanity based on appearance or heritage, Scripture is clear that all people, of all tribes and languages, will be represented in God’s eternal plan of salvation. 

So let us join all the angels who stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, as they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing,

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.


And who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?
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.
For this reason they are before the throne of God,
    and worship him day and night within his temple,
    and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
 

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 every tear from their eyes.”

Let us pray in silence as we rejoice and keep festival in honor of all the saints.

Let us remember: George Pankonin- Sanborn MN Sept 26, 2020

Let us remember:  Lorna Brecheisen

Let us remember: George Todd

Let us remember:  All who have passed from this life to everlasting life with God.

Almighty God, your saints are one with you in the mystical body of Christ:  give us grace to follow them in all virtue and holiness until we come to those inexpressible joys which you have prepared for us;  

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,  who is alive with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.  Amen.

Covenant Sunday by Rev. John M. Buck B.Eng. B.Div. STM

October 15, 2000

8 AM Christ Church, Calgary Alberta

This is a narrative homily based on a life lived. She grew up in a rural setting in western Québec in the first quarter of the 20th century. Her father was the owner of a swank hotel in the local village. It was a major business enterprise in the village giving employment to many of its residents. It was the destination during the summer for holidaymakers of middle income and up who arrived by train in family groups. They were met in style with a decaled horse drawn carriage. Comfortable rooms awaited the guests’ arrival. Good food, well served on white tablecloth tables was the fare every day. A variety of recreational activity arranged by the hotel was made available — walks along the clear water river. fishing excursions to crystal-clear lakes full of fish. Sandy beaches awaited the children in warm water lakes. Horseback riding along trails in the scenic countryside was also available. Train rides to explore other parts of the unspoiled forest countryside. Horse buggy excursions along the river road all accompanied by ample picnic basket served by attendants in the hotel’s employ. These were gracious country living holidays where the holidayer was waited on hand and foot. She was the favorite child of her father spoiled in the extreme. She had strong features, bright eyes, quick in body movements, intelligent, witty.

There was money available for her to go to a good private school in Ottawa. Then she went on to the major hospital where she trained as a nurse. She never married and had the wanderlust. She took a job in a big hospital in Chicago in the 30s and 40s and got into the highlife of smoking, drinking, partying, cabarets and nightclubs. Soon it was the drugs scene as more and more she sought gratification from the pursuits of the flesh. As a practicing nurse at an active treatment hospital she had access to the drug lockers. She helped herself and falsified the records to cover up their loss. In a drugged stupor one night while smoking in bed she set fire to herself and ended up with irreparable scar tissue to the upper part of her body and her face. She lost her physical comeliness.

Her sister, who was married to the local garage manager and Anglican church warden, brought her back to the village home to help her recover. She was in deep depression and in a very difficult space as a human being.

When I arrived on the scene in the mid-50s a young rector in the first parish after an industrial parish curacy, she had been admitted to the ward of a Montréal hospital that specialized in treating the mentally ill. It was a long-term-care institution established at the end of the 19th century on very spacious grounds overlooking the Lachine Rapids of the St. Lawrence River. As a kid I used to drive my bicycle out to be a mental asylum as it was called then. It was in an unbuilt-up area. On a dare from other kids I would drive right up to the wrought iron fence that incarcerated the loonies, as we as we insensitively called them and watch them go through their uncontrolled antics driven by their mental illness. By the mid-50s is possible to become one of the innovators of new treatment for psychiatric patients now I found myself inside this very institution to visit this troubled parishioner. The garage manager churchwarden and compassionate brother-in-law had soon made known to his rector that his mentally and physically scarred sister-in-law needed a visit in hospital from her pastor. The ward she was in was a long narrow room very sparsely furnished and occupied by another 11 people. It was sparsely furnished purposely so there would be a minimum of objects that could be used for the patients to maim themselves during one of their seizures. The one thing that caught my eye as I sat next to her was the Book of Common Prayer sitting on the table by her bedside. She was in a talkative mood and we conversed together. I asked her about the prayer book. She said that she used it every morning and evening whenever she was well. She asked me to take some prayers from it with her now. I said yes. So we said the prayers for the day.

“This is the day that the Lord has given us we will rejoice and give thanks in it.” We also said prayers for the doctors and nurses grabbed to the physicians and surgeons and nurses for wisdom and skill sympathy and patience. We prayed for the recovery of this sick person, “Oh God that she may be restored according to thy gracious to health of body and mind and give thanks to thee in thy holy Church.

In the year that followed whenever I was in Montréal, the see city at that time, I would visit her. She made steady progress in recovery. Soon she was asking for the sacraments. Her brother-in-law and I were given a room by the hospital staff to celebrate the holy mysteries of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. She made such progress in recovering with the help of new medical discoveries and the love of God that she was able to return to her village home. She had overcome her in dependence on drugs. She never returned to them. She was in the church every Sunday. She became very active in the woman’s auxiliary, the ACW. At first people were afraid of her because of a wide look her facial scars gave her but she largely ignored their frightened looks and in time they forgot her past and accepted her as a full member of the Christian community. She headed up the Altar Guild.

She loved children and she got classes going every Sunday for 20 kids or so and enlisted parents and other members of the church to do their turn at teaching the faith of the church. Before her dedicated service there had been no regular Sunday school. She is buried in the cemetery of that country church of God that loved her and that she loved and served to her dying days. Thanks be to God.

Next Sunday is Covenant Sunday in our church. This homily is an example of someone who made a tough life journey and a Christian person who came to understand and put into practice what covenant with God means! Time, talent, treasure. Where your treasure is there will be your heart also. Covenant is about God’s love and our response to his love. We love God because he first loved us. As a vestry member said so aptly and succinctly said last Sunday, it is all about response. We have been given so much by God that we respond by giving.