My Aunt Shirley, before she died a few years ago, would often say “Be the one who makes someone smile today.” She would say this even as she battled cancer on and off for 20 years. And she would live it even as she went through round after round of horrible chemo and radiation. She was always able to bring a smile to my face and to the faces of those around her with her hope-filled faith and warm laughter. Even in her last days, her faith inspired her to smile into death’s face. And after she died, many who knew her named my Aunt Shirley a saint.
This Sunday we celebrate All Saints Sunday, the holy-day in the church year on which we give thanks for and honor all who have supported us in our faith lives before leaving us temporarily in death. All Saints Sunday is about remembering the dead who are no longer with us here on earth. It’s about paying tribute to those who have made a positive difference in our lives with Christ through their faith, love, and hope they shared with us.
But All Saints Day is about more than just remembering the dead. It is ultimately about remembering the resurrection that has been promised to us in Jesus Christ. All Saints Day is about facing death head-on and smiling at it through our faith in Christ. It’s about waving good-bye to death as Jesus banishes it into oblivion. Finally, All Saints Sunday is about celebrating life, the abundant life that comes to us in God’s eternal City through the power of Christ’s resurrection from the cross.
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians. (1 Cor 15:26) Sometimes we forget that promise, that death is no longer a threat to us, that death in the end will be destroyed, that in Christ there is new life, an abundant new life in which what we fear is gone. In this new life, hatred is gone, greed, prejudice, fear, killing, violence, all gone. Disease is gone, death is gone, and all sources of sorrow have disappeared. Love and beauty and joy and peace will permeate the earth, filling the whole universe to the point of bursting. Life Abundant will saturate us in ways we can never imagine right now.
And while we aren’t able to live this abundant life yet due to the distortion of sin, on All Saints Day we are called to seek God’s city in this messy world through a vision of faith, even if it only can be seen in a glass dimly, in tiny bursts of Christ’s light into our lives, in small glimpses of love and grace and mercy and hope happening around us. The vision of hope that we are reminded of by those who have gone before us points us in the direction God is calling us to live. And this vision redirects us toward love when we try to go a different way. This vision of God’s abundant life is one of the many gifts that the Spirit uses to empower our faith, encourage our hope and guide us toward love in the world.
So during your commemoration of the saints this week, I invite you also to remember and celebrate the resurrection that is promised to us in Christ. For in Christ, we get to look into the face of death and laugh. May God comfort and support you as you remember those saints who have gone before us.
In the new life of Christ,
What lenses are you looking through? No, I’m not talking about contact lenses or glasses, bifocals or sunglasses. I’m talking about the lenses of life, the worldly lenses that color or cloud how we see what’s around us. These lenses can include the experience of our family of origin which helps interpret much of what we see. But there are other lenses through which we see the world: the narratives that come to us from the news or media programming we choose to watch/hear; the social media we choose to engage; the political viewpoints we choose to subscribe to; the peer groups we choose to hang out with. Each of these provide us with more or less healthy lenses by which to see, interpret and even judge the world.
Of course, all of us see the world through various lenses; no one sees anything except through the lenses we put on or are given to us. The question is which lenses are the followers of Christ called to wear?
This question naturally leads us to other questions: through which lenses are we choosing to see the church’s activity? God’s activity? Through which lenses are we defining Jesus Christ’s call to follow him? Are we defining discipleship according to the lenses of social media or the news? Are we seeing God and God’s work in the world through lenses of worry, scarcity, fear, or anger? Are we seeing (and judging) the church through lenses of a specific political perspective?
The apostle formerly known as Saul initially saw the newly emerging church and the Way of Jesus Christ through lenses defined by his religious education, his fear of the unknown, his anxiety that this new off-shoot of his tradition would corrupt him and his religion. (Acts 9:2) But all these lenses blinded him to the new way God was working in the world. In his blindness he was destructive, not only to the people who followed the new Way of Christ but to God’s message of good news proclaimed in Christ. It wasn’t until he was physically blinded on the road to Damascus, spent three days in prayer, and was healed by his enemy that Paul more clearly saw the world through the lens of Christ. And it changed Paul’s life forever. (Acts 9 and following.)
Like Paul, we who are Christ’s followers are called on our roads to Damascus to open our eyes and see the world, including the church, through the lens of Christ and the new life he gives us. Instead of seeing and judging the church through the political, social, economic, or social media lenses that are so pervasive in our lives, we are called to see all of our society through the lens of our trust in our faithful God and our commitment to Christ.
Instead of defining what it means to follow Christ according to the culture’s standards, we are called to live according to Jesus’ standards laid out in the Great Commandments, the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and the call to feed, give water to, welcome, clothe, care for, and visit those in need of God’s love and compassion no matter who they are…for they are all to be seen as Christ in our midst (Mt 25:31-46).
Instead of seeing God’s work in our churches through lenses of suspicion and anger because they don’t match the other lenses we’ve chosen to wear, we are called to see through the lenses of faith, hope, love and the new life we’ve been given through the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
So like Paul, I call on you to let go of the lenses of the world that are directing you away from Christ’s Way and open your eyes and hearts to the fruit of the Spirit – joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the lenses, poured into us in our Baptism, shared in Holy Communion and the preaching of the Word, and set into our eyes by the Spirit that define, govern, and guide how we see the world and live in it as followers of Christ.
Praise be to Christ for the new Way to see God’s world!
I write this stuck in Columbus, MT thanking God for winter weather warnings and the technology that makes them possible! These warnings helped me prepare for a disruptive snow event so that my life might be a little safer and predictable if not controllable or convenient. But not all events are so predictable. In fact, our lives are full of unpredictable and uncontrollable change.
Change is hard. It upends our lives, makes us face the unknown, drives up our anxiety and fear. Humans like stability because it’s measurable, foreseeable, even controllable. When we know what to expect, we can relax and take comfort in the fact that nothing will threaten our existence at that moment. But when things change, all those expectations go out the window. Our worry levels rise and we’re left feeling like an uncontrolled life is an unsafe life.
And yet change is life. And life is change. Without change there would be no life. Imagine a tulip bulb that didn’t change into a beautiful flower in the spring. Imagine the larches and the oaks that didn’t change their leaves in the fall. Imagine a chrysalis that doesn’t change into a butterfly. Or a newborn child who doesn’t grow into an adult. Life without change is not life at all. At best it’s a holding pattern; at worst, it is death itself. To truly live, to live in the full blessings of life that God wants for us, our lives must be transformed. We must rise to new life with Christ, a new life that necessarily means change.
Following Jesus is hard. It’s radical. It’s frightening. It’s change. But finally, it is the only true and lasting life that matters. In Christ, you have been given the promise in your baptism and in the Lord’s Supper that in following Jesus, new life comes to you and for you. In the midst of your anxiety, the promises of Christ bring you hope for a new beginning. In the fear of change, the Holy Spirit inspires faith in the stability and safety only God can bring. In the midst of change’s deaths, new life blooms in you.
“Be not afraid!” the angels cry. “Don’t worry!” Jesus proclaims. Christ’s new life is present in your lives even during winter storm warnings. For the transformation that comes in Christ means a new life for you and for the whole world.
Let us pray…living God, although humans tried to inflict the ultimate change on your son, death on a cross, you raised him to new life. In this resurrection, change no longer represents death, but life.
Open our hearts and minds to prepare our spirits for the transformation into the new life you give us in Christ. Amen.
“I never dreamt…” I’ve heard these words a lot over the last week.
“I never dreamt there would be a 3-foot snowstorm with blizzard conditions in September,” I heard from folks in MT over the weekend. To those who suffered losses due to the storm, may God strengthen and support you during these times of recovery.
“I never dreamt that I’d be able to be a pastor in the church.” I heard this again and again from seminarians and graduates who received the ELCA Fund for Leaders Scholarship at a banquet in Chicago last Friday. This scholarship from the ELCA pays full tuition for our future pastors, removing expense as a reason to not be able to go to seminary, and allows them to enter their parishes and ministries with far less student debt.
“I never dreamt when I started the LPA program that I’d be sitting in Chicago with my bishop.” Wendy McAlpine, an LPA SAM from Sunburst, said this to me after receiving the Fund for Leaders Renewal Ministry Scholarship that is helping her to go through the TEEM program so that she can continue serving the mission of the gospel in Montana.
“I never dreamt I’d be elected bishop,” many of my new colleagues and I said at our conference of bishops meeting this past week in Chicago.
What things have you “never dreamt could happen to you?” That’s an odd question, right, since if you haven’t dreamt them, how can you know what they are? But even though we might have never dreamt them, I can assure you that the Holy Spirit has indeed dreamt them for us. “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams,” Peter proclaims during his Pentecost sermon. (Acts 2:17)
The Holy Spirit is working among us in the Montana Synod, stirring things up, blowing breezes and blizzards through congregations and ministries, dreaming dreams for us even when we can’t seem to dream them ourselves. The Holy Spirit is opening up new opportunities in the lives of our churches and creating new possibilities for us as the followers of Christ to do things we never dreamt could happen. We just need to “let go and let God” lead us in the direction the Spirit is dreaming us. For as long as we hold onto our anxieties and fears, our angers and distrust, our despair and division, the Spirit faces too many barriers to break through and lay dreams on our hearts, minds and spirits effectively.
So I invite you to open yourself to the Spirit’s dreamings and let the hope of those Spirit-led dreams in. For I am living proof that the Spirit dreams us into possibilities we would never have dreamt for ourselves. In the same way the Holy Spirit dreamt you into electing me your bishop, dreamt financial support for future pastors, dreamt followers of Christ in this Synod into the LPA program, into the TEEM program and into leading congregations as pastors and deacons, the Holy Spirit is dreaming new possibilities for you. In the new life given to us in Christ, let us dream together the Spirit’s dreams into God’s world through faith, hope and love.
Empowered in the Spirit’s dream, your bishop, Laurie Jungling