Transcribed from the sermon preached October 30, 2016
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Phil. 1:1-14, 19-24
In today’s passages we hear of both the fruit of the land and the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is grace, and by grace we remain humble and grateful for the fruit we receive from the land. I think it is especially appropriate on this all Saints day to look back and give thanks for all the hard work and sacrifice of those who have come before, for those who fled countries of origin, went into exile across the wilderness, and brought us to the fruitful place we are now. We look back at the good deeds of our ancestors not only to give thanks but to gain courage and encouragement to carry on, to go forward, to march into the future knowing that the risen Christ is there waiting for us.
The author of Deuteronomy says in chapter 8, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.”
“All Saints’ Day was first celebrated when Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to the Virgin Mary on May 13, 609. This date was changed to November 1, by Pope Gregory III when he dedicated a chapel in the Vatican Basilica in honor of all saints. He then went on to order for its church-wide observance. During the reformation, Protestants understood saints to mean all believers and thus All Saints became a celebration of the unity of the entire Church.” Our soul is that divine spark, the spirit that gives us life. The soul unites us with God and all life and the same time is our uniqueness. Sin clogs the flow of our soul; grace gives our soul freedom and resilience. All Soul’s Day, or Dia de los Muertos in Spanish, follows the next day November 2 and includes not just Saints but all souls.
(World Religion News: “The Origins and Similarities of Halloween, All Saints’ Day, Samhain and Reformation Day” http://www.worldreligionnews.com/?p=32098)
We hold that the Holy Spirit unites us with all believers of every time and place. Physical life is temporary but life in the Spirit is eternal. With this hope and faith, we remember and give thanks for those who have come before, who have brought us thus far, and we gain courage and faith to stand strong in the present, before life and death.
This passage from Philippians is quite remarkable because we get a glimpse of Paul’s tenacious faith. He is in prison, but since he is able to show the love and grace of Christ, even as a suffering prisoner, even the prison guards are amazed, touched and saved by God through him. Ch. 1:20 “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
For Paul it is the belief that God’s love and life are eternal that enables him to act for the preservation of love even when it means the sacrifice of his physical comfort. The threat of sin is death. It wants us to compromise out of fear of death. Modernity hides from death, but as Christians we stand before it and say, come what may, for I am, we are, in God’s hands. This faith may not be logical but it has saved souls, moved mountains, built hospitals and overturned empires.
I particularly enjoy and find strength in the Latin American version of All Souls Day. It is bright and colorful and audacious, it looks death straight in the face, but at the same time laughs and plays with it. Octavio Paz won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for his book on Mexican culture entitled the Labyrinth of Solitude. In it he speaks of the significance of death today and the significance of Dia de los Muertos for Mexicans.
“Modern death does not have any significance,” says Paz, “that transcends it or that refers to other values. It is rarely anything more than the inevitable conclusion of a natural process. In a world of facts, death is merely on more fact. But since it is such a disagreeable fact, the philosophy of progress pretends to make it disappear…Everything in the modern world functions as if death did not exist. But death enters into everything we undertake…The century of health, hygiene and contraceptives, miracle drugs and synthetic foods, is also the century of the concentration camp and the police state, Hiroshima and the murder story.
…The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love. True, there is perhaps as much fear in his attitude as in that of others, but at least death is not hidden away: he looks at it face to face, with impatience, disdain or irony… Death revenges us against life, strips it of all its vanities and pretensions and converts it into what it really is: a few neat bones and a dreadful grimace…sugar-candy skulls.., our popular images always poke fun at life, affirming the nothingness and insignificance of human existence.”
As the scripture says, from dust we come, and to dust we shall return.
“Modern technical skills and the popularity of crime stories are,” continues Paz, “like concentration camps and collective extermination, the results of an optimistic and unilateral conception of existence. It is useless to exclude death from our images, our words, our ideas, because death will obliterate all of us, beginning with those who ignore it or pretend to ignore it… Fear makes us turn our backs on death, and by refusing to contemplate it we shut ourselves off from life, which is a totality that includes it. The “open” is where contraries are reconciled, where light and shadow are fused… He must open himself out to death if he wishes to open himself out to life. Then he will be “like the angels.” (Paz, O. (1962). The labyrinth of solitude: life and thought in Mexico. New York: Grove Press. p. 57)
The fruit of the Spirit reminds us of where we come from; it reminds and unites us with of all of the saints who struggled in the wilderness so that we might be in the prosperous and fruitful land we are today. The fruit of the Spirit unites us with all the faithful of every time and place, with those we have loved and lost, and gives us strength to move into the future with hope and faith that God’s Spirit within us will not end. We look death face to face, and celebrate life and love with strength and joy, and a little crazy spooky fun.
I Corinthians 15
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting.
The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.