Sermon for Sunday November 4th
Every now and then a story comes along which transcends the written page, or the movie screen, or the stage upon which that story was first told. After first being released as a Disney movie in 1994, and then moving to the Broadway stage three years later (where it has grossed over $8 billion worldwide [yes, that’s billion with a “b”]), The Lion King tells not just a story about life in the African jungle, but a story… about life.
The movie first came out when our daughter was 5 years old. So, in many ways, she and The Lion King sort of grew up together in our house. Shortly after its initial release, Disney marketed a whole slew of related merchandise, from school lunch boxes to backpacks to birthday party plates and cups. One other item the Disney Corporation produced was a small children’s book, which basically just told an abbreviated version of the movie, complete with illustrations taken straight from the silver screen.
Many of you who have – or ever had – small children, may have experienced that particularly delightful moment of your child’s day known as “bedtime stories.” As you might imagine, “bedtime stories” for our daughter regularly included The Lion King. In fact, it was the kind of book which I read so many times that, when Molly asked for it at bedtime, all I needed to do was to turn the pages since she had memorized the whole thing word-for-word from start to finish.
I can remember it still, as though it was only yesterday. The opening sentence of the book read: “From the smallest ant to the largest elephant, every living thing has a place in the great circle of life.” Those words, of course, become the underlying theme for the rest of the story. Those same words – From the smallest ant to the largest elephant, every living thing has a place in the great circle of life – those same words also form the underlying theme for this most holy day which we celebrate this morning.
It may be All Saints Day today, but our readings assigned for this morning seem to come from a very different kind of service. Does anyone recognize where we often hear those familiar readings from Isaiah, and the book of Revelation, and John’s gospel? They are some of the most commonly read lessons at funerals and memorial services. And yet, how appropriate it is that we now find them a part of our All Saints’ Day readings as well, for this is the day – perhaps surpassed only by Easter Sunday – when we come face-to-face with the reminder that there is something bigger than death… something so powerful, so enduring, so dominating in the larger scheme of things that not even the end of this mortal life can contain it… that death is marked as a comma rather than as a period.
All Saints Day is also one of those traditional days during our church year when we are given the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism, which we will be doing in just a couple of minutes as we welcome Harper Ruth Vazquez-Reyes into the household of faith.
For baptism – like All Saints’ Day – is all about blurring that line between life and death. It’s not about denying the reality of death in our life, but it is about claiming death – the big death which will someday claim our mortal lives, or the countless little deaths we encounter in a myriad of ways every day – claiming death as a part of life, as a gift of life, as a source of life.
All Saints Day is a reminder to each of us that we find our place in a great line of saints who came before him, a day for claiming a faith which is not really “ours”… but one which has been passed forward for our safe-keeping for those who will come after us. Our view of the horizon comes only from standing on the shoulders of those who have come before us… and that there will be others who must someday stand upon our shoulders for the faith to continue to grow and flourish into the future.
Upon whose shoulders do you stand this morning? Was there someone… or perhaps several someones… who told you the great stories of the Bible, who shared their faith and the faith of the church they loved so dearly? And perhaps you caught enough of their vision that it became your vision, their story that it became your story, their hope and their passion that it became your hope and your passion. That is the gift which God has given each one of us, the gift of being a part of a story bigger than ourselves, of finding ourselves standing in that same great line as all those other great heroes of the faith, those other great saints of the church. It’s about knowing that that great cloud of witnesses which surrounded those who came before now surrounds us, and that we too will take our place in that cloud surrounding future generations of the faithful in the years to come.
A few years ago now, there was a marketing campaign which ran a series of television commercials for Bank of America. In this series of ads, there was a sort of magic mirror into which people could gaze. In one particular ad, the mirror appears along an urban street. One woman looks into the mirror and sees herself looking back, holding a set of keys and standing in front of a house with a “Sold” sign in the front yard. Another woman looks in the mirror and sees herself sitting on the edge of boat, wearing scuba diving gear. A young boy taking out the trash stands atop his plastic sack of garbage and looks in the mirror to see himself standing there looking back with a group of fellow doctors around him at a surgery table in a hospital. At the end of the commercial, a voice comes on simply saying, “Bank of America… bank of opportunity.”
There was nothing particularly outrageous, or fantastic, or wildly exotic about what any of those people saw of themselves in the mirror. Rather, each of them saw their true self… the person not only that they were, but the person that they might become. My image of a saint – especially on a day like All Saints’ Day – is that the saints are those who act like the mirrors so that the rest of us can catch a glimpse of the kind of people we were meant to be… the kind of person God is yearning for us, inviting us, beckoning us to become. It is an experience of that same fuzzy line… that same thin space… where – if we hold our heads at just the right angle, and cast our vision just far enough, and carry in our hearts that same hope-filled, grace-filled expectation – we can begin to see at least the edges of what God might have in store for us.
The saints of God – they came from all walks of life, all positions on the theological spectrum. They were liberals and conservatives; monarchists and anarchists; popes and paupers; people who went to church every Sunday, and people who never set foot inside a church; people who were always politically correct, and people who deliberately and wantonly upset the political apple carts of their day. They looked… well, I guess they looked a lot like us.
What defined them was not their spiritual superiority to those around them; or the length or volume or erudition of their prayers; or whether they stood or kneeled or sat during church on Sunday morning. What made them saints… what makes us saints… was their steadfast love for God, their willingness to put God at the center of their lives. It didn’t make any difference what the color of their skin was, or their gender, or their sexual orientation, or their political persuasion, or their age, or their status in the community. What mattered was that God was #1 in their lives. And because God was #1, the people around them were #1 as well. Because, after all, each one of us has been created in the image and likeness of God. And if you want to see what God looks like, then right now, I want you to turn your head to the left or the right, or to look at the person behind you, and there you will find the image of God – right before your eyes.
All Saints Day – it’s not just some antiquated holiday which we pull out of the closet and dust off once a year. It is a day in our liturgical life when, more than any other day during the entire year, we are reminded that we are a part of a family which is much bigger than the Church of Our Saviour… a family much bigger than the Episcopal Church… a family much bigger than those over two billions people in the world who call themselves Christians. Today we are reminded… we are a part of the great circle of life.