Brothers and sisters, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
November 1st is traditionally known as All-Saint’s Day. And so the Sunday following All Saints Day is All Saints Sunday which has become the day that we remember all of our loved ones who have passed on before us. It is a day when we grieve in our hearts. But we also give thanks not just for those we love but for the promise that we will all day celebrate together the feast that has no end.
One Congregation, One Location
It is fitting for us to be gathered all together in one place this morning to remember. But we’re also here to celebrate all that has been and to look forward to all that God has in front of us as God’s people here in Madison and Verona. We are here because of the faith, hope, dreams, and generosity of the generations that came before us. Yes, we are here 62 years after that first church service in the basement of a pastor’s home. From there it took hopes, dreams, and generosity to build that first building, then the subsequent expansions and then a new church plant in a cornfield in Verona, Wisconsin as the promise of new growth and new mission fields expanded the reach of the relationships and connections that make our church what it is.
But before any of that happened a group of immigrants planted a church in Illinois and in that church Pr. Peterson was baptized and taught the faith. Hopes and dreams and generosity built the seminary and church that supported the pastors and congregations as they expanded. And we can keep tracing that lineage all the way back to those very first apostles sent out two by two to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is an amazing miracle in and of itself.
One other important opportunity that presents itself to us each year at this time is the chance that we have to confess that we didn’t come up with this faith on our own; someone had to teach us about Jesus… someone had to tell us the story. When you hear me preaching and teaching that this faith that we have in our possession is a gift, that is what I mean. Someone gave us this faith as our inheritance and that inheritance is not meant to be buried in the ground our deposited in a bank for safekeeping. It is to be spent in the proclaiming of that Good News to the generations that are coming after us knowing that God’s treasury is bottomless and then, upon our death, we die comforted in knowing that our inheritance has already been passed on to those who have, and will, come after us.
The saints are with us in more ways than just in our memory and on more days than just today. In our church, the saints live on in all that they have taught us down through the years. When people walk into my office they often exclaim at my library, “Wow, have you read all of these?” My answer is still, “no, but they also weren’t all written by me either.” Our lives, our faith, is more than the books in a theological library or in a book of poetry or a painting on a wall. For just like those are snapshots; the sum of what one person has learned not just from reading the Bible but living life and gleaming from all of the knowledge and all of the questions that have been asked since we first became aware of ourselves, each other and God. That is, itself, a snapshot of the myriad and diverse faith stories of each of the people who have been a part of Good Shepherd over these last 62 years and will be in the next 6 decades or more!
What I’ve learned is not much different than what you’ve learned along the way. The saints show us our way through the writings of the Bible, all the hymns of the church, how our church was built, even the traditions we have in what we wear to church. Each of these things has been delivered to us at the knee of those who have come before us and lived life before us and questioned, struggled with and loved God before us.
So this morning, let us give thanks. Not just for the memory of the saints, those who have gone before us, but let us give thanks for this church. The church is a community unlike almost any other in that we come into this place from often very different places in our lives having lived many different experiences of life. Some of us have had it relatively easy while for others every day has been a struggle. And yet in this building the saints have taught us that not only are we the same in God’s eyes, but that we can, in this community, experience friendship that comes from people who are different than us. And through our friendship with each other, our own lives and our own faith might be expanded. We are unlike each other in almost every way but one: each of us is trying to love other people as we are loved by God.
I give thanks today for each of the saints who have gone before us, and I give thanks for each of you. You are my siblings, you are my companions on life’s way.
Thanks be to God.