Monday, November 07, 2016

Celebrating The Past by Moving Forward

Hebrews 12:1-2    (NRSV)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Sometime in the early 60's my father took me my first Major League Baseball game --- any guesses what team we went and saw? 

We went with another dad and his sons, and it is probably the only reason we went because my dad is not a sports guy. 
          Never has been. 
But from that first experience at Wrigley Field, I was hooked! 

When I was a kid, every gas station in suburban Chicago gave away White Sox tickets when you filled up your tank, and I went to a few Sox games, but it was the Cubs that stole my heart.

By the time I was a teenager, my friends and I had figured out ways to get to Wrigley Field on our own. 
·         All we had to do was manage to somehow get to the Skokie Swift station, and then we could then take that to the Howard Street El and then on to Addison and Sheffield. 
·         I spent many a summer afternoon sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field.  Glenn Beckert was my first hero --- to be replaced as a young adult with Ryan Sandburg. 
·         I even once got into a fender bender right in front of Ron Santo's house. 

Wednesday night, as the Cub's recorded the final out, tears streamed down my face. 
·         Tears, for all those missed opportunities.
·         Tears for the fear of goats, and black cats and Steve Bartman.
·         Tears, for Jeff Aten -- my compatriot who went with me to all those summer games and would wear the floppy hats and crazy glasses that they always seemed to be giving away --- Jeff died just a little over a year ago and I shed tears that he never got to see this.

As I shared in my email on Friday --- it seems somewhat profound that we celebrate the Cubs victory during this season of All Saints.

November 1 is the traditional date for All-Saints day, but most protestant churches have taken the first Sunday in November as the day that it is celebrated --- since we don't typically have daily services.

We don’t talk about saints much in Protestant Christianity.
We leave that to our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters.
They name their churches things like, “St. Mary’s, St. Patrick’s, St. Francis’,” while most of the time we choose names that tell you more about where we are located --- Like Meridian Street.

It is almost as if we have a certain suspicion about the saints.

It seems like we are afraid of making idols out of them, and so we acknowledge their place in ancient church history, but we leave them there.

Have you ever wondered --- just what is it that makes somebody a saint?

We, of course, have seen and watched the process as the Roman Catholic Church has moved to make both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul "saints".

According to Roman Catholic sources there are four steps to being declared a "Saint"

Before a person can be considered for sainthood, he/she must have been dead for at least 5 years.

First Step: When the subject arises that a person should be considered for Sainthood, a Bishop is placed in charge of the initial investigation of the person's life. If it is determined that the candidate is deemed worthy of further consideration, the Vatican names the candidate as a "Servant of God."

Second Step: The Church Official, who coordinates the process and serves as an advocate, must prove that the candidate lived a heroically virtuous life. When a candidate is approved, he/she earns the title of "Venerable."

Third Step: To be beatified and recognized as a "Blessed," one miracle acquired through the candidate’s intercession is required in addition to recognition of heroic virtue (or martyrdom).

Fourth Step: Canonization requires a second miracle after beatification.  Once this second miracle has been received through the candidate's intercession, the Pope declares the person a "Saint."

I am not sure that is what we mean, in the protestant church – or specifically in the United Methodist Church, when we talk about saints.

We don't have a system in the UMC that elects people to sainthood.
We don't pray to saints or believe that they are mediators for us to God.
We believe, as we are told in 1 Timothy 2:5-6
"... there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human who gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Timothy 2:5-6a). 

We call people "saints" because they exemplified the Christian life.

That is why we take the time every year, on All-Saints Sunday to read a long list of names of people who were saints to us. 

The “witnesses”, that the author of Hebrews talks about.

We pause and remember the ways that they touched our lives, the ways they made us better people.

Think about it ----
We gather here every week, because of the commitment and dedication of the Saints who have gone before us.
·         Our sisters and brothers who had a vision for making a kingdom difference in Indianapolis.

If you have never read Daniel Evans book: At Home in Indiana for One Hundred and Seventy-five Years, you need to pick it up and reflect on the saints that have made Meridian Street United Methodist possible.

But, I think it is a mistake to believe that only dead people are saints.

As I prepared for this morning, I read and listened to a number of sermons on All-Saints.  And they all ask a similar question --- who is going to one day remember us as Saints?

I think it is the wrong question.

As I understand the concept of being a saint --- in the United Methodist tradition one thing seems apparent.
          Sainthood isn't about the past --- it is about the present

As United Methodists we believe that every Christian can be considered a saint.

So while it is important for us to pause and reflect on the saints who have gone home to be with God --- today must also be a day in which we recommit ourselves to living a saintly life every day.

That doesn't mean we are going to be perfect --- it means that we are forgiven and have the opportunity not to let our failures define us, but to let our successes define us.

So the question becomes --- who sees the saintliness in your life?

Every day since arriving in Indianapolis I have had the opportunity to witness saints in action.
All you have to do is open your eyes and you see saints running all around Meridian Street Church

Yesterday, I witnessed two groups of saints.

One group met here at Meridian Street.  They were a part of IndyCAN (which stands for Indianapolis Congregation Action Network) of which Meridian Street is involved.  Seven members of Meridian Street were here hosting and reaching out to voters who had expressed interest in supporting the Transit Initiative encouraging them to get out the vote.

The second was a group of people, including two Meridian Street members, who decided to run a marathon pushing Robert, a retired United Methodist Pastor, who is battling Huntington's disease and help raise awareness and support for Joy's House.  Although, the truth be told, I think it was really to help Mr. Robert achieve a life-long dream of completing a marathon. 

Why do I call these people Saints --- because they were willing to give of themselves supporting others.

None of those callers will probably ever use the IndyGo Transit system, but they know the people who desperately need it are the under-served, and without changes to the system they will continue to be left behind.

The runners ran 26.2 miles not for their own glory --- but for Mr. Robert.

They were, using the phrase from the Roman Catholic Church, modeling a heroically virtuous life.

Look around you.

This room is filled with Saints.

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