God With Skin On

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November 4, 2018. Pastor Stephanie’s sermon on this All Saints’ Sunday recalls the many kindnesses of others who have lifted us up by their words of encouragement and their actions of love, the saints of God with skin on.


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Once again today during our worship service, we will be repeating the words of the Apostles’ Creed together, as you see in your bulletin. If some here are not familiar with it, it helps to know that it is the most ecumenical of all Christian creeds, meaning it’s widely accepted among the various denominations as containing essential truths about the nature of God and elements of our faith. In the last paragraph there’s a phrase that I’m going to highlight today, since it’s All Saints’ Sunday.


That phrase, as you’re probably guessing if you’re scanning ahead in your memory, is the one that affirms belief in the “communion of saints.” Perhaps it’s been said so often that we don’t stop to think about it very much, regarding that particular phrase as we say it together. I will admit that growing up, I didn’t ever think that phrase had very much to do with me. I figured we were just referring to that special relationship that those bigger than life super Christian-types labeled as “saints” must have had with each other. My concept was that they were on some kind of higher spiritual plain — lower than Jesus but way, way higher than the rest of us — in some kind of spiritual hierarchy. That kept me from sensing that this phrase had anything to do with me, or people that I knew. Eventually though, I learned that the New Testament refers to the people who form the Christian community, the baptized and the called, as “saints” over 50 times. The idea still took some getting used to, because we’re not commonly used to calling each other saints in our everyday life, even within the church.


After all, the very word “saint” means holy one, and that’s hard for us to accept as a designation for ourselves, isn’t it? As is often the case though, the way we use the word “holy” in our daily conversations isn’t really what is meant in the New Testament language. Throughout the New Testament the word for saint, hagios, refers to Christians, whatever their personal sanctity or holiness might be as individuals, being called “holy” because they are made holy by the redeeming work of Christ on their behalf.


That changes the way we look at ourselves and others significantly. If we realize that we are made holy and that other people have been made holy too by Christ, then our relationships are more communion, or interacting, or a deep fellowship with one another, than they are mere friendships. If we are related to each other primarily through God who made us, that’s a closer relationship than even parent-child, siblings, or even marriage relationships. God is in the midst of our relationships, uniting and bonding us together.


The vision in the Book of Revelation helps here. It says, “The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” Here it might be helpful to imagine a triangle, with God at the apex and then the two angles on the bottom — one consisting of you and me, of ourselves individually, and the other angle perhaps of all the people who have gone before us, who are living today, those who have yet to be born. And so there’s a kind of a dance going on in which we are all connected, communing with one another simply because God is communicating with us and has chosen to be in the midst of us.


The communion of saints then, is a joyful, hopeful dance where the influence we’ve had from being in the dance with God rubs off on one another, and their influence certainly rubs off on us. As father Henri Nouwen once wrote, the ground between us then is sacred ground, because the Christ in me recognizes the Christ in you. Or, as Martin Luther taught, we are all little Christs interacting with each other. Now, God has come near to us in many forms, and we long to have communion with God in a high touch, deeply communing kind of way. Many times God chooses to let us know of his presence through his people, the saints.


Perhaps you’ve heard the story of a little boy who was frightened one night during a big thunderstorm. Terrified, he cried out from his room, “Daddy, I’m scared!” His father, not really wanting to get out of bed, called back, “Don’t worry, son. God is with you and will take care of you.” There was a moment of silence. Then the little boy said, “I know God loves me, but I want someone with skin on.”


God with skin on. God demonstrates coming down from on high and dwelling with us mortals by enfleshing his love, and wrapping it up in surprising packages of people like you and I, made in God’s image. Taking imperfect human vessels who are made capable of holding the treasure of God’s love and grace, God’s love is spread far and wide. As we experience something of God and other people, the enfleshment of God is among us. God with skin on through the saints, who have gone before. Whose stories we continue to remember and celebrate, and those who live among us. We celebrate All Saints’ Day because people recognized long ago: it’s a good thing to honor those whose lives have witnessed to the grace of God, and have positively impacted our own faith. Heaven knows we have enough sad stories circulating of people who have hurt or marginalized us or others. I hope we’ll use this day, this All Saints’ Sunday, to recall the many kindnesses of others who have lifted us up by their words of encouragement, and their actions of love, the saints of God with skin on affecting us and others.


It is the “count your many blessings” month anyway, since we will soon be celebrating Thanksgiving. I can only imagine how much more meaningful this entire month could be for all of us, if we would take stock of the people that God has used to bless us in our lifetimes. Even if you’re out there and you’re 5 years old or 12 years old or only 14, and you think you don’t have a lot of life to draw on yet, you still have a lot of people on your list, once you start thinking of all the people who have made your life good and comfortable and joyful. There are people who’ve inspired each one of us to be more loving and kind. There are people who have comforted us when we have felt vulnerable and afraid, who have listened to us and communicated our value as a human being, who challenge us to use our talents and our gifts, who walk with us as companions. The list could go on and on, but you get the drift. Saints lift us to higher levels of living than we could have ever achieved by ourselves, because there is something within them that is inspired by God, who is perfect love.


I asked for examples of saints who have influenced us, and received this lovely one from Susan, which I share with her permission. “My parents are my examples of saints. He was a physician and felt such awe for God the creator. She had a deep love for Jesus, and started telling me about him at such a young age that I can’t remember a time when I did not think of him as my friend and my savior.” Saints indeed.


As I shared with the children a few minutes ago, my maternal grandmother Jenny was a saint in my life. She endured many hardships and losses over her 91 years, yet she exuded the peace and joy of Christ as she taught me to pray and to trust God. She was the grandmother who had the well-worn Bible next to her favorite chair, and she read to me from it often. As I’ve been asked in various settings, whether on retreat or in some occasion, who had the most influence on my life of faith as a child, it is without a doubt my grandmother Jenny, whose faith in Christ was compelling and winsome. I suspect Susan and I would both say that her parents and my grandmother were God’s love, wrapped with skin on them, for us. Saints, people made holy by God’s presence within them. Someday friends, we will all gather as the vision of Saint John in the Book of Revelation shares with us, with all the saints of God around God’s throne.


For the glory of God will be overwhelmingly beautiful, too hard to describe or to really comprehend. There it says God himself will wipe away every one of the tears in our eyes. There will be no more death. There will be no mourning or grieving, no more crying and no more pain. It will be no more. All these things will pass away into a new reality when God makes all things new. In the meantime, we can thank God for the saints living among us who ease our pain and sorrow, who increase our joy in living, who help us to sense God’s nearness and care, even as we remember those who have gone before who have done the same. In a few minutes, we’ll be acknowledging the saints who have gone before us in this past year, and of course that brings to mind other saints who have died in previous years. As we remember them, let us continue to give thanks to God for the ways these dear people have influenced our own faith and the faith of others.


Those of us who were able to attend the excellent presentations at “Views and Brews” on Friday night saw a chart that shows how steadily, over the last several years, news sources we are exposed to are moving more and more to granting coverage of tragic and disappointing storylines. Don’t you often say with your friends as I do, that we just don’t hear enough feature stories anymore of people doing heroic or even quietly significant things for the common good? Well, sharing stories of people exhibiting self-giving love, and going out of their way to be of service to others, can remind us all of the activity of saints among us.


By God’s grace, we too are the saints who helped to carry the burdens of others by exemplifying the love of God within us. We are in communion with God and with others to allow the light to shine through us, to bring hope and healing and encouragement to others. So saints, let’s look for ways to be God’s agents of love with skin on for one another, and let’s continue to celebrate the ways God has shown us his love through the saints who have gone before us. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.


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2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot