Today is the Sunday set aside as All Saints’ Day—a day to remember those who are no longer with us. Saints—not many of us would use that term to describe ourselves. We think in terms of halo and perfection or someone extraordinary. In Paul’s understanding the title “saint” belongs to those who have been united with Christ. He routinely calls the members of his churches “saints” because of who they are in Christ and not because of what they have accomplished. Our culture still tends to identify “saint” with someone who has done something extraordinary. The problem is this leads people to mix up Christianity with morality. So let’s be clear on this point. Our designation as saints comes from our connection to Jesus—who we are, not what we have accomplished. The scripture lesson is from the letter to the Ephesians.
11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
13-14 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.
15-19 That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!
20-23 All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.
In Christ we find out who we are and what we are living for—long before we even knew about Christ. Jesus reveals to us God—God who pursues us like the “hound of heaven.” Where can I go from your spirit? How can I hide from your eyes? God goes to the depths of the sea and the ends of the earth—always connected whether or not we know it.
Today we celebrate the lives of people who have ended their earthly journey. Our faith tells us that death is not the end, there is more to come—a completion, a wholeness, a healing we cannot even comprehend. When we listen to Paul’s letter, we hear his confession of his deep faith in this Jesus who points us to God—“oh, the utter extravagance of God’s work in us.” So on this day we give thanks “for all the saints who from their labors rest.”
November is the month we are reminded to give thanks. Sometimes I think, “Really—do we need someone to remind us to give thanks?” Then God nudges me and says “yes, you do.” God sends me other reminders. Yesterday many of my Facebook friends began posting 30 days of thanks. And over a year ago a friend gave me a book entitled “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. Finally this summer I got around to reading it. I expected this to be another one of the self-help “be grateful, pay attention, life isn’t so bad, simple abundance” books. You know the kind of book where the author seems like a “saint,” always grateful and never complains, her children are perfect, her house spotless, etc., etc.
“One Thousand Gifts” is about life—Ann Voskamp’s life and how she learned to live fully right where she was. Her memories of her life begin at 4, “when blood pooled and my sister died, and I snapped shut to grace.” Some of you know that place. How do you live fully right where you are when your soul is filled with holes? “And Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, gave it to them…” Jesus offers thanksgiving for even that which will break him and crush him and wound him. How could Jesus offer thanksgiving even as he faced the cross?
In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.” Eucharisteo envelopes the word “charis” which means grace. The root of charis is chara meaning joy. Ann’s conviction is deep joy is found only at the table of eucharisteo—the table of thanksgiving. How do we live fully right where we are, even when our hearts are breaking? Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—an attitude of gratitude.
An attitude of gratitude is not going to just happen. If we are dying of thirst, reading about water will not quench our thirst. We have to dip our hand into the water and bring it to the lips. Ann’s realization that she would have to do something led her to the list—writing a list of one thousand gifts that come to her through God’s gift of life. It’s not gifts she wants but gifts she already has.
1. Morning shadows across the old floors.
2. Jam piled high on toast
3. Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce
4. Mail in the mailbox
5. Still warm cookies
So the dare Ann took, I offer to us this November—a dare to live fully where we are. And a list of gifts we already have as we quench our thirst with joy that comes in giving thanks. Here’s my first few:
1. Sun streaming through stain glass
2. Laughter of children as they run into worship
3. Hugs and handshakes
4. Faces—your precious faces
Begin your list—be creative, be extravagant, be awake. Eucharisteo—give thanks and dare to live right where you are.