All Saints Day 2017

All Saints’ Day Sermon – 2017
Revelation 7:9-17
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

We are celebrating All Saints’ Day today since we did not have a Eucharist on Wednesday.  This is a day that we look back at all of the wonderful Christians who have gone on before us.
Do we have any Saints among us?  Raise your hand if you are a saint. Now raise your hand if you have been baptized.
The term saint is used in the New Testament section of the Bible and is the word hagios meaning: sacred , pure or blameless.  St. Paul writing to the Church at Philippi addresses them as "the saints at Philippi" or to "the saints at Epehsus.”  The Bible uses of the term Saint to mean someone who has committed his life to follow Jesus Christ.
As one Commentator put it: "They became saints by means of the Holy Spirit, which can only come from God. Everyone become a saint of God through baptism.  Being a saint has nothing to do with our goodness - rather it has all to do with Jesus’ mercy.
But what does following Christ entail?  A man named Blondin was a famous tightrope walker in the 19th Century.  In 1859 he walked on a tightrope across the Niagara Falls and then proceeded to walk with a wheelbarrow across the Falls.  When he reached the other side, the crowds cheered. He went up to the crowds and asked them:
"Do you believe that I can walk across the falls on the tightrope without falling off?"  "Yes" many replied: "Then get into my barrow and I’ll take you across."  "You must be joking, "was the reply.  To follow Jesus means getting into Jesus’ wheelbarrow.  It requires trust and faith.  But being saints - those set apart for God - has awesome responsibilities too.
We must take Jesus’ teachings very seriously.
One of the most famous teachings on the quality of Christian life can be found in our Gospel reading today - known as the Beatitudes. 
These are the nine found in Matthew’s gospel:
Jesus said: Blessed are
1. The poor in Spirit
2. Those who Mourn
3. The Meek
4. Those who Hunger and Thirst for righteousness
5. Those who are Merciful
6. The Pure in heart
7. The Peacemakers
8. Those who are Persecuted for righteousness sake AND
9. Those who are insulted because of Christ. 
The Beatitudes reflect the very CHARACTER OF GOD HIMSELF.
Can you see Jesus in these nine Attitudes? Perhaps we can let the Beattidues BE OUR ATTITUDES also.
One day Jesus was asked by a Phariseee what must the man do to inherit eternal life.
Jesus told the man that inheriting eternal life had nothing to do with DOING things for God but rather it had ALL to do with the man’s LIFE ATTITUDE: He told him to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and Love your neighbor as yourself. 
I want to thank Nancy Shaw, Bryan Skinner, Grant Bush and Cindy Robertson for attending our 38th Annual Diocesan Convention.  The highlight of the convention is the Bishop’s address which he gives on the last day.  It reveals the vision he has for us and encourages us to step out on faith.  We talked about being a missional church and it is perfect to go with our readings today.  
We talked about Millennials and Gen Xers.  Here are some of the things he said to allow us to be the church in the world.  He said that Millennials are abandoning the church to find God in the world.  One young man at our table said that GenXers are doing corporal works of mercy.  They are rescuing people from the storm waters, giving supplies to the shelters that opened, working with feeding the hungry through a variety of ways, building houses or ripping out sheetrock after the storm waters receded, volunteering at the AIDS clinic and the food bank.  
The Bishop said that statistics show that people today, contrary to popular opinion, are as spiritually hungry as ever.  That means that we are in the God business, even though the pews are not as full.  People are finding God somewhere else and for us to be the church today we must go outside our walls to engage in ministry.
That makes some of us anxious and because of this there is blaming going on and making excuses. You might hear such statements as these when discussing attendance, the budget and the lack of volunteers:  “Parents don’t bring their children to church regularly.”  “It is because we are downtown and not close to where most people live.” It is because of this or that…Etc..Etc..
The Bishop wants us to be a missional church.  If our pews do not reflect our neighborhoods we need to take a closer look.  In our diocese there is much good news.  There are 2 new Cantebury ministries on college campuses with chaplains and  a new Hispanic mission has been formed. Two parishes have decided to become missions to give them the opportunity to re-invent themselves. There is a new Central Louisiana Addiction and Recovery ministry. There are a couple of churches working with the state to help transition foster children who age-out of the system at 18 get established with a job and a way to have a support system to help and encourage them. 
This is the story Bishop Jake told to give us courage and a challenge.  It is a baseball story.  When the count is 3 balls and 2 strikes you know the pitcher is going to throw a strike.  It is better to take a swing at it than just stand there as the pitch flies by.  Many of our churches in the diocese are at that 3 – 2 place.  It could go either way.  Right now if you take a swing and miss you are becoming a better batter, that’s all.  You will never get to first base if you don’t take a cut at the ball.
We all sat at assigned tables and not together from one church.  Two different times during the convention we were given questions to answer.  The last question of the convention was to discuss the two or three most important challenges facing our congregations.  Then we had to answer how we as congregations should change to respond to these.
Here were some of my table responses:
 At Holy Cross there are many homeless nearby.  They have the money to help but not the hands to help do anything.
At St Paul’s in downtown Abbeville, their Sunday attendance is 15 and the members are those who feel elite.  If one of the matriarchs dies who gives much to the church - how will they survive, much less thrive?  They do much in the community with the few they have.
At St. Thomas in Monroe, there is a core group of 7 people.  They have an organist only once a month and a very elderly person plays the piano the other Sundays.
One priest at our table serves both the church at Chaneyville and LeCompte.  He has small congregations with 15 to 20 in attendance at both but one church has to have their service at 7:30 am so he can get to the other church for the 9:00 service.  
Here were some of the observations and ways to respond to meet the challenges:
 The millennials are more tuned in to active service – making a tangible difference they can see.  Go find them.
Try to team up with either collegiate groups, other Episcopal churches in our convocations or people in other churches of different denominations for projects.
There is too much in-reach instead of how we can serve the Lord.
Relationships are too tight for others to come in and penetrate.
When we contact someone and they don’t respond that first time, we give up and just say, “We tried.”  We should keep on trying and not give up.
When going out to do anything, take someone with you.  Invite people to go and do ministry or your projects.  Mentor our younger members so they will be able to take over when it is time.
Perhaps by agreeing on what a church does well, focus on fewer things instead of spreading everyone too thin.
Find out what people are passionate about and the time, talent and treasure will follow.
 
Jesus called his disciples to seek to put the Beatitudes into effect in our lives.  It doesn’t mean that we earn our salvation in this way.  Rather it is our response to Jesus’ gift of eternal life.  We change because we have been redeemed.  This is spiritual formation.  That starts at a very young age and continues throughout our life.  Therefore we should want to change our behavior to live in accordance with God’s will - because we love him. 
Our bishop invites us to try new things and just GO FOR IT!  The only way to fail is not to try.  This week each of us must step up to the plate and give it our all.  AMEN.