Saints Be Praised Rev Dr Durrell Watkins All Saints/All Souls Sunday 2015 Today is All Saints Day and tomorrow is All Souls Day, and we are celebrating them together today. My message today comes in three parts. First, I want to share some observations of the Revelation text. Revelation is often presented as a futuristic […]
Saints Be Praised
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
All Saints/All Souls Sunday 2015
Today is All Saints Day and tomorrow is All Souls Day, and we are celebrating them together today.
My message today comes in three parts. First, I want to share some observations of the Revelation text. Revelation is often presented as a futuristic Sci-Fi horror narrative meant to whip the faithful into a frenzy and frighten the non-religious into conversion. That presentation of Revelation is as unfaithful to the text itself as it is superstitious.
Revelation isn’t about getting to a country club paradise when we die, nor does it have anything to do with the mostly unbiblical notion of a gravity defying rapture where the elect are said to escape the world’s troubles, leaving the rest behind to suffer unimaginably. For those of us who care about our neighbors, such a narrative could hardly be described as good news.
No, Revelation is a cry against oppression, a creative way of challenging the late first century Roman empire and offering hope to marginalized and oppressed communities.
What I want to feature from this morning’s reading from Revelation is this: The writer says, “See, God’s home is among mortals.” Not in the sky, not far away, not in the future, but with us here and now, in good times and in bad times, when things are easy and when things are difficult, when we think we’ve figured it all out and when we don’t have a clue…God is with us, always.
Revelation is about this life, this world, hope for people who live this life. Hear again these words from the reading, “See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them as their God; they will be God’s peoples, and God will be with them to wipe every tear from their eyes.”
The promise of Revelation is that we can experience peace, hope, comfort, and resilience in this life, here and now. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some experience beyond this life, but it does offer the hope that this experience of life can be filled with hope, joy, meaning, and opportunity, even when things haven’t gone well. Never give up hope, the writer is saying, because God isn’t far removed; God is with us always and so hope is with us always. There’s not a spot where God is not.
The New Testament reading for All Saints Day isn’t about a pie in the sky afterlife; it’s about a here and now experience of indomitable hope. The saints before us had such hope, and we can too.
Now, just because Revelation is offering here and now hope for here and now challenges doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hope for peace and joy beyond this life as well. So, the second installment of my message is to share the thoughts of some very wise people. These thoughts will help us know that it is in God that we live and move and have our being, and that is true in this experience of life and in whatever experience lies beyond. There’s not a spot where God is not; we cannot be separated from the Love that God is. We can’t be separate from God in this world or in any other.
My message isn’t that there is hope for those who belong to one church or another, or who believe this or that dogma. My message is that we are ALL forever part of God, we will never be separate from God, and we and our loved ones are forever safe in the heart of God. We don’t have to earn our place in God’s heart, nor can we ever lose it. Hear what these great thinkers have said:
Mark Twain said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
Spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra says, “Your real identity is beyond anything in space-time; there is no birth and there is no death…You are the universe in this little impermanent life-form.”
His contemporary, Iyanla Vanzant says, “When we die we just keep going, it just looks different.”
A Course in Miracles teaches, “There is no death because what God created shares [God’s] Life. There is no death because an opposite to God does not exist.”
The great epic poem, the Bhagavad Gita tells us, “As one leaves an old garment and puts on one that is new, the Spirit leaves the mortal body and wanders on to one that is new.”
Emily Dickinson said, “Unable are the loved to die…for love is immortality.”
The great prophet John Lennon said, “I’m not afraid of death because I don’t believe in it. It’s just getting out of one car and into another.”
Norman Vincent Peale said, “Eternity does not start with death. We are eternal now.”
The Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes, because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.”
Rabindranath Tagore, who in 1913 became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, said, “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”
Scientist, mystic, and son of a Lutheran bishop Emmanuel Swedenborg taught, “There is a dominant love that remains with each of us after death…”
Marianne Williamson says, “Death is not death but a recycling of energy…The spirit doesn’t die, but rather enters new channels of life…our relationships are not severed at death, but refocused beyond physical connection.”
And Paramahansa Yogananda, who brought Kriya philosophy to the West, said, “Our real self, the soul, is immortal…we can never be destroyed. We exist, and that existence is eternal. The wave comes to the shore, and then goes back to the sea; it is not lost. It becomes one with the ocean…Nothing can terminate the eternal consciousness.”
We don’t have to be afraid of the afterlife, and we don’t have to worry that our departed loved ones are in anyway unsafe. Our loving hearts, our experience of grace, and all the best evidence we can gather all assure us that we are forever part of, embraced by, and safe in the all-inclusive, unconditional, everlasting Love that we call God.
For the final installment of my message today, I want to offer a litany of the saints. That is, I want to invoke the memories, the nobility, the character, the beauty of sacred souls, some who live among us now, and some who have transitioned beyond this experience of life to whatever glorious possibilities are next.
The living saints I call to mind include MCC founder Troy Perry, transgender actor and activist Laverne Cox, gay comedic actor and activist Leslie Jordan, the Hindu “hugging saint” of India called Amma, preacher of progressive Christianity John Shelby Spong, self-help guru Louise Hay, and lesbian feminist theologian Carter Heyward (one of the first 11 women ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church).
The departed who come to mind for me today include Divine Science founder Malinda Cramer who articulated the theology of Omnipresence that changed my spirituality and influences my life and ministry to this day, gay hero and icon Harvey Milk, civil rights freedom fighter and peace activist Martin Luther King, Jr., Universal Foundation for Better Living founder Johnnie Colemon whose affirmation we often use – “I am the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing”; I call to mind lesbian Jane Addams who was the co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and the first American woman to win the Nobel peace prize, bible scholar Marcus Borg who spent his life trying to redeem the scriptures for those who had been hurt by fundamentalism, and Masahisa Goi whose response to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan was to pray for peace… his peace prayer is part of our liturgy every week, “May peace prevail on earth.”
Saints are role models.
Saints demonstrate goodness somehow, and by their example bring out goodness in others.
Saints are generous and unselfish.
Saints have a special gift which they share with the world.
Saints are those who have tapped into the Sacred Well of Life that is within us all, and shared its refreshing libation of grace with the world.
May all the saints we’ve encountered in our lives continue to inspire us, and like them, may we allow the light of God within us to shine brightly into the world. We can embrace our own saintly qualities, and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
I behold the holiness in others.
I behold the holiness within myself as well.
I am blessed to be a blessing to the world.
And so it is.