Texts: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16
A friend who is struggling with his faith, recently said to me, “How do you do it? How do you keep reading these same scriptures over and over and make any sense of them much less write sermons about them?” He referenced the recent lectionary text from Matthew 12—the story about the man who was condemned for not wearing the right clothes to a wedding banquet. “Really?” my friend said with an exhausted skepticism in his voice. I didn’t respond. The question really didn’t call for an answer. It was more rhetorical than anything else. While I didn’t respond verbally, I felt his struggle—his exhaustion, his skepticism, his doubt, his longing for something that held meaning for him and his spiritual journey. His questioning lingered in my mind all week. It brought to mind another conversation I had with some friends a few years ago.
When I became pastor of this church a couple of local pastors took me to lunch to offer their support and pass on their wisdom (or at least that is what they said they were doing). I don’t remember much of the wisdom that was passed along that day, but do I remember one thing that was said. One of the men, who has been at his church for over twenty years, looked at me and said, “Some Saturday nights I read the lectionary texts and then I just sit for hours and stare at the blank computer screen. Some weeks I just can’t figure out how to make sense of any of it.” His statement didn’t offer much wisdom but it sure felt honest. Much like my friend’s struggle to find something to hold onto that would feel real and meaningful.
The ancient biblical texts can, at times, leave us longing for something more—something more accessible, something that takes into account the specific struggles of our times, something that you don’t have to work so hard to understand. If we are honest, we have to admit that the biblical wisdom often eludes us. The names and places are unfamiliar. The cultural practices and political landscapes are foreign. We struggle to know if we truly have gotten the point of the parables—those teachings of Jesus. We wander in and out of moments when we think we get what a specific text means, like, “you must lose your life in order to save it or find it,” until we really think about it; and then we are not sure if we do get it or if we even want to get it.
My friend’s struggle to find meaning in the text reminded me of a theological concept that I first heard of in seminary: continuing revelation. I would come to learn that first year in seminary that continuing revelation is the theological belief or position that God continues, still today, to reveal divine principles to humanity—that the biblical text is not the last word. This theological concept of continuing revelation affirms that God is still at work in the world, speaking through humanity and all of creation to reveal God’s truth and justice. I can still remember how excited I got when I learned not only of this concept, but also of John Wesley’s notion that we come to know God through scripture, tradition, reason, AND experience. Knowing God through my experience? Can you begin to imagine how liberating and transforming it was when this naïve, sheltered, not to mention gay, Southern Baptist, realized that my experience counted for something? It wasn’t just about what the Bible said, or what some preacher or theologian said. My spiritual life wasn’t confined to what church tradition taught or what seemed logical or rational to the world. It is still one of the most profound and confounding truths of my faith—that God is still revealing God’s truth and love and justice through people like you and me. That is why today, on this All Saints/All Souls Day, I want to depart from the biblical text and share with you the wisdom of the saints whom I have known—people whose lives have continued God’s revelation in the world. With each wisdom I see a face. And yet, the wisdom of each individual saint represents a collective wisdom of all the saints I have known. As I name each wisdom that the saints in my life passed on to me, I invite you to think about the saint in your life that shared a similar wisdom with you.
Wisdom – The greatest contribution I can make to the world is to be myself.
Wisdom – God’s grace is sufficient and there is nothing that can separate you from God’s love.
Wisdom – My mistakes don’t define me. My humanity is a gift from God.
Wisdom – Love is more powerful than hate, and forgiving myself is as important as forgiving others.
Wisdom – What matters in this life is how you treat others.
Wisdom – The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are a better people when we work together than when we try to go at life all alone.
Wisdom – For most of life there is no right or wrong answer. One must simply follow their conscience and do what is in their heart.
Maybe it was your mother or father’s face you saw. Maybe it was a grandparent or aunt or uncle. Maybe it was a mentor or a friend; a spouse or even your child. Whoever’s face you saw, give thanks for that person. Give thanks that they opened their life and heart to God’s continuing revelation. God’s love and truth and justice continues to be revealed through people like you and me. May we be open to the wisdom of the saints in our lives and to God who continues to be revealed.
Sometimes the ancient words of the Bible, as sacred as they are, can fall flat on our ears. In those times, what we need most is real, live human beings to sit with us, to listen to our hurts and struggles, and to remind us that we are not alone. We need somebody’s hand that we can actually touch and hold. We need to literally feel someone’s arms wrapped around us. We need a human face to look into to see that God’s love and grace are real. That is what saints do for us. In their living and dying, the saints show us God and they remind us that God is real in the world. I have come to learn that the wisdom of the saints is not so much in what they say—their words of wisdom—as it is what they do—their acts of wisdom. As you remember and honor your saints today, remember also that you, too, are a saint to someone.