worship

Sing A Song of the Saints of God
The Rev. Dr. Baron Mullis
November 2, 2014 - 1st Thessalonians 4:12-18


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Sing A Song of the Saints of God                                                                       
1st Thessalonians 4:12-18               

 

Rev. Dr. Baron Mullis
Morningside Presbyterian Church
November 2, 2014

 

Wasn’t it wonderful to see the children in worship today?  I think they knew that we wanted them in here with us.  It’s important for children to know that we want them here with us.  That’s why the staff decided, together with the elders in charge of children’s education, that we were going to reorder the way that we do children’s education so that they can come back during the offering and always be here for communion – it’s important that they know that we want them here with us. 

When we introduced this practice, back in August, I shared with you the wisdom that we’ve begun to hear from educational theorists in the church that it’s no wonder that young people leave church and never come back – we’ve been telling them to leave ever since they were little children.  We weren’t going to do it anymore here.

Children learn the lessons that they encounter in childhood perhaps the best they will ever learn.

Think of language.  I’m jealous of people who learned multiple languages as children… because they speak them so beautifully and every language I’ve ever learned was laborious and sounded like a mixture of English and bad accents.

I did some writing about giving a few years ago, and basically what I learned is that people give to churches for a multiplicity of reasons – there wasn’t any one reason why people gave to their church.  But there was one trend that emerged: that those who had been trained as children not to come to church empty handed, but always to bring something to offer – whether it was a dime tied in a handkerchief or a canned good for food drives on Communion Sundays – almost to a person, they found it easier to see spiritual meaning in their giving.

The lessons we learn as children stick. 

I still remember time that my pastor took to spend with me when I was a little boy and had questions – I can tell you verbatim two analogies he drew for me in the course of our conversation.  First, when I asked him why church mattered, he told me that the church is like a fire and the members are individual coals.  Taken away from the fire, the coal quickly went out.  But left in the fire, the coal would burn for a very long time.  The church, he said, was the fire that keeps us hot and burning. 

The second was when I asked why Jesus mattered.  He said to me, “Think of God like the ocean, but bigger.  Imagine trying to cram that ocean into a Coke bottle.  You couldn’t do it.  But if you filled the bottle with salt-water from the ocean, everything you saw in the coke bottle would be exactly like what you could expect from the ocean.”

Like any analogy, it will break down if you push it too far, but here’s the truth: I remember what he told me.  I remember that he took time to be with me and took my questions seriously.  I knew that he wanted me to be there. 

Children live lives just like we do, with joys and sorrows, and they learn just like we do, that in the living of life both joy and sorrow can be expected. 

Hasn’t that been true for you? 

I hope it has… I hope that if you’ve encountered sorrow that you life has contained joy as well. 

I hope that if you’ve experienced the sorrow of loss, you can remember that it was the joys you experienced with your loved one that made the sorrows acute.

I above I hope and I pray that the joys were more joyful and the sorrows were more bearable because you had the communion of the saints around you. 

The communion of the saints really is a simple concept – so simple that the children’s hymn we’ll sing after the sermon captures it in just a few words.  Written by a young mother to sing to her children, it recounts a list of professions and vocations, such as one was doctor and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green, and it concludes.

They lived not only in ages past,

There are hundreds of thousands still.

The world is bright with the joyous saints

Who love to do Jesus' will.

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,

In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;

For the saints of God are just folk like me,

And I mean to be one too.[1]

Simple words, shared so that her children would know the communion of the saints.

You know, saints aren’t, forgive the pun, sacrosanct.  Saints are just people living their faith.  You and me, flawed as we are, living in Christ.  That’s all sainthood is. 

You, after all, are the first theologian that some folks will know, simply by living your faith. 

If you speak of your faith, to your friends or colleagues or your children, you are interpreting God to them. 

And that means you might just have to do some theology on the fly. 

Many years ago, one of my then-parishioners told me a story of her experience of theology on the spot as she sought to teach her child about communion. Her child saw another child of the same age a few pews up take the bread off the tray and did the same – at which point her mother immediately realized that first communion was happening in front of her and she had to do something to teach her child what it means – and fast.  So she leaned over her daughter and quietly told her as she took the bread that she should pray to God and say something for which she was thankful.  The youngster did as told.  Later when the wine tray passed by, she took the grape juice out for her and told her again, to pray to God and this time to think of something she needed God’s help with in order to be better.  So she did as told, and communion proceeded.  Crisis managed.  Then, later that day, after a fit of generosity, the older child was overheard murmuring, ‘wow, that communion really worked!’”

Isn’t that just wonderful!  I loved that story so much that I told it in my communion homily that year.  A few years later, she came up and said, “Do you remember that communion story?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Well,” she said, “There’s a follow-up story to go with it.”

Her younger child, following the pattern of the first, seeing her friends taking communion, decided for herself that it was time to participate, and her mother, taking a lesson from the previous experience decided not to mess with a winning formula.  “As you eat the bread, pray to God about something you’re thankful for.”  Done.  And then with the cup – now pray a prayer to God about something you want God to help you do better.”

And this is where our story gets good, because the child – bless her – said the words

that made my heart leap when her mother told me: “No thanks, I’d better pass.”

She got  it!  Isn’t that great!?  She knew that this was important because she had seen it, and heard it, and yes, tasted it.  She knew that this was a calling into sainthood and she took it seriously.

You see this table is the place of meeting of the communion of the saints.  This table is the place where God’s saints of every age, in every age, are united.

Calvin tells us this table is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.  Here, we’re given just a foretaste of the heavenly party that is going on as we speak.  It’s just a little glimmer of the reality that Paul references when he writes, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died,” before he then concludes, “and so we will be with the Lord forever.”

The Presbyterian Church says that this table is open to all who have been baptized.

That’s fine, I suppose, but it’s not enough.  When the church adopted this stance, it was opening the table to even more people because it was, for the first time, opening the table to children, and who better can grasp the mysteries of God than children, whose minds are so open?

This table is for all of us as we seek to know God and to live in Christ.  This table is the place of joyful meeting, and it is also the place of joyful reunion, as we celebrate the communion of the saints we have lost and yet still love, and so I have come to believe that if this table is to reflect even a foretaste of the true heavenly feast in which God is surrounded by all that God has made and loved, then it is truly a table for all the saints. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen

 


1 I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.  Lesbia Scott

Last Published: November 13, 2014 1:24 AM