For all the Saints (not just some of them)

Our church kids got dressed up in their costumes and went out into the community. They weren’t “trick or treating” but rather doing a “trick or eat” activity. It’s something we do each year around this time to gather canned goods from our neighbors, bring them back to the church house, and then take them on to a food bank. Upon their return, the kids go upstairs for a party with hot chocolate and enough candy to put them on a sugar high right before the parents pick them up to go home.

Of course, this is the weekend of all the Halloween festivities. Our children are especially excited to out of school for the day (and Monday too) so a long weekend looks good. They will go out into our subdivision and enjoy the time together and see how the spoils of a candy outing turns out. I won’t go into the theology of Halloween or how some other Christians get freaked out about it, but suffice it to say our family focuses on the fun and seasonal components of the day.

There is another aspect of the holiday, one that our church makes mention of as well. We give thanks to Martin Luther for his courage on November 30, 1517 for nailing his 95 theses on the Castle door of the Wittenberg church. Nowadays that would be comparable to posting a Youtube video and its going viral, or sending out something on twitter which makes the top 10 trending topics. Baptists should recognize that without the Protestant Reformation, we wouldn’t have the key components of our faith: scripture alone, salvation by faith alone, by grace alone, and Christ alone.

I came across a great article by Molly Marshall entitled “We Believe in the Communion of the Saints.” She talked about the significance of this time of year from a liturgical perspective, and how important it was to remember those who have gone before us to their heavenly reward. We need to remember, she says, our connection with those not only on this side of death but also those “treasured in memory and hope.” I especially appreciated her using the prayer of Cyprian: “We must not weep for our brothers and sisters whom the call of the Lord has withdrawn from this world, since we know that they are not lost, but have gone on ahead of us; they have left us like travelers, navigators, in order to lead the way. . .

As a pastor of several congregations, I’ve been fortunate to have known some wonderful people who have blessed me immensely. Some of these have gone on to be with the Lord, and I’ve often used this passage and their funerals; “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116.15). These men and women have been an encouragement to the church family and have generally mellowed as they got older. They died “old and full of years.” They have been missed.

On this Sunday, however, I am also thinking of those who haven’t been the most positive persons. Several persons in the churches I’ve served have been bitter and downright mean, and have gone on to receive their reward. To be honest, I wasn’t too disappointed to see them go. I recall one older gentleman (probably should leave the ‘gentle’ off) who never smiled and seemed to have a permanent scowl on his face. He never had anything good to say and I generally tried to avoid being in his presence. One time in particular when he was being cantankerous, he told me “God put me here to be a thorn in your side.”  I’ve never seen scriptural evidence to support his approach, but can attest he caused me a lot of frustration. It was usually located farther down on the anatomical chart, however.

There was this other man who got upset when the church decided to change its name. The neighborhood around the church had changed and people no longer attended the church from the neighborhood. The church decided on changing its name from a directional title to more of a regional one. As the church discussed this change, there were those who opposed it on personal and sentimental grounds. However, this man said, “If you change the name, I’m leaving the church.” Well, that’s what happened. The church moved on, pretty much kept the same membership but with a different name on the sign in front of the building. But, this man never returned. This was especially sad to me, because he wife continued to come by herself and sit in her usual spot, but without him. As her health declined, she came on to worship but her bitter and stubborn husband did not come to help her.

i know these two stories aren’t necessarily unique to pastors, but it is worth mentioning that there are miserable people in church and they can make it their calling to bring misery to others around them.

Sometimes I wonder about how these people relate to the Lord. I know they were members of the church and as such the larger body of Christ. They weren’t especially pleasant to be around. However, I have learned through the years that it is possible to learn something from folks like this. I don’t think their attitudes were particularly helpful to the body of Christ though. These two men, and others like them, have gone on to their heavenly home even though things could have a lot different and better while they were walking the earth.

On this weekend I will be remembering these two men, along with many others, who helped me grow and deepen in my faith. They helped me develop patience and perseverance in the face of difficulty, and appreciate the life I have now and the one yet to come. We don’t always know the history or reason behind the behavior of those around, but we can ask the Lord to help us appreciate them for who they are and how they help us deepen in our own faith.

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