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11/1/2009 - Alexander "Sandy" Webb, Seminarian - All Saint's Day

posted May 21, 2010, 6:44 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:44 PM by Terry Brady ]
In the Name of the One, Holy, and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

This weekend contains two important feasts of our church calendar; two important dates in our common life. Today is the Feast of All Saints, but yesterday was the parish Rummage Sale.

The Rummage Sale is a venerable tradition at St. Margaret’s, stretching back well over fifty years. Thousands of hours are invested in the sale every year, and thousands of people have participated over the years. Names like Bea Aitchison and Mabel Cook may have slipped from common memory, but in the sixties and seventies, they were the characters that defined the Sale. As today’s rummagers, we stand on their shoulders. We carry on their legacy. We build on their foundation.

You can get almost anything you could want at the Rummage Sale. Where else can five dollars buy you a stuffed snake, a floppy hat, and a pair of hockey mitts to complete your ensemble?

Indeed, you can get almost anything you could want at the Rummage Sale, and you can see almost anyone. We help single parents refresh their children’s wardrobe. We help Dupont Circle socialites assemble the perfect Halloween costume. And, we even help seminarians spice up their Sunday sermons.

Like our merchandise, our customers come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. They come with different interests, needs, and objectives. Yet, imagination unites them all.

Imagination is critical. Rummagers imagine that this traditional building is something of a Moroccan souq, a bustling marketplace filled to the brim with goods of every conceivable variety. Rummagers then imagine new possibilities for the vast array of pre-owned items on display.

In short, rummagers look at what is and imagine what will be.

Today’s lesson from the Book of Revelation is all about imagining what will be. In Revelation, God speaks to a man traditionally known as St. John the Divine, and tells him about the end of time. God says that before the end of time, there will be a period of great tribulation, involving battles in both heaven and earth. However, in the end, God and the saints will emerge victorious.

Our lesson for today is the climax of the Revelation story. After twenty chapters of warfare and violence, St. John the Divine sees a new heaven and a new earth emerging. His entire reality passes away, and the holy city, God’s own city, the New Jerusalem, descends from the sky. Everything is made new, and the voice of God rings out with some of the most comforting and poetic words in the whole corpus of Holy Scripture:

See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more...

Jerusalem becomes God’s sermon illustration because Jerusalem has been besieged with inescapable violence since the days of King David. In Revelation, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, God cries unto Jerusalem: Your warfare has ended, and the glory of the Lord will be revealed. Everything is being made new. Everything will be peace.

Can you imagine? Can you imagine dwelling personally with God, alongside the saints in every generation, as citizens of a Jerusalem in which there is no heartache, no death, no pain? Can you imagine?

For many of us, this New Jerusalem of which God speaks is simply unimaginable. We can imagine that a sanctuary is a marketplace. We can imagine new uses for old stuff. But, we cannot conceive of the fellowship, unity, and faith of which God speaks.

Yet, I wonder why it is so easy for us to imagine what we will do with our rummage, and so hard to imagine what God will do with our world. Why is it entirely possible to believe that we can make a Halloween costume out of junk, but entirely impossible to believe that God can restore creation?

For me, the difference has everything to do with faith. When I imagine the possibilities for my rummage, I do so with full reliance on my strengths and abilities. When I imagine the possibilities for creation, I must rely on God’s strengths and abilities. When it comes to rummage, I limit myself to imagining that which I know I can make happen. When I imagine the New Jerusalem, I have to trust that God can make it happen.

Having faith in myself is a lot easier than having faith in God. Yet, when I start looking at the things I have done, I often begin to realize that I owe a debt of gratitude to many, many others. You see, in the Church, we never start from nothing. We are always carrying on the work of the saints who went before us. We start where our predecessors stopped and push forward one more step.

Today, we carry a torch once carried by Bea Aitchison and Mabel Cook. And, some day someone will carry it for us. Some day, our names will be added to the All Saints’ Day list, our work on earth will be complete, but the work of this parish, the work of the Church universal, will continue unabated.

The Rummage Sale, like the Church itself, belongs just as much to our predecessors and our successors as it does to us, and this is the spirit of All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ is our day to celebrate our goodly heritage and to imagine the day when all of God’s saints from every generation will be eternally reunited with God and with each other in that heavenly city; that New Jerusalem, in which there is no pain, no tears, no death.

When I have trouble imagining the New Jerusalem, I start looking for glimpses of it in the world around me. I almost always feel its presence at funerals, at weddings, and at baptisms. I see the New Jerusalem at the Rummage Sale, at Charlie’s Place, and in Sunday services. When the Church is gathered in faith and celebration, it becomes so much easier to imagine that day when all of God’s saints will be gathered together, when we will all sing God’s praises in perfect harmony, when we will love each other as God first loved us.

All Saints’ is our day to imagine. All Saints’ is our day to remember that God speaks with no doubt, no hesitation, no conditionality. The New Jerusalem is real, and we need only believe. We need only imagine.

Amen.

1 The preacher is grateful to Katharine Pagan and Maude Katzenbach for providing these names and memories.
2 For further information on Revelation, consult the following volume, which is widely considered to be accessible and authoritative: Craig R. Koester. Revelation and the End of All Things. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 2001.
3 Paraphrase: Isaiah 40:2, Isaiah 40:5
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