All Saints Sunday
Text: Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-15, 39- 12: 2

Walter Brueggemann has a beautiful way of speaking about saints.
He lays out 3 descriptors:
1. In a church window where the sun shown through, a little girl said,
“oh yes, saints are the ones through whom the light comes upon us.”
2. Saints are people who know the primal language of “the other” -- who are kind and generous toward others, and who respect people who are not like us. Many of us fear the other, but saints know that the other may be where God meets us.
3. Saints are those who do not run and hide when they smell death. … they stay present in love and mercy where there is dying, illness and violence. [1]

With that description, I’m guessing that for each of us, a whole number of people come to mind -- those people through whom the light shines upon us; those people who value and respect the other; those people who don’t run in the face of the threat of death. Today’s celebration of All Saints is meant to open the way for remembering those people in particular.

People like Frances Jepson -- Frances who died on October 1st, just shy of her 90th birthday. Many of us still expect to see her come walking through that door on Sunday morning … early like she did, to be here in time to greet most of the rest of us.
Frances was at home here … Frances poured a good deal of her time and life energy into this place.
For years she taught Sunday School; for years she was Treasurer; for years she was one of the Trustees;
for years she was part of the United Church Women’s group;
for years she stayed after the service to count the offering and make the bank deposit;
for years she helped out mid-week in the office -- offering to do whatever might be helpful that day;
for years Frances worked in the Thrift Shop. In fact, as one of
the founders of the Thrift Shop, I believe she put forward funds
at the outset to secure the purchase of that building.
For years, like 20, Frances volunteered at the James Bay Lodge.
For years she was part of the team serving meals to seniors at the James Bay Community Centre.
It seems it was just her way to show up and give herself.
It was for all this giving --decades of commitment-- that at some point in the last 10 years Frances was nominated for the University of Victoria’s Center on Aging VERA award --Valued Elder Recognition Award.

Frances was an avid gardener … she grew a lot of food … spent a lot of time digging in the earth … knew just the right timing for planting … was aware in recent years of the changes in temperature and rainfall. Never one to see anything go to waste, I remember Frances bringing home the Christmas Poinsettias to empty that precious soil into her garden. There wasn’t much in Frances’ world that wasn’t valuable.

When it came to people, there wasn’t anyone too high or too low for Frances to engage in conversation. She knew a wealth of people by name. As folk would come into the Thrift Shop she blew other volunteers away with the number of people she knew and would welcome. This neighbourhood is full of people who have been on the receiving end of Frances’ kindness.

Up until about 5 years ago, you’d see Frances going everywhere on her bike. That’s how she got around … rain or shine … that bike was a part of Frances … that’s the picture many people in this neighbourhood have of her. Just the other night at our Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner event, I think it was Phyllis who was sharing the story of Frances, when one night when the power went out, it was Frances who headed out on her bike for home in the storm, to gather up a supply of candles to bring back to give light.

Frances, a light bearer. You could see the light in her being every time she talked about her beautiful little great-grand child. It was that same light I saw in her that day when she was in hospital, in the course of undergoing radiation treatment … not sure what the prognosis was. But there she sat in her bedside chair, and out came these words: “well, I’ve never done this before,” like she was trustingly open to whatever was coming her way.

Without a special day set aside for Frances’ memorial service, this morning in our All Saints celebration, we remember and give thanks for this kind, generous, somewhat eccentric woman who, we trust by God’s grace, is alive and well in God’s unending love.

What Johan read to us from the Letter to the Hebrews -- well we didn’t hear the half of it!! It goes on and on and on and on itemizing all these people who lived by faith … faith as that willingness to trust our lives and our future to God, even when by all appearances, God seems no longer part of the action. The text talks about their suffering and faithfulness, their toughness and resilience, and then at the end, there are just 2 quick verses to finish the long chapter:
"Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God has provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”

I love it, the way Walter Brueggemann puts it: “I believe, he says, "the entire chapter was written in order to get to these two verses.”
You see, it’s not just all about these giants in faith. Suddenly WE are brought into the picture alongside them. All these ancestors who lived by faith did well, and yet they did not receive the full promise …the Kingdom of God did not come in their lifetime. There is much of God’s dream that remains unfinished, unsettled. While they are commended for their faith, the text says they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

In other words what we do with our lives matters to them. What we do with our lives has real bearing on the completion, on the fulfillment, of theirs, for there is this unavoidable continuity with all who have gone before us. In a sense, what they finally accomplish depends on our daring faith.

You can see it, can’t you?
Without our resistance to the proliferation of nuclear arms, what does all the work of Daniel Berrigan -- his tireless commitment, his imprisonment, what does it amount to? Without our continuing commitment, his work loses ground.
Without our commitment to addressing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the resilience of people like Elijah Harper -- what will it have gained?
It’s one thing for us to applaud the lives of the saints, but unless we continue to build on what they have begun, unless we allow their trust and their courage, their perseverance and passion to reach inside us, their work for justice, for peace, for equality, for dignity is undermined, and ours is a less beautiful, less grace-filled world.

And so today, not only do we remember and give thanks for these people through whom the light of God shines, these people who value and respect others, these people who don’t run in the face of the threat of death but stay present with love and mercy -- not only do we remember them, but standing alongside them we ask so what about us? What are the descriptors, the marks, and the commitments of our lives?

Not only do we remember them, but standing alongside them we cry out for that same enlivening, outrageously faithful presence of God whose power working within us can do infinitely more than we could ever think to ask or imagine.
So when might we do that? If not now, when? If not here, where?  And how might we do that?  Right here and now, by singing our prayer [2]…

God of Abraham lead us, lead us to your kingdom,
Into fruitfulness lead us, lead us together, lead us to freedom.

God of Sarah be with us, lead us to your kingdom.
Through our laughter and labor, lead us together, lead us to freedom.

God of Moses and Aaron, lead us to your kingdom.
Out of slavery, lead us, lead us together, lead us to freedom.

God of Miriam, lead us, lead us to your kingdom.
Into songs of hope lead us, lead us together, lead us to freedom.

God of Naomi, lead us, lead us to your kingdom.
Into love and care, lead us, lead us together, lead us to freedom.

God of Israel, lead us, lead us to your kingdom.
To the promised land, lead us, lead us together, lead us to freedom.

God of Samuel, lead us, lead us to your kingdom.
Into listening, lead us, lead us together, lead us to freedom.

God of Mary be with us, lead us to your kingdom.
Into trusting you lead us, lead us together, lead us to freedom.

(Remaining verses as above)
God of Jesus Christ / Into your new creation
Guiding light for our journey / Out of shadows and darkness
By the waters of healing / Into life everlasting
Through the word that is spoken / Through the bread that is broken
God of all living people / Into unity lead us
God of ev’ry race lead us / In diversity lead us
God of women of all time / Out of history lead us
God of humankind, lead us / Into harmony lead us
Lead us now and forever / Give us now a new future


[1]  Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text, Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2004, p 146-7.

[2]  Bernadette Farrell, God of Abraham, Oregon Catholic Press, 1990