Sermon from November 7, 2010
(Pentecost 24 – All Saints’ Sunday – Year C)
Luke 20: 27-38
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas
When I was in college, I was probably pretty unusual in that I did attend church on most Sundays.
However, because of the various Saturday night activities that many college students partake in, sometimes getting up for church on Sunday morning was just not an option.
Therefore, I was glad that the Episcopal parish in downtown Austin, St. David’s Episcopal Church, did offer a weekly Sunday service at 6 pm on Sunday evenings.
Among my friends in the dorm - and among my Episcopal college friends - we affectionately referred to the Sunday evening Eucharist at St. David’s as “the Hangover Mass.”
When I would attend the Sunday evening Eucharist at St. David’s in downtown Austin, I was always struck by the ancient stained glass windows in that historic church.
St. David’s Episcopal Church dates back to 1853 and many of the windows in that church are well over a hundred years old.
I always sat on the right hand side of the church, and in the right hand aisle of that church is a famous stained glass window.
This stained glass window is beautiful, and if my memory serves me correctly, the central part of the window depicts a nautical symbol, such as the anchor for a ship.
This window always reminded me that Austin was established as a river town, a town that is still deeply connected to the Colorado River and to Lake Travis.
This stained glass window was dedicated to a woman named Maggie, a woman whose dates of birth and death were from the 1800s.
And the words in this beautiful window read:
Maggie: she hath crossed the river.
Many of us question what happens when we cross the river between life and death.
Many of us would like to know what happens after we die.
We want to know if we will cross the river into heaven.
A good friend of mine, the Rev. Randall Trego, is the chaplain at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in The Woodlands.
Randall told me last week that the number one question that is asked by hospital patients, especially those who are terminally ill, is this:
“Pastor, am I going to go to heaven when I die?”
Jesus, near the end of his earthly life, is questioned about this very same thing.
Those who are with Jesus want to know what will happen when we die, when we cross the river, after our death.
So a silly hypothetical question is posed to Jesus about a woman who has 7 husbands, 7 brothers whom she marries in succession.
The question is which of the 7 husbands will be married to the woman when they all get to heaven.
Yet Jesus answers this silly question by telling us that we are asking the wrong question.
The central question of the Christian faith is not about heaven.
The central question of the Christian faith is about resurrection, as Jesus replies that all of us are daughters and sons of the resurrection.
You see, the concept of heaven, the concept of an afterlife, is not particularly Christian.
In Greek mythology, the dead are carried across the River Styx into an afterlife.
Buddhists believe in several different layers of heaven.
Muslims believe that those who have led a good life are granted an entrance into heaven.
And in contemporary, secular American life, when someone dies, we tell the family:
“She is in a better place” or
“He was a good man, so I am sure he is heaven.”
The concept of heaven, the concept of an afterlife, is not unique to Christians.
However, while the concept of heaven is not unique, the concept of the resurrection of the dead is unique to the Christian faith.
You see, my brothers and sisters, only Christians believe that we have already passed over from death to abundant life.
Only Christians believe that we have been already been killed, dead and buried with Christ in Baptism - and then raised, resurrected, to a new life of grace.
Only Christians believe that the great chasm between death and life is not when our bodies die,
But the great chasm between death and life is the troubled waters of Baptism.
Only Christians believe that we have already crossed the river.
Therefore, I want you to take a moment to look around at the names written on the walls on the inside of this church.
I want you to take a moment to look at the names of the saints who have gone before, because the men and women who are represented by the bricks on our walls are the very same as us.
Just take a look at these names...
To God, both the names on these walls and the human bodies in the pews are the very same.
To God, all of us, both the living and the dead, are sons and daughters of the resurrection.
To God, all of us, both the living and the dead, have already died in Baptism and are now living resurrected lives.
To God, all of us have already crossed the river.
So if we have already crossed the river,
If we have already died and been resurrected in the waters of baptism,
Then how do we live a resurrected life?
For me, for Jeff Fisher, I must remind myself that I have already been killed at my Baptism - so what else can this world do to me?
To me, living the resurrected life means that I do not have to be afraid of homeless people, because I am already resurrected and living on the other side of the river.
To me, living the resurrected life means that I do not have to be afraid of giving away my money and my things, because I am already resurrected and living on the other side of the river.
To me, living the resurrected life means that I do not have to be afraid to imitate the lives of the saints:
Therefore, I can imitate the love for God and the love for others of my 4 dead grandparents, whose names are on these walls.
I can imitate the love for the poor of St. Francis of Assisi.
I can imitate the intense prayer life of St. Teresa of Avila.
I can imitate the passion for justice of Martin Luther King, Jr.
I can imitate the obedience and courage of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I can do all these things through Christ who strengthens me, because I am a son of the resurrection, already living abundantly, on the other side of the river.
Many people ask the question:
“Will I go to heaven when I die?”
While this is not a bad question to ask, it is not a particularly Christian question to ask.
And I know this because I have examined the liturgy for the Burial of the Dead, the funeral service in The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.
And my examination of the burial liturgy revealed to me that when your heart stops beating and your funeral is held here in this church,
At your burial service, the word “heaven” will only be said - just one time.
Yet the words “resurrection” and “life” and “baptism” will be said over and over again.
You see, my friends, the quest of the Christian faith and life is not heaven.
The quest of the Christian faith and life is to live an abundant and eternal and resurrected life, now.
Because, as Christian people, we have already passed from death to life in the waters of Baptism.
As Christian people, all of us are alive, whether our bodies are breathing in these pews or our names are up on these walls.
As Christian people, all of the baptized are already daughters and sons of the resurrection.
For to God, all of us are already saints.
To God, we have crossed the river.