Sermons That Work

Another Halloween…, All Saints’ Day (A) – 2008

November 01, 2008

Another Halloween has come and gone, and how well did we do in making it All Saints’ Eve? What did we notice as the little ones with smiley faces gave cheery “Trick or Treat” greetings? Beyond the joy of giving out candy, how many of us kept track of the costumes the children wore?

It depends on the fads of the year, of course, but you can count on scary, dark characters: murderers from horror movies, Grim Reapers, Draculas, vampires, skeletons, ghosts, monsters, headless horsemen, and mummies.

There are bound to be warriors of one sort or another: Power Rangers, ninjas, superheroes such as Batman and Spiderman, as well as matadors, football players, professional wrestlers, soldiers, and pirates.

And don’t forget animals: gorillas, leopards, lions, tigers, and black widow spiders.

There are always happy characters, too: fairies, Cinderellas, princesses, cheerleaders, prom queens, clowns, ladybugs, flowers, pumpkins, ballerinas, and brides.

And there are sometimes costumes of actual people: Queen Elizabeth, Davy Crockett, Ronald Reagan, Elvis Presley, and the like.

But think about it. How many children come dressed as something we would identify as religious? Angels, maybe, but that’s about it. Is this likely to disappoint us, if not totally disillusion us? How naive or idiotic is it to expect to get Sunday school children to dress as saints when they go trick-or-treating? That’s about as realistic as trying to get adults to come to a costume party dressed as their favorite saints. Besides, it’s totally impractical: where would you buy a saint costume?

But what about making costumes depicting saints? How many of us would resort to designing flowing robes and halos or something that looks like the way we think people dressed in Jesus’ day?

Can’t we get more creative than that? How about dressing as an old worn-down woman with scars from beatings by cruel overseers? This would be Sojourner Truth, a saint who gained freedom from slavery and preached the gospel of liberation to a prejudiced generation.

How about wearing a plain white shirt with a stethoscope and a big white handlebar mustache? This would be Albert Schweitzer, a saint who gave his life as a missionary and doctor in Africa, even though he could have remained in Europe, living in luxury and fame.

Why not dress in a black suit and simple tie, with a dark mustache, carrying a Bible? This would be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a saint who gave his life trying to end racial discrimination in America.

How about going out wearing rags with stuffed animals and toy birds attached to them? This would be St. Francis of Assisi, who loved all God’s creatures as brothers and sisters.

Or how about dressing as a woman with dark circles under her eyes and rough hands from being up nights caring for a sick child and working days at some arduous labor to put food the table? This would be a single, working mother, giving herself away to make a better life for her family.

Maybe a trick-or-treater could just go dressed as a regular child, such as the boy who went to a scouting contest for homemade racing cars. It was one of those events where the contestants are supposed to do their own work but most of the fathers help too much. At one such event, a youngster with no dad showed up with a racer he had obviously made with his own unskilled hands. The contest pitted boys in pairs, one against another with the winner advancing to the next round in a series of eliminations. Somehow this one kid’s funny-looking car won again and again, until, defying all odds, he was in the finals against another scout with a slick-looking, well-made racer.

Before the championship race, the boy asked the director to wait a moment so he could pray. The crowd, now enthralled by the unlikely story unfolding before them, stood in silence, loving the boy and secretly praying with him that he might win; he seemed so deserving.

After the boy won the race and was given a trophy, the director said, “Well, I guess it is a good thing you prayed, so you could win.”

“Oh, no!” the boy protested, horrified to have been misunderstood. “I didn’t pray to win. That would have been wrong. The other scout had as much right to win as I did. I couldn’t pray that God would make him lose. I just prayed that God would help me keep from crying if I lost.”

There is, of course, something more important than how children or adults costume themselves on Halloween. It is understanding that we can emulate the saints, that we can become saints too, that we can become faithful disciples of Christ, following the saints who show us the way.

Isn’t that why we remember the saints, some of whom are publicly known and recognized in the light of history, and others, like the Boy Scout, whom we come across in the obscurity of ordinary struggles?

All Saints’ Day celebrates those whose good examples remind us of what we can be at our best. The stories of their lives remind us of who we are, what we believe, and what we can become. They remind us how closely a human being can follow the example of Jesus. They draw us forward, give us courage, strengthen us to do God’s will, and lead the way. Their good examples remind us that God reaches out to us with grace and love and care.

All Saints’ Day helps us reestablish, in faith and prayer, our links with these Christians and with the people in our lives they may represent. They have gone on before us to the nearer presence of God, but they are also connected to us. Those who know rest from their labors help keep us from growing weary on our often difficult Christian pilgrimages.

The saints inspire us not to lose sight of the ultimate goal: Jesus’ imperative to love God with all our hearts and minds and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Remembering the witness of the saints allows us to continue to hold them close and can give us strength whenever and wherever we stand. Remembering their witnesses can help us feel God’s comforting touch when we are discouraged or sorrowful and can help raise us up when we fall.

The saints call us to an awareness of God’s peace that surpasses human knowing. They help keep us from presuming too much about our own strength. They teach us to trust in the one who has loved us beyond all measure.

All Saints’ Day is a time when looking at the good examples of those who have come before us can enable us to think beyond our limitations and to believe that we have the potential to respond to God’s gracious love with active love for others and with commitment and caring and giving. The saints lead us into the fullness of life that God intends for us all.

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Christopher Sikkema


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