Here is a sermon that I preached on Sunday. You can find the audio here. (This one is more fun to listen to than to read, I think).
I have learned in the course of my travels that it sometimes takes people a few minutes to atune to the way I speak. I’ve learned that people sometimes need a few sentences before they get used to my accent – the way that I speak.
And of course, it works the other way around too.
I am getting used to listening to the sounds of voices that I am not used to hearing. And of course, coming to here, the first time I’ve been in the South has meant me having to listen extra carefully.
Before I came on this here I decided to lose weight and get fit. Over the course of a year I managed to lose 30 pounds. What I hadn’t realised was that when I came to the South, the hospitality would be such that I would put those 30 pounds back on. During breakfast.
Whilst I was eating that first breakfast, I had something to ponder. For the very first night that I was here I had the strangest of dreams. I’ve been up at Sewanee, the University of the South. It is a beautiful university and an excellent seminary and I was their guest. That first night, I dreamed that I had encountered angels. It is a strange dream to have these days though it would not have been particularly unusual in Biblical times. [Indeed, one might think that a very great deal of John's Revelation, part of which we heard this morning, was just such a dream].
Anyway, I woke up on my first full day in the South absolutely sure that I’d encountered angels in my dreams. And as I came to, I desperately tried to remember what they had been saying. I knew that something was important. I tried and tried.
However, to this day, I can’t remember anything of the conversation.
I do remember one thing though. I do remember one thing about my dream of encountering angels. The one thing I remember is that every one of them spoke with a Southern Accent. Every one of them had a southern drawl. Each one of them had a southern accent.
I posted something about this on facebook and one of my friends on there quickly said, “You are learning a great spiritual truth. All the angels do indeed come from the south”.
Now, all this is not just idle banter. I actually want to speak this morning about something the angels said in that dream. How do I know they said it? Well, they sure spoke southern, and if they spoke southern then they must certainly have used the expression that I’ve heard every day of my visit. From everyone I’ve met on this visit. In nearly every sentence they’ve spoken to me on this visit.
Today, I want to talk about Y’all.
For the speech of the people around me here in Tennessee has reminded me of one of the great truths of the Christian faith and one worth celebrating at All Saintstide. It is that God doesn’t just love me as an individual. God doesn’t just love you as you sit there listening to me. God’s love is altogether bigger than all of that.
At this time of year, we reflect on the great cloud of witnesses who have proclaimed God’s love through the generations. And as the feast of All Saints gets all wonderfully jumbled up with the feast of All Souls, there are two things to remember.
And I don’t just mean you to remember these things now. Remember them as you go through life this week. Think on these things. Ponder these things.
Firstly remember the saints through the ages. Those who are famous for their faith. Valiant in the battle for righteousness. Holy in the face of a world far from righteousness.
And secondly, remember your own saints. Remember those who have died. Those who are at rest. And remember them as honestly and as kindly as you can. (And that’s not always easy).
Remember the saints of the ages first. Those who have taught the faith, kept the faith and lived the faith. Those who have passed it on and in whom the light of the gospel shines forth. I have a list of the saints whom I admire. Maybe you do too. If not, make one up this week. Think this week about those who nourish you, inspire you and provoke you.
At this time of year we are encouraged to remember them all as a great cloud of witnesses. And we are encouraged to remember that as we celebrate this Eucharist here, they celebrate with us. As you come to communion today and hold you hand out for the bread, imagine the great cloud of witnesses – the saints of the ages surrounding us here in St Paul’s this morning. Nudging us, cajoling us, inspiring us on to keep the faith and preach the gospel and be the people of God, salt and light in the world today as they were in their generations. God inspired them all – even the oddest and the strangest.
And at this time too we come remembering those who have died. And as you sip from the cup of salvation today at this great feast, I remind you to remember those who have supped from the cup of life before us and whose existence now is hid with Christ in God. Give thanks as you are able for those who have gone before. God loved them all – even those most difficult and troublesome.
The Christian faith does not promise that we will be free from grief in this life. If I’ve learned one thing in ministry it is that grief and pain are very real and not to be dismissed. But I have also learned that the truth that we proclaim is embedded in gospel stories like the raising of Lazarus and the other readings that we have heard this morning. The truth of the Gospel is that one day the tears will be wiped from every eye. One day the dead systems of this world – the tombs, closets and all that threatens to ensnare and bind us, one day they will give up their dead and God’s people will be free.
Remember in that story that it is not wellbeing or warmth or a vague sense of fuzzy holiness that Jesus promises. No, it is freedom itself.
“Unbind him,” says the Lord, “And let him go”.
What would your life be like if all that binds you was broken and the Lord of heaven proclaimed that you were free, truly free indeed?
For the world that Jesus promised is no less than the vision that John saw in the reading we heard from the apocalypse. I don’t know what accent he heard his angels speak but I know that they proclaimed that God would be with all of God’s people. And that God would wipe the tear from every eye.
Not just some tears. Not just my tears. But the tears of y’all.
And the vision that inspired Jesus is the vision that Isaiah spoke of when he said – on this mountain, there will be a feast for all peoples, a feast of rich food.
God’s vision is not just a vision of food for me. God’s vision as God looks at the world is of food for y’all.
The vision of a world put to rights where everyone has enough to eat; the vision of a world put to rights where the tears are wiped from every eye; the vision of a world put to rights where all that binds us is broken and every soul enjoys the bounty of God – that is the vision of the kingdom of God that God calls us to bring in.
And when we baptise people, we offer them not simply bread at the table, but inspiration for the heart. Come and join us, we say, taste the bread of heaven, drink the cup of salvation, and share in the vision of the feast that God is creating.
As I listen to the competing voices of faith all around me, I’ve learned to be suspicious of those who promise me a faith that is merely personal.
As I read God’s word today, I am inspired by a faith that is not just for me. God’s vision is bigger than that.
If you’ve never heard the voice of God say directly to you that you are loved, then hear it today.
But the voice of God promises even more than that. Promises a feast where all are fed and a world where God’s people are set free. And promises us all a place in making it so.
For God doesn’t just love you.
God loves all y’all.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.