Today is the Sunday set aside to celebrate "All Saints". It's not common for Presbyterians to talk about saints. It feels so Catholic to us, so foreign to the way we understand God's work and our connection with Christ. But the word "saint" is a Biblical word, a concept of holiness meant to delineate all those who have lived this life in faith before us. It is not set aside for the select few that the church acknowledges and names, but, as our hymn and anthem suggested this morning, for the many, many more that go on to God's glory sine nomine - without a name that we know. Today, as we celebrate this feast, we do so in a most fitting way. First of all, we do so around this banquet table. It is the one that Christ prepares and spreads before us. It is the one to which we are all invited, and the one where we, somehow in God's mystery, join together not only with other sisters and brothers around the world, but with believers of every time and place. The pace of the service today is very intentional with time for us to remember those saints whose absence is felt in our lives. We began with that great hymn, one of my all-time favorites, For All the Saints. When we come to communion, we will be remembering all of those saints who have gone on to God's glory since the last time we gathered. I will also invite you to name others whom you know, whom you consider saints. Name them and remember them as we also remember what Christ has done for us.
When we leave this service, we will do so with that great hymn When the Saints Go Marching In. And so, like a New Orleans funeral procession, we begin with the somber reflection that all of this occasion of remembering calls for; but as we move through our service, we move into that moment of joy - imperfect though it may be - that binds our faith in the promised hope of resurrection. It is this that our banquet reminds us of.
But we also gather here today committing ourselves to the stewardship of God's resources. Our time, our talents, our treasure, all of them we re-dedicate for God's purposes and desires for this world. And in doing so, we are building on the proud tradition of not only Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church and the saints who have lived, served, and worshiped in this place. We build on the shoulders of the centuries of the Church, which has ministered to the poor and the sick, the lonely and oppressed, which has called for justice and righteousness in all times and places.
Here at OPC, we are just one little corner of the kingdom of God. But what we do here matters for God's desires for this world. And as we commit ourselves today to the ministries for the coming year, we strive to live into God's future together.
So here's my question for us today: for whom is this banquet? For whom we do minister? Of course we do all of this in the name of God. That should, I hope, go without saying. But the question I'm asking is more along these lines: is the banquet for us? Or is it for those outside of our community of faith? Is our ministry primarily for those of us who have already decided to be a part of this church? Or is it for those who might never set foot inside these doors?
OK: it's a bit of a false dichotomy to set this up as an either/or question. In an ideal world, the answer is "both." And I certainly think that there's truth to the way we do things here. We have Christian Education and Fellowship programs for us; meanwhile, our Evangelism and Outreach programs try to engage the broader community, whether that's through talking about our faith and its transformative powers or simply acting out of compassion for a hurting and broken world. So we follow a Lord who commits himself to go after the one lost sheep, leaving the ninety-nine in order to do so. Are we willing to do the same?
In the Psalm this morning, there is this wonderful description, a witness of the author to the world. He talks about the works of God in his life, and as he does so, he speaks about the refuge that the faithful find in the presence of God. But there is this invitation that underscores it all. This is not a word for the already-converted. This is a word to those that do not know the peace and refuge of which he speaks. "O taste and see that the Lord is good!"
Friends, this is God's banquet. And the invitation is for us, too, to taste and see. But we cannot, as Jesus warns in our New Testament lesson, assume for ourselves the place of honor at the banquet. We are invited, yes, but not we alone. Perhaps ours is the place of humility, not honor, at the banquet.
So my friends, as we gather around this table, this table which has fed and nurtured so many of the saints who have gone before us, saints whose faithful legacy has given us a life in faith and hope for which to strive, will we make room for others? Will we, like the author of the Psalm, invite others to taste and see how good God is? The risk of not doing so is falling into the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, saying one thing and doing another. Will we follow our shepherd and seek out that one lost sheep?