Flying South With Jesus – A sermon on All Saints Day

Children’s Time: What do the geese do this time of year? (Fly south for the winter.) Yes, and so do a lot of other animals. It’s called migration. This month’s National Geographic magazine is all about animal migrations… somehow, animals have this ability to keep focused on the main mission before them: getting to where they need to be to find water, to mate, or to winter before returning up north. Nothing will deter them from the course they have set to accomplish their mission. How are we doing at that in our faith? By praying and reading the Bible together each week here in worship we are asking God to keep us focused on our mission – to share God’s love with everyone we meet! Otherwise, we may get distracted by our anger or wanting to hurt others in return. In our lesson today, Jesus says we are to love one another (even our enemies!) and to “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” If we remember that, we’ll be migrating in the direction Jesus wants us to go!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today is All Saints Day – a day we remember the dead who have gone before us. In a few moments, you’ll be invited to come forward and light a candle in honor of a loved one. We all have memories of loved ones… even if we’re young we have things we have lost or had taken from us. Loss and remembering… they’re a part of our lives.

The saints we most remember are people whose lives made a difference to us. Or perhaps they lived in such a way that “migrated with Jesus.”

I think it’s fair to say that Jesus’ way of living is completely out of whack with the way much of society works. I mean, really, “rejoice on the day you’ve been hated, excluded and defamed by another?” “Turn the other cheek and give up your shirt as well as your coat?” What is Jesus thinking? And if that weren’t bad enough, he wants us to love our enemes and to pray for them as well. To bless and do good to them… when all we want to do is avoid them, or worse, get even!

Whenever you feel the urge to speak badly about someone who harmed you, Jeuss says, “You’re to stop and bless them instead. As hard as it may be to resist saying, “That guy’s dumb as a post!” we, as Christians, are called to kindness – to treat others as we would like to be treated.

In his explanation to the 8th commandment, Martin Luther said this about bearing false witness: “We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander or lie about our neighbor in any way… but defend them, speak well of them and explain their actions in the kindest way.”

So, maybe “Mr. Road Rage” is just having a bad day. Maybe he was tailgated as a child. Or, he could be on his way to the hospital, in such a hurry!

What will it take to restore not only civility to our national debates… but love itself? After an election in which tens of millions of dollars were spent on negative attack ads is it even possible or realistic to hope that our legislators will someday reach across that aisle with a common purpose?

I think there is hope. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for – the conviction of things unseen.” (we read in Hebrews 11:1)

The key here, I think, is to bless your enemies without blessing their actions. There are ways to speak well of someone even if they’ve done something wrong. Take 9-11 for example. One can understand why Al Qaida would target the World Trade Center – for all it stood for in terms of American affluence and our love of money throughout the world. They could just as easily targeted churches or other national landmarks. But we would never condone the criminal means by which they carried out their dissent, by killing thousands of innocent people. Loving one’s enemies doesn’t mean we condone their actions that caused pain.

Or consider the horrific murder of school children a couple years ago in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a small Amish community. What is remarkable is that after the killer turned the gun on himself, this town turned their hearts toward his family – reaching out in love and reconciliation. They had every right to be angry, to exclude and defame them. Instead, they loved them and brought this man’s family back into the community with grace and forgiveness. This is learned only by migrating with Jesus along the way – all throughout the walk of faith.

Jesus taught that we were to give the shirt off our backs if necessary. Give to everyone who begs of you. We have people who come every week to this church asking for assistance. While there are some limited things we can do, at some point one has to say no… or at the very least, make a decision between who needs our assistance the most.

Or, take this example from this month’s National Geographic about animal migrations… somehow, animals have this tenacity to keep focused on the main mission before them: getting to where they need to be to find water, to mate, or to winter before returning up north. Nothing will deter them from the course they have set to accomplish their mission.

“An arctic tern on its way from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, for instance, will ignore a nice smelly herring offered from bird-watcher’s boat in Monterey Bay. Local gulls will dive voraciously for such handouts, while the tern flies on. Why? …the arctic tern resists distraction because it is driven at that moment by an instinctive sense of something we humans find admirable: larger purpose. The arctic tern senses that it can eat later. It can rest later. It can mate later. Right now its implacable focus is the journey; its undivided intent is arrival.”

How are we doing at that? How are we at staying focused on the mission Christ sets before us? Are you migrating spiritually with Christ?

Take just a moment and gently place your fingertips over your eyes. Just rest them there. Don’t push too hard. Have you got it? Now… with your fingertips resting on your eyelids, move your eyes back and forth, from left to right. Can you feel your eyes?

This is the same eye movement that happens when we sleep. It’s called Rapid Eye Movement (or REM sleep). But it only happens when we go into a deep sleep – beyond that little catnap you might steal in the afternoon. REM sleep is where dreams occur – its where we truly get a good night’s rest.

But there’s a medical condition that interferes with REM sleep. Anyone know what it’s called? Yes, sleep apnea. It’s when you actually top breathing for several seconds during sleep then wake yourself up again to gasp for breath.

So, by the time morning rolls around you’ve never quite gotten a good night’s sleep. Some say excessive snoring and weight gain might contribute to the problem. I have a mentor who was diagnosed with sleep apnea and he was fitted with a CPAP machine. It’s a flexible oxygen tube you wear over your nose at night to keep a constant flow of air to your breathing. He can’t believe how much better he feels after sleeping so much more soundly!

So, how are we to remedy our spiritual apnea? Those times when we’ve never quite felt at home with God, because of all the distractions that interrupt the life of faith and prayer and devotion?

Remember how birds fly south for the winter? Or how wildebeests migrate to where the water is? Stay focused on your calling to love our neighbors – even our enemies – and migrate with Jesus to that place where the dreams occur – where our vision is restored – where, with all the saints we come to know who we are.

There is reason to rejoice, because our sorrows and pain will come to an end. Jesus’ promise is that we have nothing to fear when we face persecution, hatred and exclusion. It does get better when we migrate with him.

Let us pray: O God, we thank you for those who have gone before us – and the paths they have trod. Guide us in our own migration of the faith – keep us from spiritual apnea – and awaken us to your Spirit in our lives. …in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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