Based on 1 Thessalonians 2.9-13
In the church parsonage, despite it being technically a contemporary-built condominium —
that is, it was built about 20 years ago, so it’s still new —
it has a great open floor plan, which I love.
And unlike a lot of newer-construction homes, it has a feature that is sort of going the way of the dinosaur.
It has a dining room.
A lot of new homes being built these days are using that space differently.
For offices or bigger kitchens — some with islands or breakfast bars.
But the formal dining room, like the formal living room, is out.
The parsonage doesn’t have what we might call a “formal dining room,” but it has a large space, nonetheless, and I have a reasonably large old farm table, bench and chairs at which I can seat my family and a few guests.
And when the boys and I have dinner, we always have it at the table.
This is our time to eat together, to talk and to enjoy one another’s undistracted company.
And while that might not sound all that unusual to you, consider this:
Most studies today report that American families only eat together about 40 to 50 percent of the time.
And while 50 years ago, the average time spent together at the table was 90 minutes, today it is about 12-15 minutes.
Instead, we eat in front of the TV.
Or we don’t eat together at all.
But the Jews do it right, still today.
Their dinnertime is always around the table.
And everyone is there.
There is prayer before the meal, and sometimes there’s even singing.
And there are almost always stories.
What kind of stories?
Well, stories about who they are as a people.
The Jewish history and tradition.
Much of it from the Hebrew Bible — what we call the Old Testament.
And from other ancient texts, such as the Jewish Midrash — the interpretation of the Scriptures in Jewish thought.
And it’s there at the table, that the Jewish heritage is passed down from generation to generation to generation for thousands of years.
The children learn from their parents here.
They learn the biblical reasons for their morality and their traditions.
According to Pew Research, today, only 45 percent of American Mainline Protestants remain practicing the religion they grew up in.
While 75 percent of Jews retain their religion.
Why is that?
Well, like I said, 50 years ago, we spent an hour and a half at the table.
Today, a mere 12 minutes.
The Jews still spend time at the table, telling and retelling these stories.
How, then, do we pass it on?
Today, we are celebrating All Saints Day — all around the world.
And as is typical, we remember those saints who have gone before us.
That is, God’s children — our brothers and sisters — who were called home in this past year.
And in a little while, we will call out those names to remember them by.
And we will pray.
But we also must remember not just who they were, but what they represent in this tradition of God’s people.
The Bible tells us we will feast at God’s heavenly banquet, not just alone, but with the company of heaven.
And that same company of heaven somehow — in ways we can’t totally explain or understand — will join in the meal of Holy Communion, which we also will be gathering for today.
That’s the Holy Mystery. Not completely revealed to us yet.
And so we can see that it’s around this table today that the stories of who we are as a people — our very heritage in Christ Jesus — are not only told, but are embodied by the sharing of the bread and juice.
That very act of Take, Bless, Break and Give signals our life in Christ because of the resurrection.
We sometimes fail to see what that looks like.
I want you to picture this:
Imagine an enormous table here today, in which we are all seated around Jesus Christ our Lord, and all those saints who have gone before us.
Can you picture this?
And as we sit there side by side in amazement, we realize that our invitation was paid for by Christ’s sacrifice.
If it wasn’t for Jesus going to the cross for us, we couldn’t be at this table together today.
And the reason we get to celebrate with those who have gone before and with Christ is because of his resurrection.
That’s how we got here, that’s what we remember at the table, and that’s why we are gathered as one body here in the Sacrament of Holy Communion — one of the two sacraments in the church.
And we see the story of a resurrected people also in our other sacrament — in Baptism.
In the days of the early church, the baptismal font wasn’t merely a bowl;
It was a pool built into the floor and shaped like a long rectangle.
On both sides were steps into that rectangle, which contained water, and which, upon walking down into, reminded us of descending into the grave.
And after being fully immersed in that darkness, we ascend out of the grave on the other side, representing our ascension into eternal light and life.
The language and tradition of our sacraments point directly to the resurrection.
In baptism, we are initiated into the resurrected life.
In Holy Communion, we not only remember the resurrected life, we embody it here, with all the company of heaven, and with others, as we are sent now out into the world.
The saints we name here today — and all those who have gone before us to live in eternal glory are here among us today.
And when we recognize this, we truly can experience what it means to have a place paid for at that table.
Where we join all the generations of saints and listen as their story is retold to us.
The Apostle Paul, addressing his church in Thessolonica, is doing this exact same thing.
He’s passing down the Story to our family, the Thessalonian church in Macedonia.
It is passing down the story and the tradition from one generation to another.
He begins in our reading, in Verses 9-13, by reminding them that he is doing this from the love of his own heart.
He accepts no money, no tithe, no gifts, and reminds this church that he and his brothers and sisters he travels with work for a living, outside the church so that no one can say “oh, he only does this because he gets paid for it.”
They can’t say that about Paul.
And he talks of how he’s been blameless in his conduct — that he is very much trying to be what he calls upright in Verse 10.
“You are witnesses” to this, he tells them.
He tells them how he is teaching them, like a parent teaches a child — urging them and pleading with them to lead a life worthy of God in Verse 12.
And finally, that when they hear this story, it’s not Paul’s story; it’s God’s story.
And that story, like a seed, has been planted and cultivate in them, and it is growing in them by the power of God.
Paul is telling this church the story of God.
Whose love is revealed in the risen Christ.
Paul is pointing directly to the resurrection!
That it is because of Jesus’s resurrection, we have a seat at this table.
It is because of Jesus’s resurrection, we have a part in this story.
It because of Jesus’s resurrection, that this invitation, this feast, and this story will never end.
Listen to the Story
Jesus calls to us through these very words.
Jesus calls to us through the very people who surround us in love.
That is everyone here today.
Everyone who couldn’t make it here today.
And everyone who is with us in spirit — all those saints who've gone before us.
And through Jesus Christ, whose Spirit lives within us.
So what do we hear them tell us.
Let’s look to Scripture for that answer.
“This is why they are before God’s throne, serving night and day in God’s temple, and the One seated on the throne dwells among them.
“And they do not hunger anymore, they do not thirst anymore. And the sun does not beat down on them, nor any burning heat.
“For the lamb in the midst of the throne shepherds them, and leads them to the streams of the water of life, and God wipes every tear from their eyes.”
You want to see what the kingdom of heaven looks like? There it is: Revelation 7.15-17.
Brothers and Sisters, you, too, have an invitation at this feast.
To be in the company of the saints and in the presence of God and Jesus Christ the Messiah, who paid with his life so that you could be here today, and so you will have this place at the table for all of eternity.
The Story — we just have to stop and listen to it.
We have to read the word in the Bible.
We have to commit those meanings in our hearts, souls and minds.
We have to embody what it means to be a saint in this world.
And understand the price that has been paid for us.
And that we can never, ever — no matter what we do or how hard we try — buy that meal ticket or pay that debt.
Because it comes through the grace of our Parent — God, our Father and our Mother — who wants more than anything for us children to gather for this feast that God has prepared for us.
Today, we have to listen to those stories,
and we are doing that here now.
When we call out those names of the saints who have gone before us, and when we remember them and hold them in our hearts, we must know that they are sitting among us today.
And retelling that story.
“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God of power and might.
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.”
This is the story.
It is their story. It is our story. It is your story.
Today, as we remember those who have passed on to heaven, let us always hear the story that they still tell us and then join them in telling that story to the world.
In loving memory of:
Joseph Faulkner, Sr.
The Rev. Robert Trego, Sr.
Ruben James Evans
And all those Saints we hold dear.