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Summary: This sermon focuses on the need for us to remain fiathful to the message of the saints, in light of our desire to be contemporary in worship

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All Saints Sunday November 4, 2007 “Series C”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for all your saints throughout the ages, both great and small – all who have revealed your word in faithfulness and who have enabled the proclamation of your redeeming grace in Jesus the Christ to be passed on from generation to generation. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire us and give us the courage to witness to the Gospel through our own lives, so that it might continue to nurture faith for generations to come. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

For the past several years, I have taken this occasion of All Saints Sunday to focus on the lives and contributions of those members of our congregation who have joined the church triumphant during the past year. That is certainly an appropriate direction to take, as the church pauses to honor all the saints, both great and small, who have enabled through their lives of faith, the Gospel to be realized from generation to generation.

But this morning, I would like to take a somewhat different approach with my message, than I have in previous years. Although we will still uplift in our prayers with thanksgiving the names of our members who have died this past year, I would like to focus on the broader significance of this day for the ongoing life of the church. And in particular, I would like to focus on the significance of the saints to the worship life of the church to this day.

To set the stage for my comments, I would like you to consider this illustration, which William H. Willimon, one of my favorite commentators, included in his commentary on our texts. At the time he wrote this, Dr. Willimon was Dean of the Chapel, and Professor of Christian Ministry at Duke University.

“I was meeting one night with a group of students in a dormitory. They had asked me to lead them in a discussion of ‘Christian worship.’ At that hour I was greeted by zombie-like stares. I was eager to try to get the students into the subject, so just off the top of my head I asked them, ‘Those of you who’ve seen Christians at worship, what would you say is the strangest thing that you’ve seen? And don’t mention the thing about the man in the white dress – something else.’

An undergraduate spoke up and said ‘I think the weirdest thing is when, at the beginning, in the opening parade…’

‘You mean the processional,’ Dr. Willimon interjected.

‘Yeah – where they bring in that great, big, book.’

Again, Dr. Willimon interjected, ‘You mean the Bible.’

‘Yeah, and they bring it up and put it up on the lectern and you can see the person bringing it in sort of turn toward the clergy and say, “Here, work from this.” That’s weird.’

And I thought,” Dr. Willimon concluded, “thank you for that. That a group of late 20th-century North American people should gather and, just for an hour on Sunday morning, say, ‘Let’s all believe that these ancient Jews knew more than we do. Let’s just try that for an hour, and see where we’ll be.’ That really is strange. [But] that’s not happening everywhere, that a group of modern people, privileged to stand at the summit of human development… gather and submit to these ancient writings…” End quote. [1]

Dr. Willimon then goes on to state how the movement in the church toward “contemporary” worship frightens him. Although I do not agree with all of the assessments that Dr. Willimon makes in his commentary, I do concur with him in the fact that we cannot ignore the message of the saints in years past.

Now I know that Josie believes that I am a person of routine, that I have my own way of doing things, and that I may never change. That may well be true. I am a lot like my father in that regard. However, I also believe that I am open to new ideas, as long as I can see the value in these ideas.

For example, I have found many of the hymns in With One Voice to be very meaningful to me. I not only like the tempo of some of these new hymns, but more importantly, I like the content of the verses. And in selecting the hymns for our worship, I am more concerned about what the hymns proclaim, than how joyful they sound.

And on occasion, I don’t mind following a different liturgy, as we do for our outdoor worship, the woman’s Thank-offering service, Christmas Eve, and a few other times during the year, including worship at Confir-camp. But I still believe that these services need to proclaim God’s Word, the word of the saints, as recorded in the Scriptures, and follow some liturgical format, to be meaningful.

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