All Saints Sunday
This is one of my favorite Sundays in the year. I love the combination of honoring and remembering those who have died and welcoming new members into our midst, both of which are done around the Lord’s table, which brings together the past, the present, and the future. Another part of this whole celebration is reflecting together on our sacred text. The proclamation of God’s word and our response to it has always been a part of Christian worship and as we engage in it we are again connected to all the people who have ever heard this word proclaimed anywhere in the world throughout all of time. So would you listen now in the reading of scripture for the word and wisdom of God.
This is the story of God giving the 10 Commandments in the book of Exodus, chapter 20, verses 1 through 21.
And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
As we gather and give thanks this morning for who we have been, who we are, and who we are becoming, I want to invite you to reflect on these 10 Commandments, not as rules for good behavior but as standards for life together. When we think about what is “ethical” we are thinking about how we create, maintain, and sustain just relationships. Ethics are about creating, maintaining, and sustaining just relationships. It’s about the relationships. If you never had to interact with anyone else, your decisions about what to do and what not to do would be vastly simplified. There are some things that might be wrong for you regardless, but mostly we need to think about how we act and live because our choices have repercussions for other people. The question of “What should I do?” is always posed in relationship to someone or something else. Relationships compose the world. We have relationships with other people, with God, and, without getting too philosophical about it, we even have relationships with ourselves.
These 10 Commandments are not rules that we have to follow in order to get into heaven when we die. These 10 commandments are the baseline of how we create, maintain, and sustain just relationships with each other. Equitable, righteous, honorable, sincere, honest relationships with each other. If you look in our church’s constitution and bylaws, we do not have a list of rules that members have to keep. This church has had that in past. And during our membership information lunch we do talk about expectations for how we treat each other. But for 3,000 years, Jewish and Christian communities have used these 10 commandments as our foundation.
The first is to have no god other than Yahweh, the God who called Abraham and Isaac. The God who wrestled with Jacob. The God who heard the cries of the oppressed people and spoke to Moses out of burning bush. Bob Dylan had it right when he said “you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” We can worship power or wealth or fame or youth, or we can worship God. There’s a good reason that the early church was gathered under the declaration that “Jesus is Lord,” because there are lot of other lord options. The community has to first agree on which Lord we are following.
The next commandment is to not to make an idol of that God. As individuals gathered in community we have to resist the temptation to limit God’s radical possibility by making God look like something that makes more sense to us, that feels safer to us. Any image that we come up with to represent God is at some level exclusionary and limiting. And while an invisible God is harder for us to manage, it is actually better for us because it keeps us all humble.
Third we have to be incredibly careful attaching God’s name to our human projects and promises. Claiming that God told us to do something or invoking God’s name when we promise to do something — that’s a really big deal and something God doesn’t take lightly because it matters how God gets represented in the world. People judge God’s character by the character of people who claim to belong to God.
Fourth, we are called to be people and communities who rest. The Hebrews were learning how to not live as slaves. But this commandment to rest is just as important for we who live in a culture shaped by the instantaneous delivery of everything, including bad news. We live in a consumeristic culture of scarcity and one of the healthiest most godly things we could do is opt out for a day. Can we go a whole day not just without working, but without buying anything? You know what my most often given pastoral advice is? Turn off the news. You do not need to “be informed” 24/7. Take a sabbath from the news, or better yet from social media altogether. Use Sunday to spend actual unmediated time with actual humans that you actually love. Trust that being 14.3% more productive (1 day out of 7) is not actually going to get you ahead in the way that you hope, but that rest and reset and a change of pace and a change of scenery will make everything better. We have to be a community that finds ways to consciously opt out of the values and systems of the world.
Fifth, honor your parents. As we are doing this morning, honor the people who came before you and nurtured you. Honor the elders among us. They are not irrelevant because they are old. The world is obsessed with what is new. We do not remember our history which is why we keep repeating it. God calls us to be a community that remembers and honors who and what happened before we got here. When we visit our legacy members, I tell them, “The good that you did still matters. It still exists because it made possible the good that other people are doing today.” Do we embrace what’s next? Absolutely. But we do so with a rootedness in our shared history.
Commandments six through 10 prohibit murder, adultery, stealing, lying about other people, and coveting. The world’s values system encourages us to honor our individuality and individual desires above everything else. But communities cannot survive if every person does whatever they want whenever they want to. We have to willingly live within limits. We have to limit how we act on our desires. Not because they are bad but because they are in tension with other people’s desires. Friends we follow a crucified savior, one who declared that he came not to be served but to serve. If we want to live together and represent God well as a community, it will involve some self-control. We have to master our desires or they will master us.
This is the kind of community we are trying to create. One in which we put God first and reject the temptations to do things the way everyone else does them. Alix, would you go get Nina from the nursery? And know for sure, friends, this is a community. It’s not a shopping mall, where we just come when it’s convenient to get what we want and then leave again. This is a community built not on transactions but on covenants. On promises. Those promises are made by members to each other. Members are the people who have decided they want to go deep. Not because they have everything figured out, but because they believe in the radical possibility of what God is doing in us and through us here.
On All Saints Sunday, everyone who is currently a member has the opportunity to renew those promises of membership. Today we also have some people who are choosing to make those promises for the very first time.
Becoming a member of a church is not like becoming a member of a club; it’s like becoming a member of a family. When a family gets a new member, like a new baby or someone who marries in, that new member doesn’t just assimilate to the family’s way of doing things. A healthy family actually changes because of this new member. So while our new members today will learn some of our family’s traditions, we will also be changed by our new members. We welcome their different perspectives, we will listen to their wisdom, and we will grow and change because of their gifts.
Church membership is not about who’s in and who’s out. It’s about who wants to be in a relationship. In church, we are invited to share life with people who are different from us: theologically, politically, racially, economically, sexually. And when we choose to be together, even when we disagree, we all grow in grace and love and humility. Church membership, committing to one another, is how we manage the tension between community and individuality. We don’t allow ourselves to be absorbed and used up by others. But we do make ourselves available to others, remembering that our lives are about so much more than just our own comfort, safety, and power. This is the beautiful invitation of church membership.