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We Are Children of God, Now: A Sermon for All Saints Day

How about a card with this passage from the letter to the Hebrews written to a church with faith fatigue whose author wanted them to remember their ancestors of faith to energize them for struggles that lay ahead?

"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, then let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and run with perseverance the race that is set before us."

How about this passage from 1 John 3:1-3, written to a church who desperately needed hope in challenging circumstances?

"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God and that is what we are…We are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed…What we do know is this: when he is revealed. We will be like him, for we will see him as he is. All who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure."

I once attended a funeral and the pastor began it by smiling broadly at the congregation and exclaiming, "Dry your eyes! We have not come to mourn but to celebrate!" He was half right. When Christians hold a funeral or memorial service, they acknowledge their human grief, but affirm their loved one's eternal life through the gift of the death and resurrection and ongoing life of Jesus Christ. So Paul reminds the Church of the Hebrews and contemporary Christians to look to Jesus, our example, and through God's grace, our strength, as we press ahead in the challenging race of life. So the author of 1 John reminds readers that they are God's children now, and to live with hope as they wait for the day when they will see him face to face.

Common to both Judaism and Christianity is the injunction to remember as a means of accessing the spiritual power and joy with which God surrounds us.

Remember persons of faith. We gather today to remember and to honor and to give thanks and to be encouraged by the example of those who have gone on to the next phase of life in this past year. In the eyes of this community and God, they are not forgotten and they will not be forgotten! Their memory surrounds us and inspires us to surround one another with the care and compassion that God intends for human communities.

I forgot to mention earlier that I am named after my grandmother. She was the original Alyce. While she was living they called her Alyce senior and I was Alyce junior. Jewish tradition says that, in addition to saying Kaddish for a departed loved one, another way to remember them is by naming a child after them. The tradition affirms that a spark of that person will live on in the child and that the child will actually embody some of the special qualities of that person.

One of the things I found while helping my mom go through Nana's things was a box on the top shelf of her hall closet, a box with all of her I.D. badges in it. There was her library helper's badge she wore when helping in the Bethany Village library each Friday afternoon. There was her medical card with her picture on it. There was her driver's license, which she had let expire at age 89 but still kept. I felt a wave of sadness because she wouldn't need them anymore.

Then I felt a wave of joy because she wouldn't need them anymore.

It was as if God were saying to me, "No one like her has ever been before. And no one like her will ever be again. I value her. I embrace her. Honor her memory by living by the best example she set during her earthly days. For you are my child now! Live with hope becoming more and more like Jesus until the day that you, like her, see him face to face. Give thanks, and be at peace."

10/27/2014 4:00:00 AM
Alyce McKenzie
About Alyce McKenzie
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.