31st October 2010 - "People of Praise"
Stephen Fielding - St Peter's, Tewin
This morning we are celebrating All Saints Day – celebrating the fact that we are all ‘knit together’ as the collect for today puts it, in ‘one great communion and fellowship’. All Saints. All of us, Christians here, Christians everywhere, just as we are - united in our allegiance to Jesus Christ and sustained by his love.
Last night I looked out of our window and saw a handful of fireworks. Perhaps you did too. And as the week goes on, there will be more displays. Maybe you will be going to watch a firework display. And what a variety of fireworks there’ll be! Rockets going high into the sky. How is it done? They are amazing, filling the sky with light and colour, reds and whites and greens. Shooting stars, Roman candles, Catherine Wheels.
And I think of children holding sparklers, waving them around and perhaps writing their names with them in the darkness. I think back to all those times when I've been to firework displays, and been thrilled by them. A wonderful and varied spectacle. And it got me thinking. Maybe we are all in some sense like fireworks. Not all of us can be like those rockets that soar into the sky causing awe and amazement and casting great light. Some of us are more like the Roman candles or the Catherine Wheels. And some again are ordinary sparklers, more modest perhaps but casting a light and doing our bit.
You see, sometimes when we think about All Saints Day, there are some of us who wonder if were included in that description at all. Me a saint? No surely not! We think it's about the great heroes of the faith, people like St Francis, or St Augustine, people who've made a tremendous mark. But this is really to misunderstand what All Saints is about. Whoever we are, and whatever we have accomplished, we are part of a great world wide communion of saints – all of us brought, as the writer to the Ephesians puts it, into a unity in Christ. And what a blessing it is, to be one in Christ! All of us part of the company of the redeemed.
And to be part of this great worldwide fellowship calls for something from us.
What does it call for? Well of course it calls for purity of heart, the alignment of our wills with the will of God. But what I want to spend a few moments on the second thing that it calls for - the response of praise. We are to be people of praise.
The vision of the redeemed – that is the picture of Christians and the whole company of heaven – is a vision of people praising. In the book of Revelation, the worship of the redeemed is the worship of people who offer praise and thanksgiving unceasingly to God. Praise and joy are indeed the deepest hallmarks of the Christian life. You see, praise is one of the most productive, and one of the most effective and one of the most marvellous ways to live out and express the Christian life. Why?
Being a Christian requires us to have faith – faith in a sovereign God who is utterly faithful, utterly reliable and utterly trustworthy. It requires us to let go, to loosen the tendency we all have to want to control things, to have everything buttoned up or buttoned down. A great writer has urged us to see that the church is ‘humanity in praise, handing its life over to God’. As we let go of our limited ways of looking at the world, we let our liturgy here take hold of an alternative vision of how things can be. When we praise we are letting a sense of poetry, unrestrained and unlimited, enter our lives, and as we utter it, we dare to hope that things can be open, creative, better than we can possibly imagine. In our praise we bless God, we magnify him, we glorify him. We bestow on God our sense that he is the greatest there could be, the one worthy of our basic trust, and therefore that he is the one who can change things for us in unimaginably fruitful ways.
Of course our praise may start out in anger or resentment or hurt, as the psalmist so often shows. We have lost a loved one, we have no job to go to, we fear our benefits are going to be cut, a partner has walked out on us. Our praising may start out as an expression of our deepest need. But when we turn from our pleading to God to praise of God, we have recognised in him one who has an utter fidelity to us. And so our prayer is a genuine conversation. We start with our need and ourselves and then we abandon ourselves to the action of the living God. This action is utterly real. It rebukes and denies all those who say that praise is really just an act of self-deception, of pretending that things are better than they are. It challenges those who say that praising is just another piece of illusion, a deadly lack of realism, a failure to understand suffering. To praise god even in our darkest moments is to recognise and trust him as the one who is absolutely to be trusted in his dealings with his children.
In praising God, we are explicitly denouncing all the other gods that we may all too unwittingly worship. We are saying that the Lord is King, he is the Lord of our lives, the Lord of the whole earth. We are saying that we are renouncing and repudiating every lesser god or ideology – whether political or otherwise. We are saying that God is the Lord of our life. We are saying that he is the lover of justice and peace, and we want him to change us. We are saying that we want God to complete the work of the kingdom that Jesus brought in through his life, death and resurrection.
So we are all saints, children of God, and we confirm our status by praising the one who is completely reliable. We become fully ourselves by our trust in the living God. And here this morning, as we offer the Holy Eucharist, we link ourselves to that great communion and fellowship, knowing that the whole company of heaven, living and departed, is here with us. We offer ourselves just as we are, with praise and thanksgiving. When we lift up our hearts to the Lord and praise the everlasting Love, we join our prayers with all the saints and for all the saints. And we pray in St Paul’s words that we may know ‘the riches of God’s glorious inheritance’ as children of the living God. AMEN