Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Fairytale for Grownups, Only True

Sermon I preached on All Saints Sunday,11-3-13, at St. Mark's

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen
This is going to sound completely random, but bear with me, please. Do you have a favorite show that you MUST WATCH and you just CANNOT MISS an EPISODE? For me, I am totally addicted to a show called Once Upon a Time. Every Sunday at 8 PM, the TV had better be turned to that station OR ELSE. Don’t talk to me, don’t ask me anything, don’t make any loud noises, don’t even look at me for that whole hour. I just can’t miss a single minute of that show. I’m only a little obsessed, I think.

I think it’s a great show because it’s like a Disney fairytale for grownups. And who didn’t like Disney fairytales growing up? The princesses were beautiful and compassionate, the princes were brave and dashing, and all the woodland creatures were available to help you with basic household chores. We just had Halloween, and I’m sure you had your fair share of Disney princesses knocking at your door. This show, Once Upon a Time, keeps to the spirit of that classic fairytale structure – a baby, a princess by birth, the product of true love, is sent out into the world as the only hope to save her people, who are under wicked queen’s curse. But the twist is that the princess grows up in “the real world,” with cars and computers rather than magic and fairy dust, and she has a hard time coming to terms with her enchanted past.

But we all know that life is way more complicated than what happens in a fairytale. At some point we put away the gowns and crowns and magic wands. We grow up and realize that we were not actually secretly born a princess or a prince, and that we are not actually called to embark on a thrilling quest to save the kingdom.

Or are we?

If we truly outgrow fantasy, why is it then, that we are so drawn to “rags to riches” stories? Not just in fairytales but also played out in real life? Why were we so caught up in stories of people who started out with nothing and now are wildly famous and successful? Could it be that, no matter what age we are, we can’t help thinking “maybe, just maybe, this could be me”? That there is more to who I am than meets the eye? That I really might have what it takes to be a “hero” in my own story?

As it turns out, we have our own kind of “heroes” in our Christian tradition, don’t we? We typically call them “saints.” Think for just a moment: what does the word “saint” mean for you?.... Does it mean for you some sort of holy person? Someone who is kind and compassionate? Larger than life? Wholly devoted to God? A bit stuffy, who doesn’t like to have fun? Someone who makes you feel kind of like an inferior Christian compared to them?

In the Catholic Church, there are a lot of criteria that come with being a saint. You have to “qualify” in order to have that special title. I’m not sure what all the qualifications are, but I know that it involves miracles and many, many good deeds over the course of a lifetime. The point is, for them it’s very hard to get to be a saint.

For us, there is just one thing necessary to being a saint in the Lutheran Church. Do you want to know what it is? Do you? I hope you do, because I’m going to tell you anyway. But are you ready for it? Are you REALLY ready? You sure? Ok, here it is…

The one thing necessary to being a saint is…


Yup. You heard me right. Jesus is the one thing that you need in order to be a saint. And because of Jesus, we have ALL been made saints. Not the “holier than thou” kind of saint that is unattainable for most people. But instead, the kind of saint to is a forgiven and redeemed child of God.

So let’s forget about those Disney movies for a minute.  Let’s forget about all the things you think that you think make up a truly “saintly” person. You have been called to be a saint. I want you all, right now, to turn to your neighbor and say to each other, “You are a saint…”

Because the most amazing story ever told is actually true: each and every one of you was chosen at birth to be something extraordinary: a beloved child of God. You have been promised an inheritance that is better than any land or wealth or title of prince or princess. And you got the advance of this inheritance in the form of a measure of the Holy Spirit and the mark of the cross on your forehead, as we heard Paul talk about in his letter to the Church in Ephesus. This was the pledge you received at your baptism.

How many of you remember when you were baptized? … If you were a baby, and DON’T remember, let me remind you what happened that day (and what happened earlier in this service). In the service of baptism, we are publicly acknowledging the fact God loves you and has chosen you to be his beloved child. If you were a baby, your parents promised to raise you so that you could live into this reality, both with their help and with God’s help.

And at the later service, we will witness some of our young people publicly affirming their baptism. They have decided that the reality of “beloved child of God”- that they had been brought to as babies - is something that they want to buy into for themselves. And so they will be claiming that inheritance given to them at baptism, and we will be promising to help them as they continue the next phase of their journey of faith.

In the show, Once Upon a Time, the baby princess grows up, and finally comes to terms with her birthright, and she is finally able to break the curse that holds her subjects captive. But that is not the end of the show – it’s only the end of season one. In season two she struggles with the implications of who she is, and tries with mixed results to live into her calling, not just as “savior” to her people, but also as a daughter - and a mother. And she doesn’t always get it right.

But the truth is, we’re still going to mess up. Being a saint, a beloved child of God, does not mean that we are going to be perfect and nice all the time. We’re still going to get frustrated at our kids. We’re still going to yell at people in traffic (which I do far too often). We’re still going to screw up our relationships and spend our money on things we don’t need and make judgments about people who are different from us.

But this is why Jesus didn’t just die for us. He knows that we need help, because we can’t do it alone. That’s why he walked around for three years with a crew of young, clueless blue collar working guys, saying stuff like “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Stuff that really is pretty obvious but is actually really hard to do. This is why Jesus taught us how to LIVE.

The Gospel of Luke really is a lot like a fairytale for grownups. Instead of the boy getting the girl, the lame get to walk and the blind get to see. Instead of the evil queen getting her just desserts, outlaws and outcasts are told that they matter to God. And that true love of God really does conquer all.

God loves you. And God chose you. You are a beloved child of God. And a saint. I want you to turn to your neighbor one more time and say to each other, “You are a saint”…

Because you really are ALL SAINTS. Amen.

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