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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
All Saints Day - Sunday, November 5, 2006
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to the Rev. Jennifer Butler and Katie Barge for their audacity to believe in people, to the memory of all the saints who died and entered eternal life during this past church year and always to the glory of God!
The Audacity to Believe
Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11: 32-44

All Saint's Day is as close as we come all year to a spiritual family reunion. Today, we look backward with gratitude and love upon those who have died unto God. Their death has left a hole in our collective soul during the past 12 months. In addition to the ten who have died within our immediate church family - including our Minister Emeritus, Mr. Chalmers Coe - we recognize many more who have died in our extended family.

In recent memory, each of our families have lost loved ones who have entered the realm of eternal glory. And so today, ours is not a calendar-bound grief. Each of us remembers all the souls lost to us, all who have been relinquished to God. In the words of our memorial service prayers: "Gracious God, we lift unto you our beloved ones for whom all sickness and sorrow have ended, death itself has past and they have entered your eternal home where all your people gather in peace."

At this spiritual family reunion, we look back to the recent and still raw losses in our life together. But, we also look further back to the martyrs and saints through the ages who have inspired us to carry the cross, to proclaim Christ's love and good news to all the world, to resist the power of evil, to proclaim justice and to be lovers of a world which is hard to love at times.

When I look further back, I see the first saint, Stephen, stoned to death in Jerusalem for proclaiming Jesus Christ as his savior. I see Sts. Peter and Paul, the unlikely team who built the church on the rock of Jesus. I see Sts. Aquila and Priscilla - a married couple who served the Lord with gladness. I see St. Christopher carrying a child on his back across a swollen river. I see St. Maximilian, the first conscientious objector, who was drafted by the Roman Army but refused to serve. Maximilian's only loyalty was to the army of God, which he saw as the peacemaking followers of Jesus Christ. For this he was executed.

I see St. James the Greater, brother of St. John, who was so full of grace and truth that on the way to his death, the soldier assigned to him fell on his knees, confessed faith in the prisoner's God. St. James lifted him to his feet, kissed him on the cheek and said, "Peace be with you." They were executed together and their last sweet exchange of peace we still observe today when we say, "The peace of the Lord be always with you."

Gathered at our spiritual family reunion I see St. Francis with the animals, St. Martin Luther King, Jr. of Atlanta with garbage workers, and St. Rosa of Montgomery with seamstresses and bus boycotters. We are, on this day, gathered together as a "great cloud of witnesses (so says the letter to the Hebrews) to glorify God and praise our savior Jesus Christ!

Paradoxically, "looking back" is what the prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints liked to do least of all. Their eyes were always on the prize in front of them. They were forward thinkers, forward walkers, dreamers, visionaries and doers of God's word! They drove through life with little use for rear view mirrors. And every single one of them calls to us today to look forward, too. They call to us to be audacious in our faith, our hope and our love. Audacious faith, hope, and love are the guiding principles of All Saint's Day. And God knows, we need such audacity more today than ever before.

Audacity is best defined as boldness and daring; as liveliness, brazenness and an uninhibited ability to move ahead! Holy Scripture is audacious. In the face of darkness and despair, prophets, visionaries, and our Messiah bring the audacity of hope. In Isaiah 25, the prophet cries out from the bleakest hours of Judah's nationhood, "(Do not dismay) . . . The Lord God will wipe away every tear from all faces, and the disgrace of God's people, he will take away from all the earth" (Isaiah 25:8). Isaiah has the audacity to bring hope to his people who have lost hope!

When faced with the reality of his friend Lazarus four days dead and buried, Jesus weeps. Then he wipes away his tears. Then he stands up and declares, "Take away the stone . . . believe and you will see the glory of God !. . . Lazarus, come out!" You think it's hard to get up on Sunday mornings, try raising the dead! Jesus has the audacity to raise the dead!

Years later, Apocalyptic John, is faced with a young Christian church confronted by intense persecution. But, John is not dismayed. He prophesies from his cave on the Island of Patmos: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth . . . God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more . . . behold, I am making all things new." John has the audacity to envision a new Jerusalem! In the new Jerusalem the warfare of Abraham's children is no longer! Imagine such a new Jerusalem in our times! That is audacious!

There is a part of me which lacks the audacity to follow the prophet, the Messiah, the Apocalyptic One, the saints and marytrs. It is the part of me that studies the face of tombstones and not the faces of children. It is the part of me that succumbs to endings, drowns in tears of sadness, and hides from the rising sun.

But, then I see the face of Jesus and I remember to be audacious once again. I see him in the garden on Easter morning telling the faithful women - who have come to anoint his dead body - that he is not dead. He is risen! I see the Risen Christ telling his followers to re-frame the horror of his crucifixion and see it instead as God's greatest gift to human history. I see our audacious Savior - living, breathing, hoping, exuding joy. I see Jesus and I can no longer succumb to sadness. I see our audacious Savior and I cannot be silent anymore.

Today, as we gather for our spiritual family reunion and the scriptures call us to look forward in faith. We need new eyes to see and new hearts to feel God's presence with us. We need to be audacious in our faith, our hope, and our love.

We need to have the audacity to believe that our brothers and sisters fighting in Iraq must be brought safely home. Fighting in Iraq will not win the war on terror and we are blind to the truth if we cannot see this. We need to have the audacity to believe that the 700,000 men and women in this state working at or below the minimum wage, need to get a foot up economically and see that wage raised from $5.15 an hour to $6.85 an hour. We need to have the audacity to believe that their children - numbering over 250,000 in Ohio - need help to move out of abject poverty - poverty which makes Cleveland the poorest major city in our nation and Cincinnati the eighth poorest big city. Poverty which means 18% of our sisters and brothers in Columbus are not making it economically. We need to increase the Minimum Wage on Tuesday, November 7th.

We need to be audacious enough to believe, like our own Barb Poppe believes and like Bill Wright believes, that building more homeless shelters is not the solution to homelessness, rather rebuilding lives is the answer! We need to be as audacious as our Ohio Supreme Court in believing that Ohio's Education system must be fixed because it is badly broken. A system where the rich get a good education and the poor do not, cannot be allowed to continue operating this way.

In fact, we need to be audacious enough to believe in the state motto of Ohio, "With God nothing is impossible!" How true!

I feel a new spirit in Ohio. Call it what you will, but I believe it is no less than the audacious spirit of God breathing new life, new hope, and new vitality into our weary bones. Let us pay attention to the breath of God's spirit calling us forward in faith.

On this All Saint's Day, which is, after all, as close as we come all year to a spiritual family reunion, let us remember with love those who have passed before us. May their memory inspire us from behind to move forward in faith.

Remember the words of your uncles and aunts, your mothers and fathers, your mentors and teachers, your pastors and friends who throughout your life have encouraged you to be audacious in your faith, hope, and love.

And as you remember them, remember our Savior Jesus Christ, who every time we are called to his table of love and grace has the audacity to say, "remember me . . . " Amen.

Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church