Joshua 24:1-3a; 14-15, 24-25
A church member sent me this story.
He noticed that we were observing All Saints Day this weekend.
And with the elections on Tuesday, the tale seemed even more timely.
Two brothers were local politicians in a small town in Texas.
But they were horribly corrupt—and controlled the town for years.
They were unfaithful to their wives and mean to their children.
They were dishonest in their business and political affairs.
They abused their power and resources to remain in office.
But one day the older brother died unexpectedly.
The younger brother went to the town pastor to make arrangements.
He said, “I know what you think about us, Pastor.”
“But I insist that you forgive him and say something nice about him.”
“At some point in the service, please refer to my brother as a ‘saint.’”
“In fact, I’ll give the church a gift of $500,000 if you cooperate.”
The pastor resisted at first—but then agreed to help with the service.
Then the pastor prayed for the wisdom to be able to pull this off.
Suddenly, the pastor came up with a brilliant idea!
The service was planned—and the pastor kept it very generic.
There were the usual hymns, readings, and message.
The younger brother kept waiting and waiting and waiting.
Finally, the minister shared some closing remarks.
Looking out at the congregation, the pastor proclaimed:
“Today we remember Joe—and we all know about Joe.”
“Joe was a wicked man—a womanizer, a thief, a crook.”
“He was a pitiful politician, selfish, and as corrupt as they come.”
“But in spite of his faults…compared to his younger brother…”
“Joe was a saint.”
I’m not sure if the church received the half million dollars?
TODAY WE ARE OBSERVING ALL SAINTS DAY.
Who…or what…do you think of when you hear the word “saints?”
I know some of you can’t help but think of a certain football team.
And some of you think of “pedestal people”—perfect folks.
In fact, there are some who will be glad to tell you how good they are.
I came across this interesting bit of church history from 1640.
Here are the minutes of a church meeting in Milford, Connecticut.
They voted that: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”
They voted that: “The earth is given to the saints.”
Then they voted: “We are the saints.”
There’s nothing like a little pride to tarnish one’s halo, is there?!
Little Amy’s understanding may be closer to the truth.
She was visiting her grandmother one Saturday afternoon.
Grandma said, “I wish you could go to church with me tomorrow.”
Amy wondered if there was something special going on.
Grandma said, “Yes! It is All Saints Day!”
Amy said, “But Grammie, we’re not saints—we’re Methodists!”
Some of us shy away from using the word “saint.”
And folks are quick to remind us that we are “no saints.”
But if sainthood is equated with perfection, who meets the standard?
Who is qualified to judge?
What if saints are ordinary people who are trying to make good?
When we read the Bible, we learn about people who were a mixture of: devotion and denial, courage and cowardice, faith and doubt.
Saints are the forgiven who know it, act upon it, and live by grace without trying to gain stained-glass status in their lives.
Saints are strugglers who are faithful to the end.
Some of you have been out to the Breeder’s Cup this weekend.
And most of you know more about horse-racing than I do.
You are more interested in great finishers than fancy starters.
The first horse out of the gate is rarely the first to cross the finish line.
And that’s a good goal for us—to try to live life fully and finish well.
It seems that saints are “works in progress,” “people in process.”
I like Frederick Buechner’s description; he says:
“Saints are men and women who are made not out of plaster and platitude and moral perfection—but out of human flesh.”
“Saints have their rough edges and blind spots like everyone else.”
“But their lives are transparent to something so extraordinary that every so often it stops us dead in our tracks.”
“In God’s holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief—these handkerchiefs are called saints.”
SAINTS ALSO HAVE GOOD MEMORIES.
We all struggle with a little selective amnesia when it comes to God.
Sometimes we forget that we are here by the grace of God.
Sometimes we forget that all we have is on loan from God.
Sometimes we forget what God has done for us.
We are called to remember—and help each other remember.
We are here because of the blood, sweat, and tears of others.
We remember and give thanks to God for the gift of their lives.
We take time—not to remember our good works.
We take time to remember God’s good works through God’s people.
Sometimes we use the word “anamnesis” to describe this.
Anamnesis is a deep remembering of God’s salvation history.
We use the word to describe our communion celebration.
Another excellent example is in today’s text from Joshua 24.
I encourage you to read the whole chapter—we just heard part of it.
Joshua calls the people together at the Jordan.
And he gives them an important history lesson.
He places their lives in the context of a long stream of God’s people.
He tells them to remember their ancestors—the good and not so good.
He doesn’t pull any punches here—he speaks the truth.
God through Joshua says, “Hey, your family members really fouled up for a while—they got off track—they worshipped other gods!”
God says: “Don’t ever forget what I’ve done for you—how I’ve carried you!”
“Remember the promise of many offspring to Abraham and Sarah, the land I gave to you, what happened in Egypt, the Red Sea, your deliverance in the wilderness…and on and on and on…don’t forget!”
“Don’t forget—and choose this day whom you will serve!”
And it is interesting to read about the end of Joshua’s life.
Toward the end of the chapter, Joshua dies, 110 years old.
This servant of the Lord is gone…but not forgotten.
Verse 31 tells us that God’s people served the Lord all the days of Joshua—then they kept serving God all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua—they remembered!
The love for God, the life, the legacy lived on.
SO TODAY WE REMEMBER…AND REJOICE!
We give thanks for ordinary family members and friends.
We give thanks for church family members and the faithful.
We give thanks for those among us and those who’ve gone before us.
We give thanks for those we know—and the countless we don’t.
We give thanks for the contributions they have made to us.
We give thanks for the positive ways they have changed the world.
We give thanks for the ways they shared God’s love and grace.
We rejoice because of God’s gift of their lives to us.
And one of the best ways to rejoice is to pass along their gifts.
There are great stories to be told!
Some of you may know about St. Peter of Alcantara.
He was a Franciscan monk who lived during the early 16th century.
For almost 40 years, he slept no more than 1 ½ hours a night.
He wore a habit and cape of very coarse material.
St. Peter lived in extreme poverty—he always went barefoot.
He was said to be an excellent preacher—but preferred solitude.
He tried to cut himself off completely from other people.
Would you describe this as saintly behavior?
Are we to choose a life of complete deprivation?
Can we love our neighbors if we don’t ever meet them?
Doesn’t God call us out of the cloister and into the world?
We’re called to be in relationship—to God—and to God’s people.
We can’t make it through this life alone.
Joshua gathers God’s people together for many important reasons.
He reminds them who they are and how they got there.
He tells them to remember what God had done for them.
He tells them to rejoice because of God’s many blessings.
And he tells them to recommit themselves—“People of God, recommit yourselves to God, renew your covenant with God.”
God has been our help in ages past.
God will be our hope for years to come.
One poet described it this way:
“Hope stands up to its knees in the past and keeps its eyes on the future.”
“There has never been a time past when God wasn’t with us as the strength beyond our strength, the wisdom beyond our wisdom.”
“To remember the past is to see that we are here today by grace.”
“The fact that we have survived is a gift.”
Leo Buscalgia remembers and give thanks for his father.