Sermon for All Saints’ Sunday
November 3, 2013
Last Thursday, Halloween Day, on my day off, I went over to Academy sports to find a new tennis racquet. Among the fitness equipment, the golf clubs, the shoes, and the kayaks at Academy, I found something I did not expect to find.
In the middle of the aisle stood a rack of superhero costumes. Captain America, the Hulk, Superman. But what shocked me, was that these superhero costumes were for grown men. I’m talking about grown men, not children, dressing up as Batman and Ironman. Grown men living in a fantasy land of superheroes. And I suppose that I get it. Dressing up as someone else, pretending that you can fly or jump over a building in a single bound is a lot of fun.
So in my mind’s eye, I envision grown men wandering around on Halloween night, pretending to fly around their neighborhoods. Pretending to fight evil crime villains. Pretending to have superpowers. And loving every minute of it because it’s like they’re reliving their childhood.
But then I envision those same grown men waking up the next day. Looking at that discarded costume on the floor with shame. Thinking of how silly it was to go around the neighborhood pretending to smash things like the Hulk. Pretending to run as fast as Flash Gordon. I envision scores of grown men, going to work the next day, and not telling anyone about what they had done the night before.
Today we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday. This is the day in the church year when we remember and celebrate those great pillars of the faith who have gone before. The ones who were not ashamed – the ones who wore the clothes of Christ, day and night. And we think about their stories, about their heroic deeds in ages past. Mary Magdalene is the first person to see the risen Lord on Easter morning, she tells her friends. And she becomes the first missionary for the Church. Paul’s life is so changed that he preaches the gospel at all times. Even after he is whipped, stoned, mocked, shipwrecked, and bitten by a poisonous snake – he keeps on going. Francis sold everything – everything – he owned and gave it to the poor.
I could go on and on with the stories of the saints. My favorite saints, like Jeremy Taylor, a bishop in the Church of England. He buried seven of his sons and was thrown into prison because of his affiliation with the Church. Jeremy Taylor wore no costume – he kept the faith. Constance was an Episcopal nun who lived in Memphis, Tennessee in 1878. During an outbreak of yellow fever, she had an opportunity to leave the city for her own welfare. But she stayed back to tend the sick. Constance, and her five companions paid with their lives. Those brave men and women wore no costumes – they kept the faith.
The saints of God do not dress up like a holy person for one night, pretending to do great things. Pretending to feed the hungry. Pretending to proclaim the gospel. The saints of God do not wake up the next morning feeling ashamed. The saints of God do not wear a costume. They are clothed with Christ.
This is precisely what happens at baptism. We are claimed and marked as Christ’s own forever. In the letter to the Ephesians, it says that we were “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” This morning, Ashlee will be baptized, and marked with the Holy Spirit. She will be clothed with Christ.
The reality is that most of the time, we do not feel comfortable in these new clothes from Christ. It doesn’t feel right to sacrifice ourself for somebody else. It doesn’t feel right to take the time to pray. These new clothes of Christ just aren’t very comfortable.
So what do we do? Well, that’s where the costumes come in. We all do it, don’t kid yourself. You’re feeling weak or insecure – so you put on the costume of masculinity. You’re macho, and tough, and you don’t cry. You don’t need anybody else, and you’re right all the time. Even though your heart is crumbling on the inside. And you’re confused, and you don’t know where to go, you pretend to be a tough guy. That’s a costume.
Or there’s the costume of that fake smile. That fake smile that you conjure up on the surface. That costume that tells the world everything is fine, but soon that fake smile will shatter into a thousand tears.
Just like Halloween costumes, there are stores full of costumes for you to wear that cover up the truth. Costumes of cigarettes, of alcohol, of cheap, processed foods. Anything that you abuse to mask the darkness inside. Those are the costumes that we put on. Even when we know that we have been clothed with Christ, sometimes it just doesn’t feel right. So we slip into those old costumes.
Even the ancient church, two thousand years ago, knew about these costumes that we wear. The ancient church had a very particular way of addressing the issue. Before you were baptized, you actually had to take off your old clothes, and leave them behind. Then you were baptized. And after you rose up out of the water, the church gave you a fresh, white garment to wear. The old costume was destroyed. The new clothes of Christ were put on. That is what baptism does for us.
Tomorrow morning you will wake up and decide what clothes to wear. You will have two options. On one hangar, will be that old costume. That costume is very comfortable, it’s like an old favorite t-shirt that fits just right. You will want to slip it on and wear it all day. Every day.
On the other hangar will be the new clothes of Christ. They will probably not be very comfortable. Like a stiff new pair of shoes that haven’t been worn in yet. And after one day of wearing them, after wearing the new clothes of Christ, you’ll probably be dying to wear that old costume.
But here’s the good news. You’re not doing it alone. What the saints of God knew, what they knew, was that they were not alone. They had the Church, that wonderful and sacred institution that held them up and encouraged them in the midst of their trials. And more importantly, God gave grace to those saints, so that they were not alone. The choice to wear the new clothes of Christ was not theirs alone, but they were aided by the Holy Spirit.
When you wake up tomorrow morning and figure out what you’re going to wear, remember this. You don’t have to wear the costume anymore. You are no longer bound to what holds you down. God destroyed that costume at your baptism. Wearing the clothes of Christ, you can finally be the saint God is call you to be. Tomorrow morning, when you wake up, ditch the costume.