A Sermon for The Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
November 6. 2016 - All Saints Sunday
Rev. Reebee Kavich Girash
THE WORD – Ephesians 1: 11-23
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory. I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened,e you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his powr for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.
My uncle told a story at Pop’s funeral. When their father couldn’t work anymore, Pop, the oldest of six siblings, left school at age 15. He worked, supporting their whole family. His brothers and sisters stayed in school. My uncle wound up a minister. Pop never complained, never expressed regret, never highlighted his sacrifice. In fact, I didn’t know that story until his funeral. I had known he left school after 8th grade, but I had not known he carried his family through the deep valley of the Great Depression. (I was adopted by my grandparents - Pop was 15 in 1930.) If asked about the burden of taking care of his whole household, my uncle said that Pop would simply have answered like the folk song, and the caption on Norman Rockwell painting: “He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother.”
I didn’t know that story until Pop’s funeral. And yet, it became my story, my story of my father’s courage and strength. By its telling and retelling for years after, it became our family story. When you are called on to step up for your family, they’re not heavy, they’re your family. There have been moments when I’ve wondered if I could do what was asked of me, and I’ve come back to that story. That story has turned in to a family value.
This is the importance of the stories we tell, again and again. They orient our lives. Stories give color and subtlety and depth to how we decide. They embody and personify our values. We learn more deeply from stories than from platitudes. Jesus himself knew this - sometimes he gave instruction, but more often he told stories.
And we tell Jesus’ story, because it is our story.
Jesus sat with this friends, in an upper room. They shared a meal, a simple feast. It was just before he was arrested. There was bread and wine and all the other dishes, but it was the bread and wine he talked about, made a point of sharing with them. The friends he could count on and the ones who would desert him, he shared this table with all of them. He told them, that night, this is my body, broken for you. They didn’t know what it meant. How could they have known? That night, it was his story.
But later, they told the story. Again and again. Then he took the bread and broke it. Broke it with Judas and Peter. The ones telling it, years later, not all of them were there in the Upper Room, but they told the story as if it were theirs. He broke the bread with Judas and Peter. (He would have made a place for me, too, had I been there). Then he gave thanks to to God and poured the cup. (This is how we’re going to share our meal.) Over and over, his followers told his story. Then, down the road toward Emmaus, our hearts burned inside us when the stranger broke the bread. (Don’t you feel him, present, at our table tonight?)
Over the years, it became their story. He told them to remember so they told the story again and again. And they began to gather around tables, welcoming more and more people, and sharing meals in remembrance of him. The story of the one who ate with saints and sinners, the story of the one who gave his very body for them, the story of the one who overcame death and is sitting at this table with us, the story of the Host who invites every one of us to the feast. They loved to tell th story, one they knew was true, to share it with those who were hungering and thirsting for good news.
From this story of radical welcome came one of the great values of Christianity. Alan Brehm says it this way: “Throughout the centuries, the saints and sages of our faith have recognized that hospitality is the central practice of the Christian faith. It is essential to our life as a congregation because, more than any other Christian practice, it demonstrates who God is, who we are called to be, and what the world can become through God’s grace.”
Paul made Communion into a liturgy, and a rule, in 1 Corinthians 11 -
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
but then again, Paul often skipped past the story. He didn’t have a pedagogy of storytelling. We have to dig under the instruction and read between the lines to see the stories that inspired his teachings.
That’s the case in his letter to the church at Ephesus. There’s a story behind
“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”
All the saints? Paul meant, the Gentile Christians loving all the Jewish Christians . There was a little fighting going on within the church and Paul asked them to find a way toward unity.
There’s a story behind, may you “know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” The early church was hurting - divided amongst themselves and under the thumb of emapire. But Paul spoke of hope. As Garrett Andrew says, “Ephesians...tells us a different story. It tells us that when Jesus appears most defeated, God ‘raised him...’ God will not lose and so we can live out the hope to which God has called us.” 
So here we are on All Saints Sunday, telling a story or two.
A story of Fred Rosene, building the ramp into our church building: all are welcome here. A story about a beloved spouse, another about a brother gone too soon. Stories of great faith, stories that lead us on.
We’re taking out precious treasure, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of remembering: “One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”
We’re telling stories that connect us to people over decades and centuries.
And on All Saints Sunday, we’re coming to the Welcome Table.
How wonderful that it is this Sunday, when Caleb Clausen McPherson and Alison Sara McPherson will receive Communion for the first time. Today they receive a little portion of the inheritance Paul speaks of. Because of this beloved family tradition of first communion, when they tell the story of that first time at the Table, there will be a special connection to the stories of the Saints who have gone before them.
They have the opportunity to know by heart, to incarnate belief - belief, which comes from the German, to be-love - in their bodies, today, and for always.
How wonderful, that our common story is one of radical hospitality, and surprising hope.
In the midst of strife, we tell stories of the hope to which we have been called.
In a country divided we tell stories of a Table that welcomes all.
When we stand at this Table, we tell a story that is eternal. We tell a story that is holy. we tell a story that overcomes today and points to the glory of eternity.
This is our story. We love to tell it because we know it’s true. Amen.
As Mandela himself said, "I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.".
”Between Text and Sermon: Ephesians 1:15-23” in Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology”, 2014
Letters and Papers from Prison Dietrich Bonhoeffer