Sermon preached by
I bet your house is full of pictures and possessions which may not be worth much financially but are valuable to you because of who gave them to you. Or perhaps because they remind you of something or someone special.
A glance at a picture helps you remember the day it was taken, perhaps who took it and where you both were. People often say that in the event of a fire they would save their photos before anything else they own. I have asked a few people here today if they have any objects in their possession which spark off memories for them.
This weekend is a time in the church's calendar which is traditionally set aside for remembering. November 1st is the Feast of All Saints and November 2nd the Feast of All Souls. On both days special prayers can be said and services held at which we remember those faithful Christians who have now died and gone to be with God.
On the 11th November and the Sunday closest to it, we hold services to remember the men and women who died in the two world wars. Time is set aside for two minutes silence as we think of the sacrifices that they made for our present freedoms. Wreaths of flowers are laid on war memorials and poppies are sold to raise money for the war dead and those left behind them.
What is the value of making time to remember all these people who have gone?
In the Gospel reading we heard today Jesus brings up a key problem - how to keep centring on the essential truths of faith.
The men that Jesus was talking about were not bad people, they weren't immoral or blasphemous. They were trying very hard to be the best, most faithful, observant Jews that they could be. They knew the laws of the faith to the very letter. They knew their scripture. They kept their places of worship shiny and clean and wore all the correct attire.
You can't help but feel a bit sorry for them as Jesus told them that, even with all this effort, they had missed the point.
Jesus told them that humility was what they needed, rather than concentration on getting all the details of the faith absolutely right.
I feel sorry for them because we all know how hard it is to keep centring on what God wants rather than what the Church authorities need, or what other people expect of you as a Christian. I feel that those Pharisees were like us, people doing their best to be good, but we, like them always need to have our feet set on the path, not once but over and over again.
I shall doubtless speak again on this subject but today I want to focus on one valuable resource that we have for keeping on track - the example of Christian saints who have walked the path before us.
By saints I don't mean the often fictitious characters like St George, although the courage and discipline embodied by his legend are wonderful qualities. I mean saints who have well documented lives, who have grappled as we must with the paradox of living in the world and yet fixing our eyes on Heaven. We try to live our ordinary lives on the model of the most extraordinary person who ever lived.
Some of these saints are long-dead like Francis of Assisi, who gave his wealth to the poor, who valued the whole of God's creation. Next year we will use the three hundredth anniversary of John Wesley's birth to consider his Christian example of truthfulness and devotion to the faith.
But there are other, unknown saints, whom we have had the privilege of knowing, perhaps a Sunday school teacher, a minister or a family member. Someone whose spiritual example changed your own life forever. Someone whose wisdom or way of living the faith has been a precious inspiration or comfort to you. In the example of such people we can gain valuable insights into the way we can tackle the fundamental problems of Christian living.
In parts of rural France November and December used to be special months for story telling. It was a time when after the nights got longer and the weather colder, families would settle down close to the fire for the recounting of stories and legends. It was of course a good way to keep the culture of the region alive, because it meant that stories had an outing once a year at least and that they would always be passed on.
This time of year is when we can turn to the treasure house of Christian qualities embodied in the men and women who have gone before us, who can help us as we try and live the Christian life. We give thanks to God for the gift of such people and ask for His help in learning from them.
For the children and young people around us, we will be the "saints". What kind of example are we setting them? Will they remember us as always bad-tempered? Do we appear to be narrow-minded and intolerant? Or will they find in us inspiration for their own Christian journeys? I pray that it may be so.