There’s a Reason
ALL SAINTS DAY
PSALM 34: 1-10 & 22
MATTHEW 5: 1-12
November 5, 2023
There is a reason … THERE IS A REASON … that in the mid 1800’s a group of people who had been worshipping down in Paulsboro sensed the call … a need … an urge to establish a piece of holy ground in Thorofare, New Jersey. On a tract of land in what we know now as West Deptford … a corner of this planet we each connect to as St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of West Deptford whether we do so in person or online.
A church many of you have joined as members but some of you still worship at as friends. A place where some of you were baptized or married … where you have sung Christmas carols or shed tears at the loss of loved ones. Where hugs of love and the generosity of giving have been reflections of the faith of those who have come to love this special place, but it took special people of faith to create what we now accept easily without a moments’ second thought. A lineage of saints … preachers and regular folks.
SAINTS focused on faith … SAINTS including God and Christ amongst their schedules … those mid-19th Century folks never thinking of themselves as saints with farms, stores, and other ways of providing food for their families who sensed the Holy Spirit’s call for REVIVAL and COMMITMENT in this small corner of the world. A need to declare Jesus’ truth to “BE full of joy and be glad because you have a great reward in heaven!” THEY HAD A REASON to live their faith … On ALL SAINTS DAY 2023 have you considered or are you willing to consider a reason to live your faith each day?
There was no street named Church Street because there was no church and probably not even a street here nor a dusty path … there were no stained-glass windows to console and lift people’s spirits as they walked through the doors … in fact, there were no doors at all. There was merely a reason … a need … a faith that to those everyday people was more important than the daily news headlines that hinted at a national division between the north and the south … an amazing group of unknown saints that decided … HERE … HERE in West Deptford … is a place where God should be worshiped … HERE is a place where God’s love through Jesus Christ should be declared … HERE on the ground on which this building sits was a place for revival a few years before the Civil War. A place for joyful singing, and a place to change lives and since then, for more than 150 years their initial sense of urgency has resulted in the work, the ministry, the loving family you are part of, and the worship of God and Christ at this church called St. Paul’s.
The psalmist declared for us this morning, “I will bless the LORD at all times … His praise will be in my mouth. I praise the LORD … let the suffering listen and rejoice.” You ever consider those who aren’t faithful as suffering? Missing out? They are … not knowing a reason to rejoice always in the Lord.
Six new members of St. Paul’s plus kids longing to be confirmed into this church where Jesus Christ is treasured and a church whose lesson on life you have heard repeatedly from my lips since I first stood up here to preach in July of 2016 … We love the Lord our God and we demonstrate and this church’s faithful have demonstrated since the first saints gathered in a field below us to worship God that we truly and appreciatively love all of our neighbors with a desire that they too find a reason to get up each morning and that reason is a loving God … having a teaching and treasured Savior in their lives and if any person embraces God and pays attention to the teaching of Jesus Christ then they too can feel and hear the Holy Spirit whose nudging first led people to worship here where we are.
John Wesley, a name familiar to many of you, was a man of faith who failed in his first career assignment in the southern colonies of Great Britain in North America. The Anglican Church or what is also referenced as the Church of England had sent him to be a missionary. It was not the right place nor time for him and he did not succeed in doing what his human upper management wanted him to do but God was still there to nudge him … to create a Holy Spirit warming in John’s heart in a church in Aldersgate England. Wesley sensed a call to mission … to share the teachings of Jesus Christ beyond the traditional walled buildings where the King mattered as much or more than God and Christ. He sensed a need of faith to share in the Sacrament Jesus established for humanity of Holy Communion, which Wesley said if given the opportunity he would receive several times each day rather than merely once a month. And, Wesley felt just as comfortable preaching in a cow pasture as he did from the high pulpits of the Anglican Church of which he was a clergy member.
John began talking with friends … they had Bible studies together and prayed together making their faith an essential element of their lives. They were what we might say methodical about their faith and out of nowhere a faith movement focused on loving and worshiping God, caring for and loving their neighbors, serving the poor and broken, and shining a light on God’s loving grace through Jesus Christ began and we know it as the Methodist Movement, which led to faith-filled people in Paulsboro who brought revival to Thorofare and established this Methodist church.
SAINTS who woke up to the truth that there is more than fitting in with humanity’s self-absorbed focus … SAINTS from the past who knew there was a reason to live associated with God, with Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in faith, through prayer, and the reading of Scripture and the gathering together as a community because in a community of faith great work can be done … and connecting with God can bring a restoration of any soul besides God’s still waters.
And, friends those saints could be rolling over in their graves today as they witness the disappearance of faith communities, the lack of Bible study, and the lifting up of worldly priorities that have nothing to do with God impacting both those individuals’ short span of life on earth much less the eternal life that follows. They might be wondering from on high how many who “DIS” church … denigrate worship and faith practices might ever find true happiness, peace and joy because they are missing out on “how good the Lord is!” Would those mid-1800’s people of faith be rushing to create revivals? To share how their faith mattered during the time of the harvest, during winter’s cold days and into the spring of hope?
Have you ever walked into St. Paul’s and thought about those who made this a beacon to the community and the world? Many of you know names of saints I never met. I remember saints who have gone home since I arrived, but I wonder … I have sat in my office like I did earlier this week and wondered what those days of revival were like … the energy and joy of believers who understood and embraced today’s Scripture, “Taste and see how good the Lord is! The one who takes refuge in Him is truly happy.”
Have you wondered about that church about the beginnings of this church whose saints we celebrate today and whose new members we welcome …
Shortly after the revival happened on these grounds the entire movement to create this church could have died because our nation separated into the Civil War. Cousins killing cousins … brothers and sisters taking opposite sides … here in South Jersey sadly there were supporters of enslaving other humans declaring that it was ok because the slaves did not look like them. But the Underground Railroad also worked its way through New Jersey saving men, women and children … but the nation was divided blood poured out into the land … those earlier people of faith could have invested themselves into division, war, property, and all the temptations of the world rather than building a church BUT THEY HAD A REASON … A REASON TO BUILD, A REASON TO WORSHIP, A REASON TO DEMONSTRATE that there is more to life than the hatred, division, wars, and entertainment that those whose focus is not on God push out towards the population.
And, I stand before you today hopeful … I stand before you today with great joy in my heart … I stand before you missing all too many saints who have gone before me knowing that without medical technology I might be amongst the missing today as well. I am thankful to God … for the lessons of faith that people like Terry, Megan, Eve, and names you don’t know but who have left us have given to me. Did you have five names of faith who have impacted your life to list when I shared the ‘dot game’ with you?
The world does not give me hope but each person of faith who is ready to boldly declare their faith does. That we as a church have six new members … that we as a church have held successful events that required us to work together … that gives me hope … knowing that we have in our capacity as people of faith to have a reason to make invitations to St. Paul’s a priority as we enter a season of thankfulness, a season of preparation, and a season of Christmas celebrations … if we each commit to that then we can bring revival … we can fall into the footsteps of the saints.
Do each of you have enough faith … to have a reason to make God, Christ, and church your priority as we close out this year and move forward to the next.
God does not make us memorize complicated oaths nor handshakes to be welcome into God’s Kingdom and to experience God’s love. The saints who came before us realized that what it takes is faith … we need to believe … we need to be understanding of human frailties and weaknesses and to embrace the Holy’s power and love.
And, we heard Jesus … on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee He spoke to a crowd with everlasting words that reflect on who we should be striving to be … “Happy are people who are hungry and thirst for righteousness … happy are people who show mercy … happy are people who have pure hearts … happy are people who make peace …” But Jesus also taught that because of our faith we would also be happy in difficult situations of life because God is with us.
It took saints of the church to bring revival to this location. It took saints of the church to grow St. Paul’s even in the face of Civil War, other wars, the Great Depression, and challenges that might seem overwhelming without God’s presence. It took saints of the church to lead each of us into our faith walk.
Do you have a reason … to follow the footsteps of the saints … to help this church grow rather than vanish off the map in another 10 or 15 years? Do you have a reason to make God and Christ a priority and to live a life “full of joy and gladness because you know you have a great reward in heaven?”
On this All Saints Day as we can almost sense Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and a New Year … amongst the reasons you list for living do you always include, “I will bless the Lord at all times … His praise will always be in my mouth?” I pray that is your truth and together we can declare, “MAGNIFY THE LORD WITH ME … LIFT HIS NAME ON HIGH!” AMEN
God of consolation, we remember those who died. For those who passed away quietly, we ask for a joyful passage into your spacious heart. For those who suffered great pain, we ask for respite and the comfort of your compassionate embrace. For those who died too soon, in sudden and unexpected ways, we ask for peace and surrender into your loving care.
Grant all of those who have died the grace of your eternal light and life.