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Sermons

Called to Hope

May 05, 2013

Bible Reading

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, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.

(Ephesians 1:15-18)


Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations.
The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning.
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor; those who gave counsel because they were intelligent;
those who spoke in prophetic oracles; those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people’s lore;
they were wise in their words of instruction;
those who composed musical tunes,
or put verses in writing; rich men endowed with resources, living peacefully in their homes—all these were honored in their generations, and were the pride of their times.
Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise.
But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them.
But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;
their wealth will remain with their descendants, and their inheritance with their children’s children.
Their descendants stand by the covenants; their children also, for their sake.
Their offspring will continue forever, and their glory will never be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.
The assembly declares their wisdom, and the congregation proclaims their praise.

(Sirach 44:1-15)

Sermon

Anybody need more Kleenex? I brought some extra, because I knew this would be a three-hanky service.

It is moving beyond words when we say the names of those who have gone from us. It is such a profound experience to speak these souls into our world by saying their names out loud.

Hearing a list of names is no big deal. Nobody cries when the professor calls the class roll. There are no tears when they call the names for jury duty. I turn the radio off when they get to that roster of producers and directors at the end of an NPR show.

But on this day, when we say their names, it’s not as if they are right here with us. This is when we are reminded that they are always right here with us.

We can feel their essences, their personalities—the core of them that was expressed in their faces and gestures, their clothes, the sound of their voices, their laughter, the shape of their bodies, and the feel of their hugs. We can see it, and we can feel it again.

Swedenborg’s most profound legacy is in his experience of the world that we perceive only through the eyes of our hearts enlightened, and its living connection with the world that we see, hear, feel, taste, and touch with our conscious minds.

I don’t want to call them the “spiritual world” and the “material world,” because that implies that they are two separate places, that you have to undertake some journey to get there, that there is some distance between them.

This is not the day we summon people back here from another world; this is the day we remember that this world is around us all the time, that we are in that world as we walk through our days. Heaven and the human race are such that each has a permanent existence with the other.

In Our Town, Thornton Wilder says, “Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take ’em out and look at ’em very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars. . . . Everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings . . . There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

Orthodox churches are covered from ceiling to floor with ethereal, otherworldly images, icons, which are created to manifest the spiritual essence of the person represented and lead the viewer into heaven though the icon’s eyes.

This is what Swedenborg calls “correspondences.” This is the visible effect of an invisible cause, the physical evidence of a spiritual reality.

This is what we call his sweater, her favorite painting, the knickknack that always sat at his desk, the salt and pepper shakers that were in her kitchen all those years, that picture of all of us that Christmas. These are icons. Correspondences. The link. The bridge.

Thornton Wilder hits the nail on the head. “We ourselves will be loved for a while, and forgotten. But that love will have been enough. All our impulses of love return to the Love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living, and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love.”

I noticed that when we said these names today, we didn’t sing the praises of any famous men or women. Nobody mentioned Mozart, or Ella Fitzgerald, or Swedenborg, or even Jesus.

A lot of those names belong to people who gave us our names, who spoke our names for the very first time, who taught us our names.

Others of these names belong to people who, in a spiritual sense, knew our names, our essences, because they were closest to our truest selves.

These are the people who called us into being. They called us in from play to dinner; they called us on the phone; they called us daughter, son, lover, friend; they called us on the carpet; they called us silly names we’d never tell anybody.

They called us to imagination, to courage, to creativity, to loyalty, to humor, and to our talents. They called us to faith and to forgiveness.

I carry my dad’s pocketknife, which is my icon of him. Through it, he calls me to be resourceful, versatile, prepared, sharp, careful.

So, this day is more than just a litany of names and an hour of memories.

It is about the hope to which we have been called by this communion of saints. I can’t tell you what that hope is. The Bible doesn’t tell you what that hope is. But you know what it is. Your icons will tell you what it is.

Call that name again—this afternoon, this week sometime, whenever it hits you, say it, say it out loud, a couple of times. And listen. Listen with the eyes and ears of your heart enlightened. Listen to your hope.

Prayer

Make speed to aid her, ye saints of God;

Come forth to greet her, ye angels of the Lord,

Receiving her soul, presenting her before the face of the most highest.

May Christ receive her, who hath called her;

And may angels bear her into the bosom of Abraham,

Receiving her soul, presenting her before the face of the most highest.

Rest eternal grant unto her, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her,

Presenting her before the face of the most highest.

Amen.

- Commendation of a Soul, Western Christian Rite

Rev. Kathy Speas