2016 Past Sermons

October 30th, 2016: "To Seek Out and To Save"

Text: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2: 1-4; Psalm 118:137-144;       31st Sunday in Ordinary Time             Sandy Nuernberg

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10                 24th Sunday after Pentecost                Pastor

Title: “To Seek Out and To Save”                                Reformation Sunday/Halloween/All Saints Day

First Presbyterian Church                                         Sunday, October 30th, 2016                   Pardeeville, WI


Please pray with me, O Lord, gather us into your truth as we open our eyes and ears to see and hear your voice over all the frantic, many spirits around us. Allow your Holy Spirit to hide us in your refuge, and give us your strength and confidence, a very pleasant help in times which we live and move and have our being.  AMEN.   


                Wasn’t it all fun when we were kids celebrating Halloween? As a child living in La Crosse, in our neighborhood we did dress in costumes ( nurse, postman, fireman, pilot) that were made by our Mom. We walked the neighborhood streets trick-and-treating, came home and treated ourselves trading with each other what candy/goodies we liked best.

Back then we did receive apples, caramels, coins, and things not traded in today’s celebration of Halloween. In fact, times have changed; at school tutoring on Thursday last, my 3rd grade student, Andrea (not her real name), said they were cautioned about the ‘killer clowns’ (on social media) and not to go door-to-door trick-or-treating like in the past.


Yes, in contrast, the facts are pretty clear, Halloween is a kind of universal, ‘neutral’ national holiday; the National Retail Federation claims that we consumers will shell-out at least 6 billion bucks (current statistics from T.G. Long, Halloween Killing Frost and the Gospel, Advent, 2010, p.2-7) for Halloween (second only to Christmas) in children/adult costumes, home and yard decorations, candles, visits to ‘haunted houses,’ all kinds of partying (especially on Madison’s State St. where streets are closed off (30-35,000) because of the ‘Freak Fest’ fun).  


In these in-between seasons, I’m a history ‘freak’ about how/why---Halloween is known and brought to us by the Celtics (C or K) as Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-en’) or the ‘in-between’ of the seasons in the year. It actually relates to the daylight portion of the holiday on November 1st and the night before being ‘All Hallows Eve,’ Between day and night, at sunset, Halloween is the beginning of the Celtic New Year, an agricultural festival of light and darkness http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/samhainoctober31/p/Samhain 10/29/16). Such Celtic traditions include secular and pagan fashion/gatherings; the end of the harvest, honoring ancestors, celebrating the cycle of life and death.


So you ask, ‘What does Halloween, have to do with Reformation Sunday, All Saints Day and our scriptures, all celebrated within a few days of each other (10/30, 10/31, 11/1/16) yearly?’ Well, that’s when, it seems, your pastor is responsible in having a tricky, tickly, testy way of weaving it all together!! So here we go into history, again! Today, much is kept and dropped in becoming these celebratory days: Christian All Saints (Souls) Day came from Europe. The earliest of Christian Puritans did not believe in or establish holy days and thus, protestant denominations (including Presbyterians) do not ‘celebrate’ either day—Halloween or All Saints Day. According to tradition, however, and pagan thoughts in 19th century ancestry, the begging for sweets (or trick-or-treating activities) began in earnest in our country on Halloween (1939-Britain, Ireland and our Great Depression in America).


            What gets our attention, I believe, about the lesson from Luke’s text, as we celebrate Halloween nationally, Reformation Day in the Protestant churches, and All Saints Day this next Tuesday, is that, really, all three holidays remind us of those ‘in-between’ time periods; Halloween, the seasons (fall/winter) of light/darkness (daylight savings time); Reformation, transformation and change by church leaders, life and death (world/divine reality), and All Saints Day: all saints who’ve gone before us, ‘cloud of witnesses’ of biblical times of Zacchaeus’ life in his work and faith. Really, they are inter-related, I believe!


            The Zacchaeus we know in Luke is full of his top-ten characteristics: a rich, short in stature, tax-collecting man who by today’s standards would almost be a ‘freak’ in nature and vocation. He was a chief over other tax collectors, working for the Roman government, a Jew and son of Abram, jumping into a sycamore tree to desperately see Jesus on his way to Jericho. Zacchaeus was an in-between person of his own faith and practice of looking closer and hearing/following Jesus, and that of being accused of cheating others, maybe what we’d call a crook! He gave to the poor, yet was anxious, changed as he was called by Jesus, came down, saw what more he wanted to know about the Son of Man; Jesus, who came to him with good news of his Father’s Kingdom.


            Zacchaeus is like many of those in our Bible stories of A to Z people who had a special character, were called by God (and the Son of Man), and were a part of community—all people of God. From Abram, to Jacob and Joseph, Samuel, Paul the Apostle, Lazarus, and Zacchaeus (many more) who were sought out and saved; who found out how those lost were restored, how freedom was brought to the lowly, and how company was with others who were outcasts and those on the boundaries of life.


            Reformation Day 500 years ago and Martin Luther posting his 95 theses reminds me of valued saints in our protestant denomination. It instills in us the purpose of honoring the Scriptures by reading them in a language we can read (Calvin’s insistence), and as the central focus of our worship. Reformed theology for Presbyterians includes the baptismal font, communion table amidst the congregation, and public confession in worship, and clergy in a scholar-teacher-preacher robe stressing theological/biblical studies of education and distinguishing an emphasis on the hearing and preaching of the Word of God. There began rules for those in poverty, marriage, and women’s roles in the church after the Reformation. (references to “Why Study the Reformation?” The Presbyterian Outlook, Nov. 7th, 2016, p. 10-13).


            ‘Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda,’ or ‘the church reformed and always to be reformed’ is Presbyterian in nature and is what our Reformed tradition teaches and practices in church and community. For us, the church is the communion of saints, of Christians of all times and places, where we live together in light and in darkness, in-between seasons of our lives bearing each others burdens, along with mutual care for one another. We are Christ’s body living and loving God and one another along the ways of life (2 Thess. 1). It is our mission.


            On All Saints Day we recognize those who have died before us through all the seasons as our ‘cloud of witnesses.’ Biblically, we hear these ‘faithful ones’ in our text (verse 10) ; yet the usage of saints is not likened in any particular holy individuals, but a term for God’s people in the Old and New Testament. Indeed, saints are followers of Christ, and we are called as Christians to be equipped for the work of ministry as saints for all times. We will recognize our community saints of all times next Sunday (Nov. 6th) in worship along with celebrating Communion together.


            In all of this, our adventure might be right where we are now—in worship at church, wondering about the in-between times of our lives--- and being sought and being saved by Jesus, the Son of Man We can be ghoulish or goblinish (put on your cat mask!), witnessing to our saints already in God’s Kingdom. We can wallow in the desire to be transformed, reformed in God’s style of character, calling, and community as that of discipleship in Christ. As God calls each of us by name, like Zacchaeus, we may not have to climb a sycamore tree in being Christ’s own!


                                                             Thanks be to God.                              AMEN.