Today is All Souls’ Sunday. It’s a day when we remember those who have gone before us. We’ll take some time to read their names and ring a chime and light a candle for them. And, if we have a photo of them, we’ll show that, too.
And, as part of that, you’ll see a photo of my dad. You’ll see the official photo. The photo we used for his obituary. And, while that’s a good photo, I wanted you to see this one, too. Because, while the official photo is definitely a picture of my dad, this one is—somehow—more a picture of my dad.
He’s got a hat. He’s wearing shorts and a tucked in button down shirt. He’s carrying a camera and a zoom lens and a camera bag. That is my dad.
And some of that rubbed off on me. Not the shorts with a tucked in button down shirt. But the camera.
I own that camera now. It’s broken. I need to take it in and have it fixed, but I keep not doing that. And I keep not doing that because I always have a camera in my pocket. And if you follow my Instagram you know that I don’t post very often. But, when I do, it’s usually a mouse or a bunny or a spider or a bird or some other piece of nature that I thought was cool.
Doing that sort of thing is… a piece of my dad that I carry with me. Not because I remember my dad with a camera and try to honor him, but because part my dad is part of me. That part of who he was is just as much a part of who I am. It is a tether that ties us together.
And it probably ties a line of Warfields together. There was probably a prehistoric Warfield somewhere on a paleolithic plain who said, “Hey, look at that neat mammoth,” before drawing it on a cave wall.
There are people who have gone before us. I am a Christian and I believe that there is something beyond the veil of death, and that those who have gone before us have gone to glory. But I also know that we we carry pieces of them with us. Some of those pieces are memories. And some of those pieces are who we are.
And, I think, that might be what it means to love them… carrying pieces of them as part of ourselves.
In today’s reading, an expert in the law overhears Jesus arguing with a group from a Jewish sect called the Sadducees. Hearing Jesus answer the Sadducees well, he asks his own question: “Which commandment is the first of all?”
And Jesus responds, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
And then Jesus keeps going, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
And the expert in the law says, basically, “Yes. That’s right.” And Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And Mark moves along with his story.
And those of us who hear the story are left to ask… what does that mean? How are we supposed to love God with all of our hearts and souls and minds and strength? How do we love our neighbors as ourselves? How do we get closer to that Kingdom of God?
And, let me tell you, I wish there was an easy answer to those questions. I know that there are people who will tell you that there is an easy answer to those questions. I know that there are people who will present you with a list of rules and who will say, “Do these things, and don’t do these things, and that’s what loving God and your neighbor is. And then you’ll be in the Kingdom of God.”
But I can tell you that I’ve tried that. I’ve tried doing these things and not doing these things. I didn’t feel any closer to God or to God’s kingdom. I felt guilty and I felt shameful because I could not satisfy the rules. I could not find room for grace in the rules.
Rules are the wrong way to think about love. Love isn’t about rules. Love is about carrying a piece of someone else as part of ourselves.
Loving God is, at least a little bit, knowing that God made us and planted a seed in us. Loving God is, at least a little bit, about nurturing what God put within us.
Loving our neighbor is, at least a little bit, knowing that God made them and that we are bound together by the seeds that God planted. Loving our neighbor is, at least a little bit, about nurturing the seeds that God planted in our neighbors and letting them help nurture ours.
And believe me, I know that doesn’t give us clear instructions on what to do and what not to do. But it might just be that faith is, at least a little bit, about trusting that God will show us what to do; that, in Christ, God has shown us how to care for the great forest that God has planted all around us.
Today is All Souls’ Sunday, when we remember those who went to glory before us. Many of the people we are remembering today were a part of this congregation when they were alive. And all of them are a part of this congregation today because we carry pieces of them with us: in stories… and mannerisms… and turns of phrase… and memories.
And while today is All Souls’ Sunday, it is also stewardship season. So there’s a question in front of us: as we remember those who came before us, how do we take the seeds that they planted and grow them?
You see, we don’t remember those who went before us just by saying their name and ringing a chime and lighting a candle. We remember those who went before us by continuing their work in this world.
And part of that work is this congregation. We don’t just give to the church because we need to pay utility bills and buy printer paper and pay our, let’s face it, really pretty incredible pastor. We give because we see the amazing ministries that others planted here, and we want to nurture them and care for them and grow them.
We want to revitalize and transform old ministries. We want to discover new ministries within us.
And part of how we do that is through our giving. So I want you to do three things with me.
First, I want you to look around and see all of the amazing things that have grown in this community. This building and all of the things that are in it, the tress and gardens outside, the ministries and traditions among us, the stories of our faith that each of us carry. Those things exist because of the people who came before us and the people who are here with us.
Second, I want you to imagine all of the ways that we can nurture and grow those things, whether that means pruning away an old ministry, revitalizing or growing an existing ministry, or planting a new ministry. And I want you to ask yourself what it would take to do those things. And I will tell you that it is almost certain that it will take more money.
Third, I want you to think, carefully, about your place in making those things happen. I want you to think about how you will give your time, your talent, and, yes, your money, to care for what has been planted here, to nurture what is growing here, and to create new things in this community.
And I want you to know that you aren’t doing this alone. We are in this together. Our friends and neighbors in this church are with us. Those people who we are remembering today are with us. And I pray that God is with us as we use the gifts that he has entrusted to our care to love him with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength; and our neighbors as ourselves.
This is a picture of my dad. He’s got a hat. He’s wearing shorts and a tucked in button down shirt. And he’s carrying a camera. And I can imagine him taking pictures of birds and flowers and everything else he can see through the viewfinder.
Somewhere along the way, he planted that seed in me. And now, part of who I am is a guy who takes pictures of the neat caterpillar that was on my back door, or the spider who built a web between my neighbor’s house and mine, or the killdeer who nested in the church parking lot.
And part of how I love him is by being that person.
There are people who came before us. And somewhere along the way, they planted their seeds in this church. And now we are people who host mental health first aid trainings, and have beef dinners, and show up for a church member who needs help staining their deck, and make shorts for kids in Jamaica.
And part of how we love them is by being that church, that community, that little consulate of the Kingdom of God.
Let us be everything that they dreamed we would be… and even more, let us be everything that God wants us to be. Amen.