Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day, a holiday in our church calendar that gives us the opportunity to remember and to celebrate those who have come before us, those whose lives have played such an integral part in shaping and forming us to be who we are. To get us started this morning I want to share a bit about a couple of members of my extended family.
My Grandma Rademaker was an incredible woman who loved her family. My Grandma Rademaker showed her love through food. In an attempt to be polite on one of his first visits to meet my mom’s parents, my dad complimented a carrot dish that Grandma had made. For years to come grandma would insist on making those carrots because she was sure they were dad’s favorites.
When we would go to grandma’s house to visit she would always have our favorite snacks on hand. We would be visiting grandma and grandpa and would go out to eat and we’d all come back to her house stuffed and she’d start offering candy or cookies or ice cream. She showed her love through food. It was actually at Grandma and Grandpa Rademakers’ that our family coined the term, “recreational eating.”
In many ways my mom inherited this trait from her mom. Growing up we’d always have cabinets stocked with favorite snacks. When friends and family would come to visit we would always have ample food on hand and I remember my mom ingraining in me the idea that hospitality, that welcoming someone, that showing care, equated to offering and providing something to eat.
My Grandpa Clinger was an incredible man and a hard worker. He was an incredibly hard worker. In the late 40’s he dug the basement for what would become the family home and they lived down there while he built the upstairs. He built the house while he worked full time. Once the house was completed the hard work didn’t stop. He helped start the volunteer fire department in Rose Hill, KS, and was always active in that and a variety of community activities as well.
I remember going to visit Grandma and Grandpa Clinger. When we would arrive Grandpa would often be working in the yard or the garage. He would often carry on through the project while we visited, my dad often helping him with it. At times their work would be interrupted by a call on the fire phone, but when he returned from the call he would often pick back up where he had left off with the project.
My dad inherited this work ethic from his dad. When I was growing up dad would work long days and then come home to a list of things to work on or to do around the house. He was always working on a project or always engaged in something in the community.
I inherited my love of people and my desire to show care through acts of hospitality from my Grandma Rademaker. I inherited my work ethic and my desire to always be going and doing from my Grandpa Clinger. These are good traits, traits for which I’m grateful. At the same time, when I reflect on it, it is no wonder that for most of my adult life I have had a difficult time with eating too much. When I reflect on it, it is no wonder that for most of my adult life I have had a hard time relaxing and have always been involved in a variety of projects, always going and doing. From my grandparents and my parents I inherited much that is good and foundational to who I am. I also inherited some baggage. And the reality is it is all interconnected.
This August I began a continuing education program that will span over the course of 18 months and include 6 three-day retreats. This week I attended the second of those retreats with the Center for Pastoral Effectiveness. The program is designed as an in depth introduction to and education in Family Systems Theory. Through the program I am becoming acquainted with the thought process behind Family Systems Theory and also exploring how the realities of my family of origin have shaped who I am as a person and a leader. Family Systems thinking is then applied to congregational life and leadership as I strive to most faithfully and effectively serve as a pastor.
This is, of course, a terrible oversimplification of Family Systems Theory, but the crux of thinking here is that we are products of our families of origin in ways more complex than we often realize. This is true for individuals as well as organizations. And the role or more appropriately roles that we played in our family of origin impact the way in which we interact with all of the organizations we are a part of as adults. When we marry and have kids we are impacted by our families of origin. In our work and social relationships, the ways in which we interact with one another are shaped by our families of origin. And in our engagement in a community of faith, we are shaped and formed by our families of origin.
In this model of interconnectedness, dysfunction isn’t so much about the sickness or weakness or problem of one particular individual, rather it is about systems, specifically the anxiety that exists in the systems and the ways in which that anxiety is lived out within the system.
I imagine that each of you can look to your families of origin and name people like my Grandma Rademaker and Grandpa Clinger who have shaped and formed you (in both good and not so good ways) into who you are today.
The same is true for us as a congregation. We sit here where we do today thanks in large part to the faithful witness of so many who have come before us. There is much of us as a congregation that is good and holy and life giving because of the lives of those who came before us. However, I imagine there are also elements of who we are as a congregation today, some of the not so great, that can be traced back to some of those who have come before us and some of the experiences that they had and to some of the systems of which they were a part.
It might be that when it comes to the finances of our congregation and some of the conversations that we seem hesitant to have about our finances, that there is something a generation or two ago in our congregational life that impacts that.
It might be that when it comes to ministry with the children and the youth of our congregation that there is something about our past as a congregation that is being lived out in the realities of who we are today.
Are you beginning to see how this works and plays out from generation to generation? I don’t simply overeat and I don’t simply have work-a-holic tendencies because I am weak or sick or because there is something wrong with me. We as a congregation don’t have places of tension or frustration because we are weak or sick or because there is something wrong with us. We are al products of interconnected family systems.
Conventional wisdom tells us that we are doomed to be who our families of origin create us to be or allow us to be. What I am beginning to understand through my study of family systems theory is that, though we are influenced and shaped by our past, we don’t have to be a victim of it or held hostage by it. I believe that I don’t have to be trapped in those patterns that I learned from my family of origin. I believe that you don’t have to be trapped in those patterns that you learned from your family of origin. I believe that we as a congregation don’t have to be trapped in the patterns that we have inherited from our past.
I have a confidence in this, in our ability to move into a future defined by the invitation of God’s love and not the baggage of our past, in part because of what I read in today’s scripture readings. The Matthew reading comes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount as it is recorded in Matthew. It is one of Jesus’ first public teachings as recorded in this gospel and in it he begins to break down conventional wisdom and begins to talk about the Kingdom of God and what a new way of living can look like.
Conventional wisdom tells us that those with power are blessed. The messages that constantly bombard us tell us that those who are wealthy, and happy, and strong, and filled, and who seem to have all of the answers and have it all together, that these are the ones who are truly blessed. Jesus tells us that this isn’t the case…
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Further, I find great hope in the words read from 1 John this morning, specifically in this statement, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Our full potential is not yet known, but as Christ continues to be made known in our midst and as we continue to grow into Christ’s likeness, we will more and more know what it is that we can be. I believe that, though we are products of our past, we are not inherently doomed to be trapped by that past.
Today we remember and celebrate the Saints of our churches’ past, those people who have lost their lives in the last year, those people who have impacted our lives and our church. It is worth saying again, that both for good and for bad, we are who we are as a church today in large part because of those who have come before us. We have a history that covers 142 years on this corner and today we lift up and celebrate 13 individuals who have passed in this year alone.
Today I also want to lift up and celebrate the retreat that we held Friday night and yesterday morning and the saints who were a part of that. It says a lot about a church that (how many) people will give up a significant portion of their weekend to gather together so that they might worship, laugh, dream, and grow together. The retreat was well attended by a diverse group of people and the energy was incredible. I am excited to see how we as a church we continue to nurture and bring to life various seeds that were planted during the retreat. This work will, of course, be done by each and every one of you, the Saints of the present.
And finally, I want to lift up to you this morning those Saints who are not yet here. Much of the work that we do together as a church in the coming years will not just be about remembering those who have come before us or caring for ourselves, but will be about creating a tomorrow that is healthy and full of promise and opportunity for those saints who are yet to come. There are children in our community and around the world who need to know of God’s love. There are countless un-churched and de-churched in our community who desperately need to know of God’s love. We all need to be reminded of the good news of God’s blessings that meet us where we regardless of who we are and that help us reveal for ourselves and for the world the goodness of Christ.