This sermon is for All Saints Day and is from The Book of Revelation 21:1-7; 22:1-5. Click HERE to open a tab with the Scripture passage.

The Funeral Home Called

I am often called by local funeral home directors to officiate funerals for families who do not have a minister, which I am happy to do. I usually read Psalm 23 and our passages that were just read.

Recently, a funeral home director reached out to me concerning a man who passed away at age 57. Very young. The director said, “Jason, this is different and I think you can do it.” Okay. This group is a rough and tough group. They are bikers and rowdy, but this family is a friend of ours. A few years ago, his wife passed away and we reached out to a pastor and he came in with fire and brimstone and was condemning. And we thought the bikers were going to beat him up, seriously. They are friends and I love them, so can you handle this? Sure thing.

I pull up to the funeral home and there are countless motorcycles on the front lawn of the funeral home. Some of the most gorgeous bikes I have ever seen and it was apparent that they all took time to clean, polish, and detail their bikes in honor of their friend. Black leathers were everywhere and needless to say, I was the only one wearing a tie.

I looked at the photos, paid my respects, and then met with his two sons. We had a great talk. In my eyes, they were two sons hurting and in need of good words—been there. Empathy can take you a long way. We begin and most people are seated, however, in the back were about 10-15 men, dressed in black leathers, arms crossed. Very different than choir robes. I opened with Psalm 23 and I also read this first passage. And what occurred next was one of the most profound experienced I’ve had as a minister.

Knowing their prior experience, I said, “Sometimes the church has done a very lousy job of communicating a very powerful and simple message.” Feedback: ya think? I said, “The message is beautiful and simple and it is this: the one who gives you life gives you love and that love is never taken away. Ever. No matter what.” They didn’t say amen, but they used other four-letter words to voice their happiness.

I asked how many have a motorcycle. Many hands go up. I ask, “how many of you fix your bike or tinker.” Several hands go up. Okay, when something goes wrong with your bike, do you spend more or less time with it. They yell from the back, “More time.” Then I say, “So it is with you and God. That’s part of owning a bike or anything with valves or hoses. They break. You just sign up for that when you have a bike. Right? Right. When God created you, he knew some things would break along the way. God is not surprised. When something in your life falls apart, when your relationships aren’t working right, even when you want to throw in the towel on yourself – God wants to spend more time with you, not less. Not because you are a project, but because you are valued.

I then talked to them about the verse that is our Assurance of Pardon. I asked them, “How many of you have a tattoo?” A lot of colorful arms go up. I say, “Each tattoo tells a story, right. And it literally becomes part of you, part of your story.” Oh, this preacher gets it. So, I read the passage, “See, I will not forget you for I have engraved you on my hand.” I look at them all in the eyes and I say, “What this passage tells me is that God has a tattoo and it’s your name. Now, you tell me what God thinks of you.”

“God has made you a part of God’s own story. You are written into the very life of God. Your stories will never be separated. Because the one who gave you life, gives you love, and that love is never taken away. That is what God really thinks of you!” The arms in the back are no longer crossed, a lot of people are crying. I asked them, “Has anyone ever explained this to you?” And they all yell back, “No!”

At their request, I close with an Irish Blessing, which is so beautiful. And the arms that were crossed were now spread out like this to receive the benediction, the good, life-giving words of God over them.

We end and I am in the foyer. They are giving me hugs and handshakes and someone said, “Thank you for being here with us and telling us that. It is the best thing that could have ever happened to us.”

Friends, the passages before us today hold up the beautiful, powerful, and ever-inclusive heart of God. God has given you life and love and that love will never be withheld from you. You are written into the very life, story, and future of God. And God put you here on earth because God wants to be with you forever. Please feel free to offer a four-letter word if you are happy about that- Amen?

Psalm 23 opens with, “The Lord is my shepherd,” then the thought, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Obviously, in life there are green pastures and still waters. Those are very pleasant times. Yet, there are also times when we are in the dark, dark valley. Our passage mentions six shadows we live with: tears, death, mourning, crying, pain, and the sea of danger.

Let me talk about the sea. In the book of Revelation, which has 22 chapters, all of them filled with symbolic images, nothing good comes out of the sea. Out of the sea is danger, those things that cause injustice, everything that opposes the good intentions of God come from the sea. Everything that causes us to question the wisdom and goodness of God and whether or not everything will be okay come from the sea.

In this passage, we are promised that at a date future and certain, light will come and the shadows will be no more. It’s certain and it’s future. Like the great Sam Cooke used to sing, “It’s been a long time comin’, but I know a change is gonna come.”

One day, y’all, God will do an everlasting good: all those shadows will disappear with the light. I am about to give you a list of some things that will be no more. Feel free to say amen to what you are looking forward to.

No injustice. No cancer. No diabetes. No heart disease. No Parkinson’s. No Alzheimer’s. No sickle cell anemia. No cataracts. No MS. No strokes. No financial worry. No mental health distresses. No more worrying about what’s going to happen to your parents or whether or not your kids will be okay. No homelessness. No hunger. No substance use disorder. No auto accidents. No war. No loneliness. No domestic violence. No broken relationships. No miscarriages. No racism. No discrimination. No divisive politics. No droughts. No deep ache in our hearts. No frustrations. No laments.

That’s a lot of shadows, but God has a lot of light.There’s more: Those on earth who had little, those on earth who had no voice, those on earth who used their voice for justice, but gained no hearing: they will finally and fully be seen and heard and we will all stand there with our mouths open in awe and it will be beautiful in our sight – like a bride dressed for her wedding. All the reasons for our pain and our parting will not just be ended, but they will be reversed. All that we lost, all who we lost, all the ones we will leave behind in this valley of six shadows, all will be given back to us. And our tears will be touched by the hand of God.

The light will shine. The darkness will flee. Every valley will be made high and the chaos and danger of the sea will be calmed – remember, one night in Galilee, Jesus proved he can do that very thing. Christ the Victor will be enthroned and all the earth will finally have a King who is there for the healing and health of ALL the nations.

There is this phrase: we will see the face of God. But Jason, I’ve got shadows in me! I’m imperfect. Sometimes I do wrong by accident and sometimes on purpose. Yes, in the ancient near east, those condemned by the law could not look upon the face of the king. Yet our passage says that we, mere mortals that we are—will not stand there condemned by our sins, mistakes, or regrets, but that we will stand there deeply known, truly loved, and we will gaze into the very face of God. And we will say, “This is the best thing that could have ever happened.” We long for that bright and shining day, but now we live in the valley of six shadows.

Yet: while in this valley we pray, “God, your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” So, if in that kingdom the six shadows are dispersed by the light, then our calling in our own lifetime must be to bring light to those living in darkness. Did Jesus not say, “You are the light of the world!”?

When we worship, pray, and serve together, the light gets brighter. Keep shining.

As I shared in the story from that funeral service: there are many, many people who have never heard this message. They are hurting. They are longing, they are waiting. Be an advocate for this message of hope and healing.

Invite friends to come with you on Sundays. This congregation will care for them. We are not going to shame anyone – agreed? We are not going to exclude anyone on the basis of external categories (how they appear)—agreed? Or their background or the future aspirations: right?

We are in this valley together and is filled with a lot of mysteries. Friends, the promise of this passage is secured through the grace of God that is explicitly shown to us through Jesus Christ. This message is not just for the privileged few—it also includes you. Relish it and step into it with your full self.

To him be honor and glory and power and the praise of All Saints forever and ever. Amen.

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