Beyond “Jesus Loves Me”
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
November 4, 2007 All Saints Sunday
How good it is to have these candles representing these loved ones—these members of the “communion of saints”—who have gone before us.
That’s a phrase we throw around a lot in church—communion of saints. We even said it in the Apostles Creed earlier; we said that we believed in the communion of saints. But what does it mean?
I looked it up in one of the Confessions of the Church, the Heidelberg Catechism. This is one of the earliest confessions of what we know now as the Reformed tradition—it was written in 1563 in
The first part of the answer is “that believers one and all, as partakers of the Lord Christ, and all his treasures and gifts, shall share in one fellowship.” One fellowship for all believers. That’s us … and the Roman Catholics and the United Methodists and the American Baptists and the Southern Baptists, in this country and all around the world. And it’s not just us now but believers across time. When we are baptized, as Sarah Brandt was last week, we are united with as people of God with each other and with the church of every place … and time.
Look around you. There are empty seats here, and empty pews. And while we’d love to see them filled with living bodies, we also know that, well, there are ghosts here—memories. Husbands and wives and parents and grandparents, friends and neighbors, fellow deacons and trustees, elders over the decades—they are the cloud of witnesses, the communion of saints just within this congregation. And for those of us who have spent many Sunday mornings in other churches, those folks are part of that communion of saints as well. As are the millions and millions of others through the centuries.
Saints. We’re not much used to calling ourselves saints, are we? Or even thinking that way of our loved ones who’ve passed on. I remember when I was in junior high school and really disliked Sunday School, there was a woman named Mrs. Jackman who guarded the door out of the education building to make sure none of us, uh, escaped. I surely didn’t think of her as a saint then … but she was. Her gift was one of a stern presence in the face of rebellious 13-year-olds.
And that leads us to the second part of that definition of the communion of saints from the Heidelberg Catechism: “that each [believer] ought to know that he [or she] is obliged to use his [or her] gifts freely and with joy for the benefit and welfare of other members.”
Think of all the gifts you and we have received from the communion of saints who’ve gone before us at
That’s how we get to be saints, using our gifts freely and with joy for the benefit and welfare of others. And not just others whom we are sure are in that communion of saints, but all those who might be or might be some day … or those who, gee, only by the grace of God but who are we to say they’re not?
One of the gifts I was given by the communion of saints when I was very small was the song “Jesus Loves Me.” I imagine most of you were gifted that way, too. And it’s a wonderful song. When Karl Barth, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, was asked if he could summarize his theology in a few words, he smiled and said, “Yes, Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
I’ve called this sermon “Beyond ‘Jesus Loves Me,’” then, not because I don’t like the song but because on this All Saints Sunday I want to remember that our relationship with God is not about just “Jesus and me.” “Me and Jesus, together forever.” YES, God loves each one of us individually, and YES, Jesus is there for us when we need him. YES, the Holy Spirit lifts up you and you and me. There’s a lot of theology out there that says if we just “get right with Jesus,” we’ll be okay. And that’s true … but we need to be careful that our faith doesn’t become all about ourselves and what God can do for us.
Because we are—and are called to be—part of the communion of saints. And as the communion of saints we are the face of God for each other and for the world.
The lectionary gospel passage for today is the story of Zacchaeus. Remember Zacchaeus? The tax collector who climbed a tree so that he could see Jesus … and after Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’s home for dinner, Zacchaeus turned his life around and gave his riches to the people he had cheated. And very frankly, I couldn’t figure out how to preach an All Saints Sunday sermon on that text. But about Thursday, I read something that tied it together for me. Who are we, as the communion of saints, called to be in that story? We’re called to be the tree. To lift up those who want to see Jesus, to stand sturdy and ready, to lend our gifts to the rest of the saints … and the would-be saints … and the I-didn’t-even-know-that-was-an-option saints. So that they can be invited to eat dinner with Jesus.
The communion of saints -- believers one and all and partakers of the Lord Christ and all his treasures and gifts. Let us come to the table, my friends, and be the communion of saints, partakers of the Lord and all the treasures and gifts of the Lord … together, in fellowship with the communion of saints in all times and places.