Ephesians 1:15–23

It’s All Saint’s Sunday in the church and today we remember the saints who have gone before us in this life, “the high and holy ones, who have wrought wonders and have been shining lights in the world, as well as the meek and lowly ones, who have sought God in the darkness, and held fast their faith in trial, and led lives of kindness and mercy toward others as they had the opportunity,” or so says one of the old prayers of the church.

Our All Saints Day is timely this year; saints have been in the news these days. Mother Theresa of Calcutta whose life has been an inspiration to so many, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has recently been beatified, the next step toward sainthood. And it’s as if the whole world has been cheering her on. We are hungry for something or some one inspiring to think about, something higher and better than the news we read on the front page of the paper every day.

Heaven knows we have seen a lot of cruelty reported, and too much sadness on a daily basis. Just a few blocks from my church in Greenwich Village three students have committed suicide since the fall term began. There are nearly daily reports of suicide bombers and attacks on our troops occupying Iraq. Settlers in Gaza bulldozed and under fire, and in Jerusalem one can hardly ride a bus or go to a café in safety.

There is too much of suffering and violence afoot. It’s no wonder that we are hopeful that there are some who might be called saints among us, some signs of living an inspired life in this discouraging world.

In the economy of the New Testament, saints are everywhere, even in the pews of the church. St. Paul is big on that idea. He calls the members of the church in Rome to be saints. “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints [he says]: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He calls the members of the church in Corinth saints too. “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, … Grace to you and peace…”

He calls the Philippians and Colossians saints as well. And in the letter to the Ephesians, the writer borrowing Paul’s pen says,

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe….

There is elegance in these words, a beauty of expression that overpowers the senses and inspires faith. “With the eyes of our hearts enlightened,” the old saint says, we can see the hope to which we have been called.

It’s not easy for us to do that, eager as we may be for inspiration, because the world has taught us to be skeptical, to believe in only that which we can taste and touch and smell. We are scientific types who test the rational and prove our answers. It leaves little room for the unseen things that only the eyes of our hearts can see.

We who are older have lived through a century of enormous scientific discoveries. The splitting of the atom, John Glenn in space twice, television in color, medical breakthroughs – MRIs and CAT scans and chemotherapy, our computers navigate the world in an instant, like modern day Magellans we explore the earth, and even those in highjacked air planes can use their cell phones to say goodbye to their families. We live captive to the advances of science and reason. Until, of course, a blackout comes as it did this summer across the Northeast and then we lived as Neanderthals again, huddling around our candles, tending our fires, and hoping the batteries wouldn’t give out.

Religion has tried to respond to our trust of the scientific and material by becoming more scientific, too, trying to prove the claims of scripture by rational means. So we carbon date the Shroud of Turin, and consult with astronomers for computer models to track the possibility of a star moving westward to shine over the stable of Bethlehem. We ogle at shadows in the snow on a mountain top in Armenia and wonder if these are the remains of Noah’s Ark frozen in the ice of Mt. Ararat even though glacial flow would have ground any remnants to pieces centuries ago. Even the Kansas legislature in a remarkable blending of skepticism and faith, voted to approve the teaching of Creationism as an alternative theory to evolution in its schools.

We have done some violence to our faith in the process pushing it toward the scientific method. In the rush to make religion intelligible we have tried to explain away the poetry of the holy, deconstructed heaven, rationalized most of our basic doctrines, analyzed the brain to see if God is in there, and robbed the Eucharistic table of its utter incomprehensibility.

We have even forgotten the absurdity of doing precisely the thing that I am doing now, attempting to articulate in words the inexpressible wonder of the holy, the mystery that is at the root of the root and the bud of the bud, the wondrous thing that is keeping the stars apart, the good news that God carries us in his heart.

Not everybody has sold out to reason nor given up on the presence of the holy that only the eyes of our hearts can behold. Just at the point the church has sold its birthright to the laboratory, the culture is leaning toward heaven. On television HBO is producing again, Angels in America, story about how even in the midst of the AIDS crisis, angels attend us unaware.

A few weeks ago, the Dalai Lama came to New York and spent a week teaching recently. I knew people who flew in from Santa Fe and Chicago and LA to sit at his feet and listen. One Sunday morning in September the great lawn in Central Park was more filled than any church in town with people yearning to see spiritual things that only the eyes of their hearts might see.

Deep within us there is an innate need to find something more than what our five senses comprehend. We have learned from hard experience that our toys break down, our earthly leaders have only earthly wisdom, and the fortune we were sure could buy us everything we want, has not gotten us anything that we really need. Our constant return to war to settle human differences makes a mockery of the triumph of the intellect, and once again we see that might has not made the world right, not by a long shot if Afghanistan and Iraq and Gaza are any measure of what force of arms can accomplish.

In the end, the hard and tangible realities of this life leave us disappointed looking for something more, something better and more enduring. Something that maybe only the eyes of heart can see, something that only the heart of our heart can know.

All along, the evidence of God’s nearness has been closer than we thought, more readily accessible than we had ever imagined if only we had paid attention.

Toward the end of summer that seems so far away now that the cold snap of autumn has come, we stood on a dock in New Hampshire on Squam Lake on Labor Day weekend far from city lights and earthly illumination and took in the stars, the ones that make way for the earth as we hurtle forward in the darkness of space. That night there was a clear illumination of the sky, and Mars crowded close to the moon in a rare alignment. I stood there amazed at the vastness of it all, the unimaginable imagination of the One who flung all this fire into the sky.

We glance at the scar on our finger and are astounded that the body heals itself so well, so seamlessly put together, so eager to be whole. And we know instinctively who has thought of such a marvelous thing.

We look at our children and wonder at the infinite weaving of flesh and blood that makes each cell so different; eyelash and toe, dimple and fingerprint, like the snowflakes, unique and unrepeatable, and only slightly more enduring.

And what father has not stood in the delivery room by his wife heaving and groaning in travail, worried he will lose her, eager for what is coming, and not felt the yearning of the whole creation hoping for something wonderful to arrive after the pain?

The world hides God in plain sight, but only those who look with the eyes of their hearts enlightened can see him.

Surely you must know that our hearts speak the language of heaven and apprehend the nearness of paradise in a vocabulary our minds interpret unevenly.

Just ask the one who grieves today what the heart is saying, what faith holds close. And is it not that our heart tells us that there are ties that bind us close to those we love which death itself cannot dissemble? That even more than in our memories, the lives of those we loved lie close at hand?

I tell you a mystery. When we are close to God, we are never far from those we love. How is it that the writer of the Song of Songs put it? “…love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. …Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”

The good news of an empty tomb and a risen Christ has become for us the assurance that God’s love for us and for those we love is greater than the power of death to separate us from one another.

The hope we have in Christ Jesus is not in vain. For as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”

Jesus told us the truth when he said,

I will not leave you comfortless, but I will come to you.

Last week a reporter from the New York Times called and asked to talk with me about the Staten Island Ferry tragedy, and what thoughts I had about it. You may know that in New York two weeks ago ten people were killed and scores injured as the Staten Island ferry attempted to dock.

The reporter was asking me why it was that when we had lost only ten lives, (his word “only”) in comparison to the 2800 we lost two years ago September 11th,why it was that the city was so absorbed by the loss.

I couldn’t let him get by with that word only. I found myself saying to him, the word only has no meaning in the household of those who grieve. Whether it be the families of those who died in the docking accident, or those who were attacked in the World Trade Center, or those who have lost someone to cancer or AIDS or Alzheimer’s, every death in this world is experienced one by one, and all who grieve feel the power of death completely. Every life and every death is precious, and not sparrow falls without God’s knowing.

Over the years I have been out to the graveyard maybe three hundred times. Standing out there in the pouring rain, in the bitter snowy cold, on autumn mornings when the gold and crimson of the leaves was as glorious a picture of heaven as you could imagine, and on summer afternoons when the sunset alone could make you cry. I have seen the tears. I have said the prayers, and I have left a thumbprint of the cross on every casket.

I have mourned the loss of many friends, and one or two so dear that they were as sweet as life itself to me. Out there at the cemetery my heart tells me what my mind cannot, that if I go by what I see, our lives are really not so much. Some carbon and water and ash. But if I go by what my heart is telling me, not a sparrow falls without God’s knowing. With the eyes of my heart enlightened, even in the cemetery I can see the hope to which we have been called.

The world didn’t start spinning because I understood it, nor will it stop because I don’t. And just because I do not know, nor can I explain why our God is this good, nevertheless I do. I believe that God is good enough to trust in all the things I cannot see, every bit as much as in all the things I do.

Our hearts see what our minds cannot. With the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we see the hope to which we have been called.

In simple bread… the body of Christ. In common wine… the cup of salvation. With all the saints who gather round this table, and all the ones who sit beside us in this place, God is here.

Don’t you see it? Can’t you feel it? God is here.