Was JFK a Saint? 11-3-13

Each year we name the names of many people who died in the past year. We hold dear in our hearts the names of loved ones who may have died 5, 10 or 20 years ago, who still influence our lives, who are still part of us, who made us who we are. When we name the names at the beginning, there’s always a picture of somebody who you have to wonder about – would you call that person a saint? I decided to address that implicit question in my sermon today, “Was JFK a Saint?” Listen for the word of God

Ephesians 1:11-23  In Christ we were willed an inheritance; for in the decree of God—and everything is administered according to the divine will and counsel—we were predestined to praise the glory of the Most High by being the first to hope in Christ. In Christ you too were chosen.  When you heard the Good news of salvation, the word of truth, and believed in it, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the pledge of our inheritance, the deposit paid against the full redemption of a people who are God’s own—to the praise of God’s glory. From the time I first heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the holy ones, I have never stopped thanking God for you and remembering you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Savior Jesus Christ, the God of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation, to bring you to a rich knowledge of the Creator. I pray that God will enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see the hope this call holds for you—the promised glories that God’s holy ones will inherit, and the the infinitely great power that is exercised for us who believe .  You can tell this from the strength of God’s power at work in Jesus, the power used to raise Christ from the dead and to seat Christ in heaven at God’s right hand, far above every sovereignty, authority, power of dominion, and above any other name that can be named—not only in this age, but also in the age to come. As God has put all things under Christ’s feet and made Christ, as the ruler of everything, the head of the church, and the church is Christ’s body; it’s the fullness of the One who fills all of creation.

November 3, 2013

Was JFK a Saint?   

Later this month, our society will be collectively remembering the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy jr. I was in Miss Steinert’s 5th grade math class that day, November 22, 1963. Miss Steinert got a call from the principal’s office and she started to cry. I didn’t know Miss Steinert could cry. I certainly wondered if she was allowed to cry. The US flag outside the school started to be lowered to half mast, and Miss Steinert told us that President Kennedy had been shot and killed.
It was a shocking moment. I can tell you younger people that anybody here as old as me or older can tell you where they were that day and how they heard. Even today, I wonder which was more shocking – that shooting, or the horrifying events of 9/11/2001. John F. Kennedy had been president for only 3 years, but he had given the country hope for a new time. When he was martyred, the country inevitably enshrined him in a way as a kind of saintly figure at least for a time.
Later revelations about his infidelity in marriage, reflections about his decisions about Vietnam, questions about whether his administration could have passed civil rights legislation all led people later to reevaluate his legacy and realize at the very least that he was not the saint that people had made him out to be. He was a flawed person and a flawed president.
That same kind of disillusionment has happened for us with a number of sainted people in our country’s history, Martin Luther King, of course, along with a few others – even Mother Theresa to some extent. This disillusionment has happened often enough that we tend to think that if we get to know anyone well enough, we are likely to realize that they are flawed, flawed enough that we would not judge them to be a saint.
We call out all of the names on our list today knowing that they are a strange mixture of sinner and saint. The ones who influenced our lives the most are the ones we know best that this is true.
A movie came out in the theaters this weekend called Ender’s Game. You might have seen ads for it. Ender’s Game is my favorite science fiction novel of all time. Part of the reason I loved it was for the novel that followed it in the trilogy. The second novel is called “Speaker for the Dead.” The Speaker for the Dead is a kind of priest in this novel set thousands of years in the future, a priest who, when a person dies, researches every part of their life and tells people why and how they lived the way they did.
The Speaker for the Dead details flaws and difficulties of the person’s life without excuse, but with the compassion of placing all the details in the context of that life. All the hurts the person experienced and all the intentions they had for what they did are spoken and the person’s life finds closure in their community because of the gift of the Speaker.
When we see with the eyes of the heart (as this passage from Ephesians calls it), maybe we too can be speakers for the dead, understanding flaws and appreciating all that they tried to do, seeing the changes that need to happen in the world to enable future children of God to live more full and whole lives without the mistakes and difficulties of past children of God.

It’s true: if we get to know anyone well enough, we are likely to realize that they are flawed enough that we would not judge them to be a saint.  God, on the other hand knows all of us that well, and redeems each life, treats each of us as God’s beloved. If God is that good to us, knowing all about us, we can’t be too far off in remembering these people as saints.
The saints who were closest to us, who we know most clearly are a strange mixture of sinner and saint, those are the ones who break our hearts to name today, the ones we miss the most, for all of their flaws.  We can name even irritating little habits they had with fondness in their passing because we love them, because we miss them, even if they drove us crazy sometimes.
We name them and see them in the eyes of our hearts as a great cloud of witnesses who share this meal with us today.  “In Christ you too were chosen.  When you heard the Good news of salvation, the word of truth, and believed in it, you were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit.”

Communion Hymn: 3008  Open the Eyes of My Heart