Happy All Saint’s Day. Halloween – or All Hallow’s Evening - is just the prelude to today – a great celebration in the church. On this All Saint’s Day let us first remember how our congregation came into being.
In 1818 the Bro. Benjamin Harris came from Vermont to South Walpole to do business with Mr. Eliphalet Smith. Harris was a Methodist and had been moving through the leadership ranks back home. After his conversion he had been given a license to preach in his home town, and recently he had started training as a traveling preacher on a circuit in Vermont, though he was not yet ordained. Now that Harris was detained for some time in Walpole far from home, the Spirit of God moved him to offer to preach in Smith’s home. His host agreed and those who gathered to hear what Bro. Harris had to say were well pleased.
When the people of South Walpole came to hear Bro. Harris preach a second time they learned that he was a Methodist! Some were scandalized and turned a cold shoulder, but the message of Christ that Bro. Harris gave was so attractive that others continued to gather Sunday after Sunday to listen to the Methodist preacher.
It wasn’t long before weekday prayer meetings began. Two other members of the Smith family, Jacob and his sister Polly, became leaders of the congregation. They were soon joined by the Boyden, Mann and Ellis families to pass love and peace of Christ on to others who lived in this community. It has been passed down from generation to generation in this place even to today.
What is a saint? A perfect person who never does bad? All saints were also sinners. But their lives were transformed by God to become more like God. A Saint is like a Jack-o-lantern.
- Pick it out of the garden and wash off dirt and mud,
- scoop out yucky stuff
- Carve face - smile
- Put candle inside
- Put by the front door, or in the window for everyone to see.
The question for today is this: How does your life bless God? Turn to your neighbor and ask, “How does your life bless God?” Keep this question in mind as we explore Paul’s letter to Philemon.
Something About Philemon
Early American Methodist had a lot in common with the first Christian communities. You can read in the Book of Acts how the church came to be. After Jesus' resurrection, on the day he ascended to heaven, he commissioned the apostles to go to all the world and make disciples. After the Holy Spirit came to the apostles at Pentecost they started to do this work. Peter and Barnabas, Paul and Timothy and other apostles of Jesus traveled around from place to place preaching about the life changing love of Jesus Christ and making new disciples, very much the way Methodist circuit riders did here in North America. They formed congregations which were small enough to fit easily into a home, like Eliaphalet Smith’s house, for weekly worship. One of the towns where Paul formed such a house-church was Colossae. The home where they met belonged to Philemon.
The apostles rarely stayed very long after they started a church. Their mission was to spread the gospel to all the nations of the world. So as soon as they saw that their message set some hearts on fire for Jesus, they moved on to the next place. The apostles kept in touch by writing letters. Most of the books of the New Testament are letters written by apostles to encourage the Christians in various places. Two of the letters were sent to Colossae – the letter to the Colossians is addressed to the whole congregation while the other letter is addressed to Philemon, the leader of that congregation. Verses 4-7 are particularly fitting for this All Saint’s Day as they can help us reflect on what it means to be a holy person of God and what it looks like for a life to bless God.
Every time your name comes up in my prayers, I say, “Oh, thank you, God!” I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to [other saints]. And I keep praying that this faith we hold in common keeps showing up in the good things we do, and that people recognize Christ in all of it. Friend, you have no idea how good your love makes me feel, doubly so when I see your hospitality to fellow [saints]. The Message
If you read the rest of this short letter you will see that Philemon was not a perfect person. Philemon had a slave, and it seems that he did not treat his slave very well – for Onisemus ran away. Yet Paul is blessed by the reports of how well Philemon has extended the love of Christ to those who gather in his house church. His faith in Christ was spilling over to help others believe. Paul was writing the letter to encourage Philemon and to urge him to keep growing deeper in faith. In particular Paul asked Philemon to reconciling with Onisemus and treating him as a brother in Christ, no longer as a slave.
Philemon’s life blessed Paul by carrying on the ministry of the church and helping others know the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Paul blessed Philemon, first by introducing Christ to him, and then by encouraging him to continue to talk on the virtues fitting of an heir to heaven. Philemon then had the opportunity to bless Paul and Onisimus even more by forgiving his slave and welcoming him as one of the brothers of the church. How is your life a blessing?
We were designed to be holy
All Fall we’ve been considering the vertical habits of Christians; different ways of relating to God through prayer. We’ve looked at prayers of praise and confession, lament and illumination, petition, thanksgiving and dedication. Today we’ve come to the last of our series on vertical habits, blessing. I hope you’ve been looking at the Vertical Habits rainbow downstairs. Take a look after church and you’ll see that Blessing is white. We learn through art and physics that white is a mixture of all the colors of the rainbow. And this is a great symbol because blessing really encompasses all of the vertical habits. For the more we exercise the others, the more our lives bless God.
You see, it is a basic tenant of the Christian faith that God designed us to be holy. Human beings are made in God’s image, male and female God made us to be holy like God. We have fallen from this state of grace. But the whole aim of salvation is to restore us to holiness. God came as Jesus to help clean us up and make us fit for the kingdom of heaven where all the saints of God perfectly reflect God’s love, grace, mercy, kindness, patience and joy. How is your life a blessing?
Like pumpkins from the field we need to be washed clean of outer bad habits and the yucky stuff inside of us needs to be removed so that we will be ready to let God shine through us the way God always intended.
In elementary my school each grade had one time in art class that we worked with clay. One year my brother, Dave, came home with his clay creation. It was glazed and fired a light brown color and it looked to us like a toilet bowl. But when we said so Dave was dismayed. His intention was to make a bird in a nest. How much more satisfying it would have been if Dave’s creation looked like he designed it to be. If he had come home and we had said, “Look, there’s a lovely bird in a nest!” he would have felt blessed.
That’s how it is with God. When people can look at us and say, “Wow, your life reminds me of God, because your life is holy like God is holy,” then God is blessed. God designed us to be holy, so when we live in a holy way we bless God. God wants this so much that he sent Jesus to help us, and the Holy Spirit works within the church so that followers of Jesus can help one another become more holy. That is the true purpose of the church in every time and place. How does your life bless God? The invitation to holy living still stands as it always has since the beginning of the church.
In these few verses from Paul’s letter to Philemon I find three clues about how to grow in holiness.
- Philemon was strengthened by his association with other holy people (I hear of your love for all the saints). What saints do you love? Who are your heroes? What Christian authors do you read? Which of your Facebook friends is also a disciple of Jesus?
- Philemon extended hospitality – small groups of Christians met in homes. Our church here in Walpole was started because Eliaphalet Smith extended hospitality to Bro. Benjamin Harris who offered to preach the grace of Jesus Christ to the community. For several years the church continued to meet for worship, prayer and encouragement in people’s homes. The church grew as the hosts invited more and more neighbors to these house meetings.
3. When Philemon did good for others they recognized Christ in him. Christians don’t do good to gain stars on our crown or a passport to heaven. Christ paid our entrance fee to heaven. Instead, Christians do good to others so that we can introduce them to the grace of our merciful and loving God. And we do good to one another to encourage us to keep going, keep trying to follow Jesus even when it gets had.
Paul wrote letters to Philemon to keep taking steps toward holiness. Soon after the Sunday services and prayer meetings were going Jacob Smith convinced Bro. Harris that they should start having class meetings. The aim of Methodist class meetings, or small groups, was to encourage one another to grow in holy living. To move along the way of salvation toward Christian perfection, and to help one another in the struggle to resist the temptations and evils of this world.
At first Harris was worried that this more rigorous class meeting would frighten people away, but Jacob Smith insisted. So after the prayer meeting the two invited any who were interested to stay on for a class meeting and 20 remained. Their experience was so positive that word got around and the next week nearly all of them stayed. There were too many people for one class, so they separated into two groups meeting in different rooms. As time passed more and more classes were formed, each meeting in someone’s home. This is how our church was planted here in South Walpole.
Last Monday at Beth’s house Mary remembered that long ago when her son was little, Marge R. took time to send her notes of encouragement. And then Beth remembered that Mary and Joe’s were her son Timmy’s secret pals last spring and their letters to Timmy were very encouraging. Marge was a blessing to Mary and Joe, Mary and Joe passed that blessing on to Timmy and Beth. And everyone blessed God by passing on God’s blessing.
How does your life bless God? How do you bless other disciples of Jesus Christ? How do you bless your neighbor? Let's practice. Choose a partner, stand and look them in the eye as we sing, "I Love you with the love of the Lord. I can see in you the glory of my king and I love you with the love of the Lord."
As we listen to "I sing a song of the saints of God" remember that it describes lots of people from all walks of life who have become saints. “They were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping to be one too.” Come and light a candle as a sign of your desire for your life to bless God by becoming holy..