All Saints, 2014

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Lent 4, Year B March 15, 2015 Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21
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Ash Wednesday, Year B February 18, 2015 Ash Wednesday, Year B Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B February 15, 2015 Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B 2 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Year B February 1, 2015 Luke 2:22-40 Luke 2:22-40
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Second Sunday after Christmas, Year B January 4, 2015 Second Sunday of Christmas, Year B Luke 2:41-52
Two Christmas Eve Meditations December 24, 2014 Christmas Eve, Year B Luke 2:1-20, John 1:1-5, 14, 16
Advent 3, Year B December 14, 2014 Third Sunday of Advent, Year B Psalm 126, I Thessalonians 5:16-24
Advent 2, Year B December 7, 2014 Second Sunday of Advent, Year B Mark 1:1-8
Advent 1, Year B November 30, 2014 First Sunday in Advent, Year B Mark 13:24-37


All Saints, 2014

Sermon Date:November 2, 2014

Scripture: Psalm 34: 1-10,22, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

Liturgy Calendar: All Saints’ Day, Year A

"Dragnet, 2014"

PDF version 

We’ve all heard it before, usually on this Sunday. 

We’re all saints.

And that statement is  true.  According to the Random House Webster’s College  Dictionary,  under the various definitions given of the word  “saint,”  the fourth definition is “a member of any of various Christian groups.”  That means that when we are baptized and welcomed into the church, we are also welcomed into the communion of saints.

So good for us!

But even better is to grow into the second definition of saint listed in the dictionary, which reads “a person of great virtue or benevolence.”  I’d change that to read “a person of great virtue AND benevolence,  that is, a powerfully  good and generous person. 

And  as the baptismal service so beautifully points out in the prayers for the newly baptized, growing from merely being a member of a Christian group into a powerfully good and generous person  is a lifelong process in which we open our hearts and minds to God’s grace so that we can be transformed from saints (beginning with a little s) into Saints (beginning with a capital S).    

These prayers are prayers of transformation!   

We pray that these new saints may be delivered from the way of sin and death, have hearts open to God’s grace and truth and to be filled with God’s holy and life giving Spirit, that God will keep them  in the faith and communion of the holy Church, and that they will learn to love others in the power of the Spirit. We pray that  they will be witnesses out in the world to God’s love, and that they will be brought into the fullness of God’s grace and glory. 

All of these baptismal prayers are about learning to live in the light of God and learning about how to be saints.   

And God gave us brains to help us become saints, with God’s help, of course. 

I just read some interesting articles in a magazine called Leadership Journal:  Real Ministry in a Complex World.  The cover title caught my eye– “Neuro Ministry:   How Science Informs Discipleship.” 

And sure enough, science has some things to tell us about living as a capital S Saint by living into God’s light.  

First of all, and this is so important!  Our brains can respond to change and we can make our brains better by making them more receptive to God’s light.

Dr Andrew Newberg, who is the director of research at the Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson Univeristy and Hospital in Philadelphia, and a researcher in the field of neurology and spirituality, says that when we contemplate God, we get “incredible bursts of neural activity firing in different parts of our brains, and our brains are going to grow.”

Newburg has found that “positive perspectives about God are good for the brain.  However, negative perspectives about God can be detrimental, causing stress, anxiety, and can cause depression and negative emotions.” 

This is why praying the psalms is good for the brain.  The psalms, with their many positive perspectives about God, can help us become powerfully good and generous people. 

Listen to these phrases from today’s psalm, for instance.

“I sought the Lord, and the Lord answered me and delivered me out of all my terror…  I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me… taste and see that the Lord is good, happy are they that trust in the Lord.”

Can’t you just feel your brain filling with light and expanding? 

Prayer also changes people’s brains over time. 

Newburg’s studies have found that when we pray and meditate, we have increased activity in the frontal lobe, and this is one of the areas of the brain that “is involved with compassion and positive emotions.”  And there are also changes in the “thalamus, the part of the brain that helps to interconnect.”

When Jesus went up on the mountain and taught the beatitudes to the disciples, he talked about being poor in spirit, being willing to mourn,  being meek, seeking righteousness, being merciful and pure in heart, being peacemakers and being able to handle persecution with understanding and compassion rather than through violence toward the persecutor.  He was teaching the disciples about how to walk with lightness in the light of God. 

In scientific terms, Jesus was talking about how to change the brain for the better and to fill it with God’s light. 

Here’s Dr Newburg’s scientific explanation. 

“There is a balance to be determined between your frontal lobe and the limbic system.  The amygdala is the part of your brain that reacts with fear, hatred, anger, and other alarming emotions, but this also participates in the positives.  The frontal lobe balances it all out.  For instance, when someone cuts you off in traffic, your amygdala reacts with  ‘Hurt them now,’ but your frontal lobe says, ‘Wait just a minute!’  This is a neurological view of patience.”

The idea is to cultivate the activities of the frontal lobe. 

And so the more we take Jesus up on his teaching, the more we are going to cultivate our frontal lobes and grow into the light of the Spirit and into Sainthood with a capital S.

Newburg puts it this way.  “With spiritual practices, the more you do it, the more you do it.” 

So the more we pray, the more we engage with our faith community, the more we reach out, the more we give, the more we want to do these things.  Our brains  actually become more receptive.

Newburg says that faith and hope, looking at the world in a positive way, is “a prominent predictor of your health and life.” 

And  I would add that this faithful and hopeful optimism helps us to  become powerfully good and generous people by opening ourselves to the light of God’s love. 

The writer of First John advises his listeners “to see what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

“What we will be has not been revealed.  But what we do know is this; when God  is revealed, we will be like God, for we shall see God as God  is.”

Here’s the scientific explanation. 

In our brains, we have something called mirror neurons.  And these neurons reflect whatever we see in our environment. 

So if someone smiles at you, the mirror neurons in your brain smile back.

So –if we are looking at God, tasting and seeing God, our brains begin to see God as God is, and we start reflecting those qualities of God that we are observing.  “When God is revealed, we will be like God,” as the writer of First John says. 

This transformative seeing is why the Psalmist advises us  to “look upon God and be radiant.”

When we Christians look upon God, we look into the light that Jesus brought into the world, the light of all people, the light that shines eternally, even in the darkest darkness. 

Ultimately, Sainthood with a capital S is about having the longing, the desire and the audacity to gaze into this radiant lightness of God, and

Then simply to go be light

And to reflect God’s light out into the world by being like God.  


Resource:  Crosby, Robert.  “Faith and the Brain:  An interview with Dr. Andrew Newberg.”  In Leadership Journal:  Real Ministry in a Complex World.  Summer, 2014.   

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