A Tryptych Holiday


October 31 is Halloween. It is not normally thought of as a church holiday. It’s older name, All Hallows Eve, reminds us of its connection to Christianity. It is in fact, the first of three Holy Days in a row. All Hallows on October 31, All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. These are from the calendar of the Catholic church and form what is called Allhallowstide.

October 31 is also Reformation Day, the day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, asking for a debate on several problems he had with the Roman Catholic Church.

Halloween, All Hallows Eve, is the day before All Saints Day. “Hallows” translates from Old English as “Holies,” referring to “All Holies” Day that follows. In this case, the Holies are the Saints. Celebrations in the Church frequently start the night before, (“evening, e’en”) (See Christmas Eve), (the day starts at sunset the day before) and so that’s the origin of Halloween’s name.
But its origin goes back to the days of Roman rule in Great Britain. The folks who lived there, the Celts, had a nature based religion. October 31, or there abouts, was the last day of the year, or at least the “light” half of it. The days were getting very short as the solstice on December 21 approaches. Their year started with what for us is late fall into winter, right after the harvest. Herds returned from pasture, and land tenures were renewed.
They held a festival on that day called Samhain [Saa-win]. (This is Celtic, so it’s not pronounced at all like it looks), when they believed that on that night in particular, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead was weaker, with the old dead returning to their homes, and the newly dead crossing over to the afterworld. There were bonfires, both to light hearth fires and to frighten away evil spirits. People would were masks to confuse the spirits. Divinations on this day were supposed to be specifically accurate.
After the Church co-opted it, people would still wear costumes to symbolize the conflict of good and evil.
The Reformation (1500s) ended Halloween celebrations in most of Europe, but not Britain. In the U.S., the Puritans banned Halloween celebrations in their territories, but European immigrants in the mid 19th century (especially the Irish) brought their celebrations with them.

In the Catholic Church, All Saints Day, is a celebration of all the named saints in the Church Canon, the “All Stars” of the Catholic Church throughout the ages, those who had been declared saints by the Church.
It was first declared by Pope Boniface IV in 609 CE when he consecrated what had been the Pantheon in Rome as the Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. Originally this was May 13, which was the day of an ancient Roman festival called Lemuralia, in which the Romans would exorcize ghosts from their homes.
A hundred years later, Pope Gregory III, (the Gregorian calendar guy) on the dedication of St. Peter’s Basilica moved the feast to November 1, which took over the day of Samhain, co-opting it.

As Methodists, we combine All Saints Day and All Souls Day, however we include more than the All Stars in our prayers. We focus on those we have lost this last year, but we also remember those who have died in years passed, and we also honor all of the saints that are yet to come. Next Sunday, we will call the roll of the Saints for those from this last year, and remember them.

All Souls Day is the next day, November 2. All Souls Day started in the 11th century when French Abbot Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048 ) established it in his order, and it spread throughout the Church. It is the day that our Catholic friends pray for those who have died, but especially for those who have not yet made it to heaven, still being in purgatory. We do not have purgatory as part of our theology. When a person dies, we believe, based on scripture, that they are on their way to their destination without any lay-overs.

November 2 is also celebrated by our Mexican friends as Dia de los Muertos, a/k/a The Day of the Dead (for deceased adults) (deceased children are celebrated on November 1). All Souls and Day of the Dead are not the same holiday, but they are on the same day.
Dia De Los Muertos has a history that goes back into the days before North America had been colonized, and the indigenous peoples in the southwest had a month-long holiday dedicated to the Aztec Goddess of Death, Mictecacaihuatl. When the Catholic missionaries came along, the Church moved this holiday to November 1 and 2 to coincide with All Saints and All Souls Days, co-opting it into Christianity. Much like the Celtic folks of Britain, the indigenous folks believed that on this day, the dead were closer to us than on other days.
Modern celebrations vary according to the location, but it is always a celebration of life. In rural areas, it is common to decorate the graves of loved ones with candles, (Aztec) marigolds (cempazuchitl), and the favorite foods of the deceased to persuade them to return for a family reunion, a picnic in the cemetery. In cities, the festivals are large. Some wear wooden skull masks called calavares. They put together shrines called ofrendas in their homes, with pictures of the deceased, candles, flowers and food.
Dia De Los Muertes features dark humor, with humorous epitaphs on fake tombstones and toys and candy made to look like skulls (calaveras) and skeletons (calacas), as well as pan muerto, a special cake. (See Coco by Disney for examples of these celebrations). But also with telling stories of dead relatives, and has a more upbeat tone.
Who do you remember?

Five Reasons Why I Believe in the Church

Perhaps I’m biased as a pastor, but I believe church involvement is extremely important. Lots of other Christians would agree with me on this, too. When we show up to church, we have the opportunity to grow closer to God and learn from other believers.

Most Sundays we profess that we believe “in the holy catholic church” during the Apostles’ Creed. Catholic in this sense is not a denomination, but rather signifies the universal church. We don’t just believe in Concord, the Methodist church, or churches in America… we believe in the church all over the world!

Here’s a brief list of reasons why I believe in the church…

1. The church is all about worshipping God

Sometimes we do treat church attendance like a box to check off so we follow the rules. Sometimes we may think church is just a place to visit with close friends or family. Perhaps we view it as a concert where we sing our favorite songs. These misleading, limited views neglect the big picture. Church is first and foremost about worshipping God. Friendship and enjoyment can be nice, but these are never the primary purposes!

Most of our week is spent laboring in one way or another. Such work is biblical, where we do tend to our affairs in daily life. But God invites us to spend time worshipping him in the midst of all the busyness we may encounter. Regularly gathering together on Sunday gives us the precious opportunity to praise God. It is such a powerful experience to stop for a moment, remember it is not about us, and give God the glory. We thank God for life’s blessings. Perhaps most importantly, we praise who God is. Personally speaking, I find that my life makes a whole lot more sense if I am having regular worshipful encounters with God.

2. God speaks to us through the church

Similar to my point about worshipping God, going to church is a wonderful opportunity to communicate with God. Of course, Christians pray together on Sunday morning. God can also use music, scripture readings, sermons, and conversations to communicate to us. It is my hope that after attending church at Concord, people would feel a little bit closer to God, and build upon that feeling as the weeks and years progress.

We can experience God in many ways, from witnessing a beautiful sunset, reading a book, to even sitting in silence on your front porch. These can obviously be impactful experiences, but nothing compares to worshipping God in the context of a community of faith. Church gives us the important opportunity to hear from God together as a family.

3. God gave the world the church

Throughout the Old Testament, we read about God’s movement among humanity. God called people like Abram and his descendants to witness to their neighbors. It seems like with every passing chapter, God sought to increase the “reach” of Israel. Other people were to hopefully see how Israel lived, and in turn follow Yahweh.

Though there were countless patriarchs, judges, kings, and prophets, it is worth noting that God did not chose to establish a worldly government to accomplish God’s purposes. Kingdoms did play a part in the Old Testament, but the climax of the biblical narrative comes a bit later. Instead, God gave the world Jesus Christ and his “bride” the church. This is how God solves the world’s problems. Through a relationship with Christ, Christians lift one another up and evangelize the world. God didn’t give us a political party, economic system, or even charismatic human leader… God gave us the church! I believe in the church because this unique community of believers was gifted to us by God. We ought to cherish those relationships as a God-given blessing.

4. The church is open to all

Some religions teach that one has to learn a unique language or move to a certain area in order to be a faithful follower. Christianity is so revolutionary because Christ meets us wherever we are. The bible can be translated to any language. We can worship in so many unique ways. We can follow God wherever we find ourselves. The church, when it lives up to it’s calling, is truly open to all. It is adaptable and eager to reach people in far off places (both geographically and socially!). God’s kingdom is open to everyone. In fact, God desires that no one would ever be left out, as we read about in 2 Peter 3:9 (“The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”).

I often marvel about how radically inclusive the church is called to be. We ought not care about someone’s skin color, language, country of origin, net worth, past baggage, or struggles. If you ask me, this is such a revolutionary concept in today’s world, given how prevalent racism, nationalism, and bigotry can be. We too often rush to divide ourselves and judge and exclude others. However, the church is inclusive. All human categories we come up with don’t matter… a fellow Christian is truly a brother or sister. To put it in Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, we are all one in Christ. And even if someone is not a Christian, we ought to treat them as a potential sibling in God’s family! Indeed the church is open to all.

5. The church has an outward mission

It is so easy to be inwardly focused nowadays. We are tempted to solely look out for ourselves, even at the expense of others. Sins like greed are frequently valued as positive traits. Many “good” things in life like friendship can quickly turn egotistical when we treat people as things to use for our personal benefit. We often struggle with being self-absorbed.

The true nature of the church is so different than any other worldly system. The church’s mission is to make disciples. Notice how this is not self-serving. It’s not about the color of the church carpet. Rather, it is about sharing the love of God with other people. The church’s outward mission is unlike anything humans could create on their own. Organizations, movements, structures, and governments exist to look out for one’s own interest. The church, on the other hand, seeks to love God and love neighbor.

Even though we should never be legalistic about attendance or think that simply showing up will result in deeper faith, coming to church allows you to participate in what God is doing. We have the biblical command to meet together with other believers. We are called to belong to one another.

What Do You Believe?

What does it mean to believe in something? Is belief something that goes on in our heads? We usually think that belief is all about a mental state. In fact, I’ve even heard from some people that Christianity doesn’t appeal to them because it is just too abstract!

As I mentioned during yesterday’s sermon, words like “faith” can sound very intellectual. “Believe” clearly falls into the category, too. We kind of have an idea of what it means, but it ends up sounding very theoretical and vague.

People can believe in the tooth fairy. They can also believe the Arkansas Razorbacks will go undefeated this upcoming football season. Are these kinds of belief the same that we find in the Christian faith? Surely faith in God is much deeper!

To go from being a seeker to becoming a believer is not an abstract step in Christianity. When we believe, that is a dynamic process with down-to-earth implications. In other words, it is far more important than believing in a fairy tale or sports team prediction.

The Greek word for belief is the same one used for faith, or pistis as I preached yesterday. It means to be convicted of the truth and to have confidence in something, so much so that one shows fidelity toward its. Pistis can also mean to be persuaded.

So in reality, belief and faith are very active sorts of words. I would argue that whatever goes on in your mind “internally” when you believe in God has a direct impact on your life. Believing in God causes you to behave and think differently. You obtain a new outlook on life. You are also led to pursue righteousness. You have a change of heart to reflect Godliness.

This idea is clearly found in the bible, too. Consider the famous “faith versus works” passage of James 2:14-17:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Faith in God means we have a tangible difference in how we live. By the power of the Holy Spirit, our life will reflect the values of God’s kingdom. To paraphrase James, we are no longer just “all talk” but have the actions to back up our relationship with God!

Most Sunday mornings, we say the Apostles’ Creed aloud in worship. For centuries, Christians have practice this as a way to articulate what we literally believe. Hopefully these aren’t just words we recite. Hopefully we see them as having real-life significance…

  • “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”- Saying this part implies we believe God orders the world around us. We do not believe things happen according to chance. Rather, God is working to heal the cosmos, even through painful times.
  • “And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…”– The “Jesus” part of the creed is the longest. We profess faith in Christ that he died for us and rose from the grave. Christ will also judge all creation. He offers us salvation. That certainly impacts how I chose to live today!
  • “I believe in the Holy Spirit”– Saying this implies that we are confident God is still moving in our world. We are not alone.
  • “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints”– We will talk more on this part later in the sermon series, but to believe in the church means we realize it is vital for our faith development.
  • “the forgiveness of sins”– If we believe in God’s forgiveness of us, surely we ought to believe in forgiving other people!
  • “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting”– If we profess belief in an afterlife, this definitely will impact our living today! From avoiding materialism to sharing this good news with others, believing in resurrection and heaven definitely impact your daily life.

So with all that said, what do YOU believe? Does faith only stay inside your head? Or do you allow it to change your heart, actions, and words?

The Apostles’ Creed does a great job of summarizing the Christian faith. As we’ve seen today, it ought to impact life right here and now. I believe something special happens when we truly believe in God. We go from being a seeker, to becoming a believer, and that will change our entire life.