November 07, 2023
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
St. Luke’s UMC
November 5, 2023
The Blessed Life
The Inheritance of the Saints
All Saints’ Day Observance
There was a television show that ran a few years ago called Strange Inheritance. It profiled stories of people who received unusual inheritances, sometimes very valuable items like rare collector baseball cards, a Stradivarius violin, a 1913 nickel worth millions of dollars. What is strange is how these items were in homes that family members didn’t know about. They were often unaware that there were things in their possession of tremendous worth.
It offers an interesting thought: what if we all assumed that right now, in our homes, in our lives, are things of extraordinary worth and value? What if we all believed that we have our own strange inheritances, that we don’t have to go looking for something to satisfy us, we already have it. How might such a belief build a sense of gratitude within us?
The Apostle Paul says it would. He says we all have a strange inheritance. Listen again to his words from today’s scripture reading: “May you…have all endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (Colossians 1:11-12) Paul says our reason for gratitude is the fact that we share in the inheritance of the saints.
But just what is that inheritance? In the Old Testament that word inheritance was associated with land. When the Israelites settled the Promised Land under Joshua they were apportioned land to each tribe. This was their inheritance and this is what they had to pass on to future generations.
But in Paul’s use, the word inheritance is associated with a more spiritual meaning. What the saints pass on to us that is of real value is not a portion of land or other earthly possession but a portion of God. They pass on a spiritual possession, something that is eternal and lasting. They give us a portion of God to hold onto.
Now this doesn’t mean our saints were perfect. Our saints were people, and no person is perfect. But God uses imperfect people to share his presence with us. Sometimes our saints left us with things that weren’t perfect. Maybe a temperamental spirit or bad habits or judgement. But here’s the good news. God gives us a choice as to what we want to keep. We don’t have a choice in everything that gets passed onto us; but we have a choice in what we hold onto. What we choose to keep.
And this is where that difference between inheritance of land and inheritance of God makes for an important distinction in the way we face life. We can look at our land as our source of satisfaction. And land can mean a lot of things. It can mean the place where we are. It can mean the house we live in. The job we have. Our health. The people in our lives. So if our where in life determines how we choose to live, then our here will never be fully satisfying. There will always be another “land” that we yearn for. If where we are in life is our source of satisfaction, there will always be something else, somewhere else we feel we need to be in order to have greater satisfaction.
But when we hold onto our inheritance of our saints, that portion of God they passed onto us, we don’t depend on gifts for satisfaction because we have the Giver. We can look around and see how right now we have sources of satisfaction that give us joy and peace.
What do you hold onto from your saints? What did they leave you that is lasting and good and hopeful? Because what’s more important than what we hold onto is the knowledge that Someone is holding onto us.
This is where All Saints’ Day speaks into stewardship, because when we focus on the spiritual inheritance of our saints it builds gratitude and that is where stewardship starts. Before we ever talk about what we give, stewardship starts with what’s been given to us. What we have received. When we know we have received good things in our lives, it gives us a gratefulness that positively impacts our living.
I read somewhere recently about an inner-city teacher who found that many of her students had a hopeless outlook on life. They came from challenged homes that gave them a lack of belief in the future, and this lack of belief meant they didn’t bring much desire to learn and grow and therefore have a chance of improving their situations in life. So she came up with an idea: get her students to learn about the names on buildings. Not the names on monuments, but the names on buildings that represented life improvement like schools, because those names are frequently different many monuments.
So students learned about people like Eliza Blaker for whom IPS School 55 is named. Eliza was influenced by her Quaker tradition and her father’s social activism as an abolitionist of slavery. She worked to empower the less fortunate. This was no doubt shaped by her own upbringing in which her family struggled financially and her father died when she was just 15.
She grew up to be a pioneer in education in Indianapolis establishing free kindergartens and providing education and social services for the poor.
Students learned why Crispus Attucks is the name of a high school. Crispus Attucks was an escaped slave who faced British soldier in Boston. He was the first one to be shot and killed launching the Boston massacre which sparked the American Revolution. His example of courage and patriotism was the reason the city chose not to change the name from Thomas Jefferson High School to Crispus Attucks.
When students learn these stories the teacher found that it positively impacted the students. When we know we are recipients of good things—of courage, of compassion, of benevolence—that somebody has laid down something in their lives for our benefit, it lifts us. It makes us believe that life is good, and more than that, that back of it all is a God who is looking after us.
This is what Paul means by light. Light is a metaphor for God. And when we know that God is blessing us through people it fills us with gratitude, and gratitude separates how we face life.
Think of a Prism. It refracts light. When you look in one direction light goes out. It gets more colorful. The world gets brighter. But when you look in the other direction light narrows. The world gets darker.
Gratitude functions like a prism in our lives. When we look at life through the lends of gratitude, the world gets more colorful and becomes brighter. When we lack gratitude, when we focus on what we don’t have, what we wish we had, wondering if we’ll have what we need, the world gets smaller, less colorful, less bright.
What if we choose to believe that we have a strange inheritance, that within our possession now is all we need to be satisfied? This is what it means to have a blessed life, to know we have reason to be grateful in life. We have an inheritance of saints who have passed on light to us.
In Kent Millard’s book The Gratitude Path, he has this wonderful line, “What we count we increase.” What we count, we increase. If we count the reasons to be frustrated, disappointed, discouraged, feeling shorted, cheated, well, those feelings will increase. We will find more reasons to support the belief.
But if we count blessings, count the good things in our lives, count the unexpected resources that came our way, the kindnesses shown to us, then that is what will increase. We will notice these even more, because we come to understand that God is there always providing, always looking after us.
If you ever struggle with feeling defeated in life, then you might try the practice of keeping a Gratitude Journal. Just get a note book, and whenever a good thing happens in your life, record it. Maybe someone checking on you to see how you’re doing letting you know you’re cared for, maybe an unexpected refund or gift arrived, maybe someone helped you with a project saving you the expense of calling a serviceperson, maybe a worship service gave you confidence in God’s provision and love. Write these down. You may be amazed what it does to your outlook in life.
This past Sunday I made a very quick trip to NC to see my mother. She is not well and something could happen any time. At one point driving back I was listening to a Christian radio station, probably in West Virginia. They have A LOT of Christian radio in West Virginia. Anyway they played this song called 10,000 Reasons, and when it finished the DJ said that song reminded her of a book she read in high school called Ten Thousand Reasons to Praise Jesus. It started with one reason to give thanks for what Jesus means to us and kept going from there, 2, 3,4, all the way to 10,000. If you had the determination to read to the end she said it was kind of exhausting and the book affirmed that. It said the point of the whole exercise is to realize that God doesn’t run out of ways to bless us…IF, we look for them. If you look for reason to give thanks there will always be one more.
Even for the most downtrodden life. This is true. Even for the person who didn’t have one family member or friend in the world who cared about them or helped them, this is true. Jesus means we all have at least one person who doesn’t do us harm…