1 John 3.1-3, Mark 12.28-34
November the First is All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day as it used to be called in old English. That, of course, is how we get the name Halloween, the evening before All Hallows. Our first Bible passage is one of the special Bible readings for All Saints Day.
It's also a reading that is especially appropriate for a baptism, because when the Bible talks about saints it doesn't mean people who are especially good or holy. It means all of the people, throughout the world, who recognise that they belong to God and who call God their Parent or Father because they know that God loves us even more than our own mothers and fathers do.
Not everyone realises this, of course. Some people don't believe in God, and some people don't believe in a personal God. In other words, they don't understand that God actually cares for us, and loves us, and wants to know us and be known by us. That's the real difference between the saints and everyone else. A saint knows how much God loves us and knows that we are God's children.
Of course, if God really loves us with a love like our mothers or fathers, that means God must love us before we learn to love him back. In fact, God loves us before we are born. So we're already God's children, and already loved by God, long before anyone knows how we're going to turn out in life, what we're going to grow up to become, and whether or not we choose to love him back.
What we do know, however, is that every human being has the potential, or the capacity, to become like God - to be filled with God's love, to share his concern for the world and everything in it, and to share his love for other people. That is the hope which lies behind the service of baptism. It's the hope that we will not only learn to recognise God's love for us, and become one of the saints - the great company of believers spread out across the world and stretching back through time - but that we will begin to be like God - sharing his love and goodness.
Today's reading from the Gospel of Mark is all about rules for living. Jesus told the teacher that we must love God with all our being and love other people as much as we love ourselves. These are wonderful ideas but what difference will they make in practice to the way we actually live?
Let's imagine that living in today's world is like being part of a huge jigsaw puzzle. Living in our town is also like being part of a jigsaw puzzle, nothing like as big as being part of the whole world picture but still pretty big. And living on my road, or my family, living in your road and your family is like being part of a small jigsaw puzzle with just a few pieces.
Each one of us holds a piece of the jigsaw in our hands. Our life, and what we say and do, makes up one piece in the whole picture, and it's up to us whether it becomes a good piece, which makes the picture better and richer, or a poor piece which diminishes the picture and makes it worse.
Or think of life another way - as a very dark road on a very dark night. Each of our lives is like a torch or a streetlight, that can help to light up the darkness and make the way clear. The greatest number of road accidents that have ever happened in Britain happened during the 1940s. There were a lot fewer cars then, but there were no streetlights because there was a black-out at night to stop enemy planes from bombing the towns and cities, and so a lot more people were knocked down and a lot more cars went off the road in the darkness. If we choose to, each one of us can shed a little light through what we do and help to light up the darkness.
And because we can make a difference, even f it's just a tiny difference, to the big picture or to the amount of light that shines in the darkness, each of us holds a little bit of hope in our hands.
There are some huge problems in the world - deforestation, global warming, the extinction of different species of animals, fighting, starvation, bullying, unkindness, selfishness. But we go on hoping because Christians believe you don't have to be an especially good, or important or famous person to make things better.
Recently President Obama got a Nobel peace Prize, and people asked, 'What special thing has he done so far to bring about peace?' And the answer is that he hasn't really achieved anything much, yet, but he's a very important person and he's trying to bring about peace. All Saints Day is there to remind us that actually everyone can win prizes. Everyone matters to God, and everyone holds a little bit of the jigsaw in their hands. And everyone can try to make the world a better place. Hope means that each of us - not just Presidents and Prime Ministers - can act for change.
But, of course, all the little pieces in the jigsaw, all the little lights along the road, will only be really effective when we join all the pieces together. That's why Christians come together in church, and its why people join pressure groups and organisations and charities, because when we join up all the pieces of the jigsaw that's when we can make the bigger picture complete.