All Saints Sunday C: The Saints of God

Readings

  • Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
  • Psalm 149
  • Ephesians 1:11-23
  • Luke 6:20-31

You can find all the readings, in CEB and NRSV, here.

Sermon

I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green;
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And God’s love made them strong;
And they followed the right for Jesus’ sake
The whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
And there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
Why I shouldn’t be one too.
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.

(“I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” by Lesbia Scott, 1929.)

Today we mark the festival of All Saints.

The festival itself was on Monday, immediately following All Hallows Eve, and immediately before All Souls Day, or the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.  A triduum of remembrance: Allhallowtide.

So, today we gather to give thanks for all the saints of every time and place, who have gone before us and who will come after us, joined together at the last at God’s table – the feast of all the ages.

We light candles for the souls of our loved ones who have died this last year, and we remember the impact of their lives on ours and those around us.

And we celebrate that God raised Christ Jesus from the dead for each of us.  Hope in the midst of our dying; we die to life eternal through the faith given to us and grown in us by the Holy Spirit.

Today is a truly Trinitarian festival.

But, even in the midst of that explanation, there remains this question.
What is a saint?

The answer is three-fold, simple and also complicated.

The word ‘saint’ literally means holy ones, those who are hallowed.  Anyone who has been baptized into Christ’s body is literally hallowed – the Holy Spirit entered into our lives with the gift of faith.  Having been blessed with that presence of God in our lives, we are made holy.

Oh, it’s us.  We are the saints.

To expand it a little further – as the confirmation students have learned this year – some words have multiple meanings.  For example, the wind that moved over the waters in Genesis, the breath of God breathed into Adam and Eve in Genesis, that ruach, is holy wind, holy breath, and Holy Spirit – one and the same.

I’m the kind of person that really believes in the multiplicity of words.  That Holy ruach in every person – every person hallowed.  Ever person holy.  Not just Christians, all people.

We are all the saints.

But not because we are somehow better than everyone else.  Not even because we are so, so, so incredibly good.  We are, in fact, much better examples of the multiple meanings and definitions of the word sinner.

And maybe, that’s where it gets strangely complicated.

We call the very special few who exemplify the good in the world saints.  These people are placed on a calendar of saints and are celebrated and remembered by special days and in our prayers.  They are noted for the remarkable, and sometimes unremarkable, things that they did in the world.  They were from all walks of life –  and in some way extraordinary in how they lived, or died.  The hymn I shared with you at the beginning of this sermon illustrates this point very well.

The saints of the past are remembered on a calendar because history remembered them.  Recently, I heard on CBC Radio on my way out to church that there are 107billion people on this planet – and only 7 billion of them are alive.  Our calendar of saints hardly has 100 billion people on it.  But, reading through the stories of the saints on our calendar of saints, and it’s easy to see that these people were clearly extraordinary.  There does, however, seem to be a common thread with the saints of the past who we remember – they so loved God.

But the hymn also speaks to another truth: we are all capable of that incredibly extraordinary saintedness.  We too are the saints of our time.  Extraordinary in our own way.

At the very surface of today’s Gospel, it’s easy to see condemnation.  There is this clear divide between the so-called happy have-nots and the so-clearly condemned haves.  But it makes one wonder if one must seek a life of misery and misfortune, in order to inherit God’s kingdom.  I don’t think that this is what Jesus is getting at.

Luke’s text is not afraid to be blunt about the lives of those who are poor, hungry, grieving, hated, insulted, rejected, and condemned.  We don’t have to think very hard of what life must have been like for those who desperately grabbed onto the relationship that Jesus offered them in the midst of their suffering.  It’s not hard to imagine how the ignored and mistreated, abused and broken-hearted, gravitated toward the One who offered love so openly.

It’s not hard to imagine, because those people still live in our present day.

And even if the solutions to the problems are imperceptible, and the situations seem never-ending, there is still hope and healing and the extraordinary because God’s ears are bent low.  God always has the most acute attention for those who need it most desperately.  I truly believe that God is in the midst of every story.  God’s love is still present.

Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel that God is there and will be there.  The words Jesus speaks are about restorative justice.  The world that sees all the saints gathered at the foot of Christ seated at the right hand of God and God’s kingdom fully present is one that is best described today in the last 4 verses of our gospel text.

“But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.  Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either.  Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them.  Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.” (John 6:27-31)

If you thought the first part of today’s gospel was hard…. all I can say is that it got a little bit harder right there.

We are all made holy and called to live up this list of how one can participate in the presence of God’s kingdom in the here and now.

Who are the saints?
We are.
The ordinary ones made extraordinary by God’s presence.

What kind of saint is God calling you to be?
That’s a good question that I can’t answer for anyone other than myself.

But I want to share some words I discovered during my studies this week that I hope shed a little light onto your pathway.

Bruce Epperly says in his article entitled, Remembering All Saints, that we are saints:

“by responding to the needs of the world, letting our light shine so that our world may know that God is alive, seeking beauty, healing, and justice in our midst. You can aspire toward holiness; you can be a person of stature, grace, and hospitality; you can share God’s healing love and break down barriers of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality throughout the ordinary business of everyday life. Believe it or not, you can be a saint and not even know it! Just be listening for God’s vision for your life — as your gifts meet the world’s needs…. All Saints’ and All Souls’ days are about connection: this whole earth is a “thin place” in which everlasting life and day-to-day existence are joined in God’s holy adventure.”

I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green;
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And God’s love made them strong;
And they followed the right for Jesus’ sake
The whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
And there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
Why I shouldn’t be one too.
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.

(“I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” by Lesbia Scott, 1929.)

Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Bob Eldan. “All Saints Day & All Saints Sunday – Year C.”
  2. Bruce Epperly. “Remembering All Saints.”  Mainline Protestant Channel.
  3. Sarah Heinrich. “Commentary on Luke 6:20-31.”  Preach This Week: Gospel Reading.  Working Preacher.org
  4. David Lose. “For All the Saints.” Dear Working Preacher.  Working Preacher.org
  5. David Lose. “Losers.” Dear Working Preacher.  Working Preacher.org
  6. David Tiede. “Commentary on Luke 6:20-31.”  Preach This Week: Gospel Reading.  Working Preacher.org
  7. Wikipedia. “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”

This week’s image is entitled “All Souls’ Day,” painted in 1882 by Jules Bastien-Lepage.  The image is public domain and modified for this blog post.  You can find out more about the artist here and about the painting here.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s