We're sorry, the full text for this sermon is unavailable. Please enjoy listening to the audio version!
Today we celebrate the feast of “All Saints,” and how wonderful that we can look up here and see the many saints that are represented from our families and friends who have gone before us. It reminds me of the scripture in Hebrews which begins: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…..”
Who among us has not loved to sing, “When All the Saints Go Marching In …..O Lord, I Want to Be in that Number. WOW! That’s quite a parade to join. Some of the ways that we have recognized saints are these:
They have extended to others the mercy that they have received from God.
And when God’s reign was under attack, they found the courage to stand steadfast -- regardless of the cost that this might exact.
Many of you know how much I have admired Etty Hillesum, A Dutch Jew, who wrote about the need to unbind those who were headed for the death chambers, at the hands of the Nazis! Here is what Etty wrote in her journal as she was preparing for her own deportation:
…One thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that we must help You, God, in order to help ourselves - all of us…..what really matters these days is that we safeguard that little piece of You God, in ourselves, and to defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last……
It may have seemed that God was not intervening directly, but Etty and so many others will tell story after story of how they were able to partner with God in both prayer and simply encouraging and supporting one another. As a result they were able to see the many God-moments that required only a human response to complete the miracles that God was already doing within those camps and beyond. Hitler’s thousand-year Reich was brought down in only twelve years!
We are a part of the communion of saints, not because of some inherent quality or because of what we have done, but because we have chosen to become a part of God’s community. Our baptism becomes a mark of sainthood.
St. Paul uses the term “saint” over and over in his letters to refer to the Church on earth. We are called saints because of God’s continuing incarnate presence among us. What gives God’s people the label of saint, is not what we do, or what we have earned -- but because of God’s presence within and among us.
This Sunday’s readings for All Saints Sunday focuses less on the “saints” and more on what all saints are promised and encouraged to be in our partnership with God’s work here on earth.
Our gospel lesson this morning, the story of the raising of Lazarus, is one of the most heartrending stories in the Bible. It describes with passion the loss that one feels in the face of death, and it shows the depths of compassion that people do feel for loved ones who are coping with loss.
As Lazarus comes forth from the tomb, can’t you just hear all the people and friends who were gathered there to mourn? Lazarus, Lazarus, tell us, what was it like?
Lazarus passed through death and was returned to life-- but I think we’d agree that Jesus was pointing to a far more important reality than what Lazarus may or may not have experienced “on the other side.” Lazarus’ experience points to the main theme in the Gospel of John: ETERNAL LIFE DOESN’T BEGIN ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE GRAVE…..IT BEGINS……..ON THIS SIDE!
This is what our gospel message says to us today: the kingdom of God is here and now and most certainly “eternal life does begin on this side of the grave.”
What grabbed me most this week, as I read and reread again this story of Lazarus - were the words: “UNBIND HIM AND LET HIM GO”!
First, Jesus commands Lazarus “TO COME OUT.” Next he commands the community “TO UNBIND HIM AND LET HIM GO.”
Jesus performs what is perhaps his most significant miracle—so much so that not only are many in the crowd moved to faith but his opponents are moved to conspire toward his death.
What I see as equally important is that Jesus instructs and expects the crowds to participate in and actually “TO COMPLETE THE MIRACLE.”
BOTH MATTER! It is Jesus who has the power to heal, to feed, to restore, to bring to life, to redeem. But Jesus seeks to involve US in these actions and, indeed, perhaps expects us to complete them.
Think about what other miraculous things God intends to do in our communities.--
We have to think seriously about not only the things that bind us as a community and the work to which we are called to partner with Christ,--- but also about those things that bind us individually from moving ahead in our own journey….
So what do we need unbound? -- either as individuals or as a community?
Is it to unbind ourselves by forgiving ourselves for not being who we want to be? This is a big one for many!
Is it to unbind our prejudices and let go -- perhaps accepting a new view of others?
Is it to unbind our hearts where love stops short? This is one that I have to wrestle with often because there are some for which I’m only willing to love – just so much
Is it to unbind our resources and share with those who have far less? What about the victims of the recent storms?
Brian Taylor in his book “BECOMING HUMAN” says this: “We must learn somehow to forgive ourselves for being human” ….he goes on to say that we have to get over basing our self worth on any accomplishments we have achieved or not achieved but instead on God’s delight in us AS WE ARE TODAY!!!! Wow! God’s delight in us AS WE ARE TODAY!
Henri Nouwen reminds us that “the greatest enemy and trap that keeps us bound is self-rejection, doubting who we really are!
Remember the time in David’s life as is told in I Samuel when he had made some bad decisions, ended up fighting on the side of King Saul’s enemy. Then all of a sudden David found himself in the situation where even those he had trusted were now against him and there were those who were about to stone him….. David was pretty much at the bottom and……..
What did David do? The story goes that David went out and “encouraged” himself in the Lord, or as the modern translation states: “He went out and strengthened himself in the Lord.” What a fantastic way to deal with situations and ourselves when everything around us feels hopeless…. even when we feel we are to blame. We just turn around and do what David did…… “ENCOURAGE OR STRENGTHEN OURSELVES IN GOD.”
Then we are able to reach out and unbind another:
The story is told of a Dutch soldier who was captured and made prisoner of war. Isolated, lonely, afraid, and feeling that he had nothing to live for, he received an unexpected letter, crumpled and dirty because it had traveled so long and far to reach him. It was just a piece of paper, but on it were these simple words: “We all are waiting for you at home. Do not worry. We will see you back at home.” This simple letter, these simple words changed his life. He now had a reason to live. The external circumstances of his life, his imprisonment and his isolation, did not change….but SOMEBODY WAS WAITING FOR HIM. HE STILL HAD A HOME….. AND HOPE WAS REBORN IN HIM.
When we accept who we are at God’s Table. We are to remember that we don’t have to earn God’s approval or love. It is freely given – we just have to RECEIVE IT.”
Today, as we celebrate the Eucharist, in the presence of all the saints who have gone before us, and the saints with whom we share this communion table, let’s be mindful it is a day to accept ourselves -- as we receive God’s Grace, God’s Mercy, God’s Unconditional Love, AT THE TABLE…… IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS.”
Nov. 6, 2011
All Saints’ Sunday
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
At the CREDO clergy conference I recently led, we began, as we always do, with little activities that help us get to know each other a bit. In one of them, we ask them to line up on one side of the room if they prefer doing weddings. If they prefer doing funerals, they go to the other side of the room.
Raise your hand if you think there are more clergy on the wedding side. Now raise your hand if you think there are more on the funeral side…you’re right; far more clergy prefer funerals over weddings.
Why is this? Are we morbid? Or is it because at funerals we can be little heroes to the bereaved, while at weddings, we’re always upstaged by the bride?
I’ve never asked, but I suspect part of the reason is that getting close to death can make us feel more alive. I find that even when I’m doing a funeral of someone I didn’t know, I’m brought back to the most basic, most important things, because these are the things people remember about those who have died. “She treasured the beauty of nature,” they say. “He was like a magnet for kids and animals.” “She poured herself into work that she cared deeply about.” “He was kind and curious.” “She was beloved.”
Seeing the departed this way can become a mirror in which we see the things that really matter in our own life. Our mundane world opens up and reveals its true wonder and depth. It is like a curtain being drawn back in some homely motel room, and suddenly, through the window, we see a full moon rising over a majestic mountain range, reflected in a shimmering lake.
So this day, the Feast of All Saints, is a holy day, a day to remember the departed, and to recall our own potential. In the Baptismal Covenant today, we will re-set our aim towards the things that really matter, or to put it in more religious terms, towards holiness of life, towards becoming a saint.
This is what Jesus aims us towards in the gospel today, in the passage known as the Beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
How blessed, he says, are the saints who are humble and pure of heart, hungry for God, merciful and kind, creating peace and reconciliation in this broken world. They are the saints of God, and Jesus says that they will be satisfied. He is even so bold as to say that they shall see God.
Is it possible for you to consider that Jesus is telling you that you can really know the kingdom of heaven in your lifetime? That you can be fulfilled, that you can, in fact, see God? Can you hear this as an invitation into a blessedness that is possible in your life?
If so, know that it will not happen by wishing it so. Nor does will it happen by having right beliefs or being perfect and never doing anything wrong. It happens by actively placing ourselves in the hands of God, day in and day out.
A word of caution, however. Commitment and zeal in the spiritual life are a tricky thing. We can become harsh with ourselves, pushing ourselves willfully towards something that, in the end, is a gift. I’ve done that. We can regularly lurch between zeal and disappointment, and eventually give up, resigning ourselves to lackluster mediocrity.
But somehow or another, the saints, the ones who have inspired us, the blessed ones who have lived the Beatitudes and have seen God, have applied themselves with dedication towards this hope. They understood that they have a part to play in becoming saints, that it would not happen unless they desired and pursued holiness of life.
I don’t know about you, but I seem to go in and out of this kind of commitment. Like a slow-moving tide, it ebbs and it flows. I first felt this desire rise in me many years ago, when I was 25 years old. It was during a series of crises that left me quite disoriented. In a moment of grace one night while lying in bed, I imagined myself as an old man on my deathbed. At the end of my life, I found myself being asked “Brian, what did you live for?” And as I came out of this reverie, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to live for God.
Now recently, for whatever reason, the tide of my desire for God has flowed in again. I am once again aware that I can experience what Jesus promises in the Beatitudes, that they are not just empty words.
And I also know that this happens when I diligently practice with meditation, prayer, and self-awareness throughout the day. It happens when I orient my life around the things that matter, by reading things that encourage me, by doing what I can to remain mentally and physically fresh and alert, by practicing trust and faith when stress and worry threaten to overwhelm me.
Now you may express how you stay centered in God differently. You may have very different kinds of spiritual practice. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that if you want holiness of life, you apply yourself towards it, day in and day out.
Three weeks ago, I participated in a funeral for someone whom I only knew a few weeks. I had been called in because he wanted to talk about how to make his final journey towards death. Doug was not a member; he wasn’t even a Christian, and barely even a person of faith. None of that mattered. Because in the course of the conversation it became abundantly clear to me that I was talking with a saint.
He lived the Beatitudes. He lived the Baptismal Covenant. He was humble and pure of heart. He cared when things needed to be set right, and did something about it. He looked for the good in others and respected their dignity, even when they were very difficult people. He was a reconciler, and shed light wherever he went.
And because he did, he experienced what Jesus promises. He knew mercy and purity of heart; his hunger was filled with abundant life. Everyone who attended his funeral said this about him. You could see his light in their faces.
Doug is one of those on our ofrenda today. I put him there to honor his life, to show my appreciation for who he was. But I also put him there in order to remember that it is possible for me to be a saint, too, like him.
It’s not easy to become a saint. It’s not easy to live into the Beatitudes, or to fulfill the vows of the Baptismal Covenant. But it is possible. Those saints that shine with God’s light are not a special breed apart. They are as human, as flawed, as you and me. The only difference is that they kept aiming towards the life that Jesus said was possible. And in doing so, they proved him right.
St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church
Sunday November 6, 2010 Feast of All Saints
Preacher: Christopher McLaren
Title: Saint Search
More than any other Sunday in the Church Year, today is a kind of designated family reunion day. With this beautiful Ofrenda for El dia de los muertos in our midst we celebrate the major feasts of All Saints and All Souls. This is an important time of checking in with our family members, ancient and modern. It is a time to take out the family photo albums and scrapbooks remembering where we came from and hopefully to get some perspective on where we are going. All Saint is a time to remember our ancestors in the faith, men and women who served God in innumerable ways and to heighten our awareness of the millions of saints living around us.
All Saints can be rather daunting as a day set aside to recognize persons of heroic spirituality, whose deeds and lives we recall with gratitude and at times wonderstruck amazement. You might think of St. Francis who walked away from wealth and privilege into the countryside around Assisi communing with the birds, serving the poor, and sharing everything he was given. You might muse about Joan of Arc, a young girl who eschewed dresses preferring armor and swords, leading men twice her size into battle. She was a woman of rare determination with the voice God so loud in her head nothing else mattered. If you’re of a more mystical bent you might be attracted to Dame Julian of Norwich living in her cell attached to the church with one window facing the sacramental altar and one looking out on the street, a blending of the sacred and secular Christians still strive toward today.
But if you look a little harder, you will find others, obscure but no less interesting and inspiring. For instance you might happen upon Samuel Issac Joseph Schereschewsky, a priest so facile in language that answering a call to help in China he learned to write Chinese on the voyage there, eventually translating the Bible and Prayer book into Mandarin. After being elected bishop of Shanghai Schereschewsky was struck by paralysis. Samuel resigned as Bishop but not his life goal of translating the Bible into Wenli. With heroic perseverance Schereschewsky completed his translation of the Bible, typing some 2,000 pages with the middle finger of his partially crippled hand. Before his death he said, “I have sat in this chair for over 20 years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.”
You might find Hilda of Whitby, a remarkable woman and Abbess of the famous double house at Whitby a monastery for men and women with a chapel in between. Hilda and her monastery became famous as the sight of a meeting in 664 which decided the fate of the clash between the two vigorous Christian traditions on English soil, her native earthy Celtic Christianity and the more organized, powerful and wealthy Roman Christianity. Hilda, the host of the meeting, greatly preferred the Celtic customs in which she had been reared, but in the interest of unity and peace she used her moderating influence in favor of the acceptance of the Roman Way. A decision so difficult it staggers my heart.
You might stumble upon the story of Saint James the Greater, brother of Saint John, who was so full of grace on his way to his death that the guard assigned to him fell on his knees and confessed faith in the prisoner’s God. James raised him up by the hand, kissed him on the check, and, “Peace be with you.” Then both men were executed together, but their last sweet exchange lives on in our Eucharistic exchange “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” (story from Barbara Brown Taylor).
There is a sign on the Winchester cathedral in England that reads as you enter the church, “you are entering a conversation that began long before you were born and will continue long after you’re dead.” To be a Christian partly means that we don’t have to reinvent the spiritual life. We don’t have to make up this faith as we go along. The saints will teach us, if we will listen. And for modern, North American people, it takes a kind of studied act of humility to think that we actually have something to learn from the saints.
In his book Wishful Thinking, Fredrick Buechner writes, “In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.” This seems to suggest that the creation of saints is more God’s doing than our own, but regardless the main point is that saints do exit. There really are ordinary men and women, boys and girls whose love of God has led them to do extraordinary things. And while Billie Joel might rather “laugh with the sinners, than cry with saints” that really is no reason to ignore the reality of the saints for ourselves. In fact, the opposite is true. The more we encounter or learn of the saints the more open to the possibility of encountering saints around us in everyday life we become.
I want you to think for a moment about how you were called to be a disciple? Is following Jesus something you thought of yourself? Was it revealed to you by staring up at the stars, or walking through a sacred grove? No, my guess is that you are here, if you really reflect upon it, because of friendship with other Christians. Someone had to tell you the story. Someone had to live this faith in such a way that you said to yourself, “I want to know more about this. I want to be part of that.” Perhaps it was a believing parent, or someone you met at work or in school, or by reading the scriptures. We get by only with a little help from our friends. We get saved with a little help from our friends. St. Paul calls these followers of Jesus, saints.
The truth of the matter is that faith is probably more caught than taught. We learn how to follow Jesus by hanging out with other followers. You may never have thought of it but we are saved – as a group, praying together, correcting one another, forgiving one another, stumbling along after Jesus together, memorizing the moves until his way has become our way. Our way. Even when we pray the most familiar of prayers “Our Father,” we are naming the way we are saved, together in the communion of the saints. To celebrate All Saints is to acknowledge the mystical and communal dimension of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. So on this Feast of All Saints and All Souls we not only remember the strange and eclectic crowd of saints that have been athletes for God and the many faithful family and friends who surround us today, but we also consider the wild idea that we are surrounded by saints ourselves.
Now I’m not trying to be cute or clever. I’m proposing that if you understand yourself to be surrounded by saints this feast becomes a good deal more interesting. Think of it as our own little reality show, Saint Search at St. Michael’s. I feel like I run into saints all the time, but I wouldn’t dare tell them. They are people who are heroically caring for an aging parent, or trying to forgive someone who hurt them deeply. They are quietly working behind the scenes, teaching our children or guiding our youth. They may be the prayer warriors of St. Michael’s who daily bring the needs of the parish into the presence of God. Or they may be doing something that no one has noticed, but that reflects such faithfulness it would humble us. There are so many people who serve without reward, love without measure, forgive with the greatest of ease, sit in the silence of God’s presence so joyfully, speak words of encouragement so naturally, mentor with such attention – these are the saints of God in our very midst and I challenge you in the midst of this feast of All Saints to join me in a little game of Saint Search.
Open your eyes and hearts and consider the saints in our midst. Sainthood means desiring God enough to include God in your journey. It is not so much something we aspire to as it is the fruit of following Jesus in a such a way that your life is bent more and more in a God-ward direction. Join the Saint Search, look for the telltale signs of sainthood, joy in the journey, a willingness to grow, the ability to share another’s pain, the courage to admit failure, the hopefulness of sharing a vision, prodigal forgiveness, the abiding sense when you are with them that even when things go wrong, they trust that God is present and working at bringing the kingdom near.
To be sure as Christians we believe that our friends in faith extend not only to those who happen to be in the pew beside us, but also to those whom we call “the communion of the saints,” that is, that great community of those who have gone before us in faith. You are never alone in church. Every time we gather to pray, the saints pray with us, as if leaning down from the ramparts of heaven to join their voices with ours in the praise of God, as if to cheer us on in our current struggles to be faithful.
And while it is deeply comforting to know that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses that cheer us on, it is also a deep comfort to realize that we are not alone on our journey here and now. We have companions who are along-side us puzzling out the faith, working out their own fears, sharing their pain as they struggle through their issues, laughing at their own efforts to be a faithful and patient parents, or looking into the aging eyes of our own beloved and realizing that life is a wondrous mystery and that sainthood is not far away, rather it is very near, in our very midst, in our shared journey to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength. Let the Saint Search begin.
The Feast of All Saints
Sunday November 1, 2009
St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Preacher: Rev. Christopher McLaren
Theme: Finding Hope in the Fall Triduum
More than any other Sunday in the Church Year, All Saints Sunday is a kind of designated family reunion day. It is a time to take out the family photo albums and scrapbooks and perhaps a home movie or two – remembering where we came from and hopefully to get some perspective on where we are going.
Turning the pages of one of the old family photo albums, you might see some odd sights, strange predicaments and surprising events. You might find St. Francis standing barefoot, wearing a mud colored robe tied around with a piece or rope, rebuilding a church by hand or find him hands outstretched surrounded by animals communing with God’s creation and preaching to the birds. You will find the agonizing integrity of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, locked away in a German prison camp for resisting Nazi Germany’s regime and genocide by leading the confessing church in its underground activities.
Or perhaps you will find Dame Julian of Norwich living in her cell attached to a church, one window looking onto the world and street and the other looking into the altar of the church. What a wonderful double vision a view into the sacred mysteries of the church and out onto the sacrament of the everyday with a purposeful blending of the two. You might encounter Jonathan Daniels, gunned down outside an Alabama grocery store as an Episcopal seminarian working for civil rights during God’s long summer of 1965.
Here at St. Michael’s I have learned to celebrate All Saints alongside El Dia De los Muertos in a way that has moved me. Looking at the Ofrenda today reminds me that after 3 ½ years I too have a history at St. Michael’s. I have known loved members of this congregation that are not longer with us. I have known the power of disease and the pain of death in the faces of friends and parishioners whether by cancer or AIDS or some other ailment of the body. Having kept company with disease and death, anger and absence of endearing and enduring friends, I have come to suspect that the commemoration of All Saints might be a problem for we American Christians, who live in such a death-denying culture. We Americans have an uncanny knack for dealing with our most transformative and challenging theology in incredibly predictable ways.
We have lost the power of All Saints in the increased trivialization of Halloween. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I love Halloween. I love its laughter, the crazy laughter that comes from surprise and fear. I love its creativity and costumes and sweetness even as it desperately attempts to stiff-arm the destructive forces at work around us in death, fear and evil. This is not some sort of diatribe about the evils of the Halloween with its acknowledgement of the darkness of the world or a condemnation of its commercialization into one of the biggest holidays of the year. Commercialization is only the symptom of which trivialization is the disease. The problem with All Saints is much deeper. We have disregarded this important adult commemoration so thoroughly that it has made it possible to push it into the realm of children almost entirely so that we can conveniently distance ourselves from the spiritual power behind All Saints. We in the church need to reclaim All Saints for the robust celebration that it is, instead of infantilizing it in a way that is an insult to thoughtful Christian Theology and quite frankly to children as well.
All Saint’s Day is the centerpiece of what we should understand as a sacred three days in autumn, a Fall Triduum if you will. In the carnival celebrations of All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween our ancestors used the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal, the power of humor and ridicule to confront the powers of death. We dress up as ghosts and goblins, grim reapers and zombies, like death itself, to make fun of it, to mock it, and to take some of its hold and power over us away. To be sure making fun of our fears is one way to deal with them but our story goes even deeper facing into fear and finding within it the face of God. At times it is through our fears that we become vulnerable enough that God can reach us and touch us.
On All Saint’s Day, the following day, we give witness to the victory of incarnate goodness embodied in the remarkable friends of God who through word and deed triumphed in some way over the powers of darkness. We celebrate those who are part of our family photo album and heritage who lived in such a way that the world was better for their having been God’s person in their time and place. Mind you these were not perfect people by any stretch of the imagination, but what distinguished them principally was their dogged love of God above all else.
On All Souls’ Day Nov. 2, we proclaim the Christian hope of our common mortality expressed through our expectation of a shared eternity with God. All Souls reminds us that in death life is changed not ended. It also stubbornly asserts that everything and everyone belongs to God always.
Yes, this powerful Christian Feast, this three day celebration of the depth of Christian understanding is not meant to be reduced to toddlers dressed up as Ninjas or Superheroes extorting candy from responsible citizens and yards full of spooky decorations as fun and festive as all of that is.
What is at the root of the trivialization of these incredibly important days in the Church? What do the plastic masks and fake blood and orange cupcakes hide? What are we afraid of? What are we embarrassed about? Could it be that we are embarrassed to admit of the hope that is within us? Sam Portaro, a fellow Episcopal priest writes, “To be fearful of death is natural and ageless. But we have gone beyond that fear; that we shall die we cannot deny. That we shall live, however, is a matter of faith we indulge at tremendous peril. Death shall not disappoint us; we can be sure of its coming, but of life we are less sure.”
We want to believe that human flesh and human being is blessed, but we are not sure of incarnation, so Christmas is a thing of material gifts and Santa Claus and nostalgia. We want to believe that the power of life and love will triumph over the power of death and evil in the end, but we are unsure of resurrection, so Easter is a thing of pastel colored eggs, fashion and fuzzy bunnies. We want so much to believe that life is eternal, but we are not sure of eternity, so this autumn season of spooks and saints and souls is traded off for a time of candy collecting and grinning pumpkins.
But what is it we truly fear. We do not after all fear incarnation, or resurrection or eternity. What we really fear is disappointment. We do not want to believe and hope in vain. This desire to have a true and abiding hope is what makes this autumn commemoration of spooky death, amazing saints, and all souls so special. We Christians dare to hope. We dare to hope beyond the constraints of our mortality. For many hope is hedged, hope is where many if not most draw-up short. Some constrain life to this earthly existence by hoping for reincarnations dependent upon time-bound existence and endless recurrence. Others perceive an end to life entirely trusting in a kind of everlasting nothingness for the soul after death. But we Christians hope, we hope unashamedly in life beyond the grave. Our hope is embodied in the lives of the saints and souls, who have lived in the hope that this life was not the end but only the beginning of an ongoing romance with the divine. We hope in a vast company and communion of faithful people dwelling beyond time and forever.
Is this an embarrassement? To be sure it is. We have no evidence to produce that it is so beyond our defining stories at the center of our faith. We cannot prove that there is life beyond the grave. In order to do that one would have to have gone there and returned to tell about it. But that is precisely what the Christian story is all about. For that beautiful piece of Christian hope is founded on the resurrected one, who demonstrated to the early Christians that there is indeed life beyond the grave, the one who called Lazarus out of the tomb, and awed the disciples by going ahead of them to Galilee.
So in a world that seems to value the present and avoid the ultimate questions like the plague, we Christians are a unique and recklessly hopeful people. In a culture that seeks its own gratification at any cost, and uses up its resources and people as if there is no tomorrow, we Christians dare to believe that there is a tomorrow. A tomorrow that can be shared with a people called the saints that have entered into that tomorrow through their faithful lives and are now enjoying the nearer presence of God.
That is why we need these precious three days of All Hallows Eve, All Saints, and All Souls. These three sacred days work together to remind us of the vitality and hope at the center of our Christian life. They move us out of our natural fear of death, into the victory and oddness of the saints who have led lives of heroic virtue, stubborn love, and uncanny faith showing us the way of life and love and goodness. This in turn leads us into the Christian hope that our companionship with them will become even more tangible and real when we share in the communion of the saints and all the other souls that have joined them in the heavenly throng. The Feast of All Saints, cradled between Halloween and All Souls is meant to move us from fear toward the shores of hope. More than ever, we need these powerful three days to reorient our lives. We know that it is hard to look death in the face and say, “I shall see you again.” It is harder yet to look into the flickering eyes of a dying friend and say, “I know that I shall see you again.”
Yet this is the Christian hope, that is the power at work in the waters of baptism, the waters of death are not the end but the entrance into newness of life by the power of God. That is the Christian Hope that we will see each other again, that the future belongs to us through the power of God. As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory, “you have never met a mere mortal, we are all of us immortals, meant for eternity.” And we are each one of us either helping or hindering those we meet on the streets or at work or around our dining room tables toward a particular kind of eternity. And that is why All Saints includes you, because you too are intended to be part of that vast company of faithful folks that are gently and lovingly leading the way from fear and death toward life and hope in God. You are called to be a saint, you are called to be a person of deep hope in life eternal, and with God’s help you will become one of God’s saints. You will share in a communion that is ages deep and continent wide with all the faithful who have come before you and with whom you belong for eternity.
With the eyes of faith you can perhaps catch a glimpse of the communion of the saints around the baptismal font this day as we welcome our newest members into the family of faith and into this life of hope. It is a communion for which you are destined and to which you are called to belong. If we could for a moment see the reality that surrounds us, if the veil of time and space could but shift for a moment you would see that all around us this day tier upon tier and rank upon rank are the saints of God surrounding our worship as if we are in a packed stadium that would make the NFL games today look like child’s play. We are far from alone. We are in the company of innumerable friends, faithful people who have gone before us. And so with the apostle Paul we can pray: “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1). May the joy and hope of All Saints be yours this day.
The concept for this sermon comes from Sam Portaro’s writing on the subject in Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts. I am deeply indebted to him for these reflections from which I have borrowed liberally. May it serve to enrich our understanding of this sacred time in the autumn of the church year.
All Saints Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
I didn’t grow up with much of an appreciation for this feast day, but I have come to love All Saints, Dia de los Muertos. On this day we remember our loved ones who have died, by naming them in our prayers and by displaying their photographs in our ofrenda behind the main altar. We also claim our desire to be a saint, by renewing our baptismal covenant, in which we promise to follow Christ’s ways.
And on this day we hear in the gospel our beloved Beatitudes, the 9 verses that Jesus spoke that summarize his entire teaching. They ring through the centuries as bells of hope and truth. In miniature, they capture the very heart of Jesus’ character, and the character of all the saints who follow him.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
On the hillside that day, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus opened his heart to the crowds and expressed his own experience of God. What a precious record we have in these words! But Jesus was also saying that they could join him, right then and there, with purity of heart, poverty of spirit, mercy and a holy thirst. Those who did were never the same. Their lives truly became “blessed.” The saints – all very human, every one of them - show us that this blessedness is not beyond our reach, either.
Remember this when you say the Baptismal Covenant in a few minutes: you are not just reciting some liturgical formula. You are answering “yes” to God’s call to become a saint, saying “yes, I want to live these Beatitudes. I want to see Christ in every person; I want to strive for peace and reconciliation; I want my worldly spirit to be poor and empty enough to be filled with the Spirit; I want purity of heart. And with God’s grace, it shall be.”
Our hope for a truer life extends beyond ourselves, especially this week, with national elections only two days away. We’ve been hearing a lot about “hope” and “change” from both candidates, but these are not just slogans that we’re all so tired of hearing. These words express a real longing that so many of us feel very deeply.
The way we’ve been living is no longer working. It is a pivotal time in history, when we have the opportunity to take a fresh approach to the political process, international conflict, immigration, health care, our environment, education, poverty, and how we run the global economic machine. It is truly time for a change, an historic shift in how we think and how we live.
The other day I was reading an article about racism in our country, and the author’s point was that the type of politics that prey upon people’s fears and prejudices is like a house of cards that thankfully, in many places now, shows signs of collapsing. He said “That’s what happens to weak ideas: The don’t die a slow, lingering death, but lose their power all at once, like a broken spell.”
This was the point of the book The Tipping Point, published in 2000. Malcolm Gladwell described little things that appear at just the right time, adding up and becoming a force of momentum for change that is unstoppable. He uses two examples from the 1990’s in New York City, one frivolous and one serious: the sudden return of the Hush Puppy as a fashionable shoe, and the dramatic reduction in crime. When circumstances are ripe for change, when little things add up, old ideas lose their power, and new ones spread like an epidemic.
This is what has happened over and over again at tipping points in history, with the advent of the printing press, democratic revolutions, and the age of the computer. It is, I hope, where we are today. All at once, a shift takes place. Humanity stops trudging along with its eyes on the ground, looks up, and leaps into the future.
At the CREDO conference I help to lead twice a year, my faculty counterpart in the spirituality component always tells the same story, as she did again last week. It is about pond fish, circling round and round in their muddy little existence, and how one day, a brightly colored, sparkling fish from beyond the pond splashed in. He spoke of a glorious place, the great ocean, with all its wonders and possibilities, and how if they would just jump out of their pond into the stream only a few feet away, they would be on their way to the unimaginably magnificent sea.
Well, one pond fish says “No, we’ll surely die; it’s a scary world out there. Best to stay where we are.” Another holds up tradition, saying “Don’t listen to this dreamer! Why, this radical proposal would destroy our way of life if we act upon it.” A professorial type wants to set up a weekly study group that will discuss it for a few months.
The stranger replies “All you have to do is jump.” A few of the pond fish gather around their colorful new friend and leap into the world. The others stay behind, and resume their quiet little existence.
On the way to the airport we were talking about All Saints Sunday, and another of the faculty said to me “You know, the only thing that distinguishes a saint is that they are the ones who jump.” I’ve been thinking about that ever since.
What would it be like for you to jump into the kingdom of God? Jesus and the saints have splashed into your pond in vibrant, living color, promising you the Beatitudes, pointing towards God’s ocean, towards holiness of life.
Is there something that prevents you from making the leap with them? Is it the assumption that you that you don’t have any other options than the life you live? Is it the notion that God really has no power to free you? That stress and overwork are inevitable, and that you don’t have time for prayer or creativity? That you just don’t have the personality that would make it possible to be more loving and kind? That your hunger for peace and righteousness is a stupid dream, that this world will always be a mess?
Perhaps the spell you live under is about to be broken. Perhaps your weak ideas are about to lose all their power. Perhaps enough little things have added up, and you are now reaching your tipping point.
When we reach this point, we face a crossroads. One direction is the denial of hope, a refusal to risk, where we consign ourselves to the life of a puddle fish. It leads to cynicism and quiet desperation. It is a kind of death. This is what alcoholics do again and again; they turn their backs on the tipping point that is right in front of them. This is what we do when we hear the ringing words of Jesus and say to ourselves “Maybe that’s for the saints, but I couldn’t live like that.”
The other direction at the crossroads is scary, because it is unknown to us. We can’t see where the stream will take us; we’ve never been to the promised ocean beyond. But when we jump over our doubts and let the stream of God carry us onward, a shift occurs.
God matches our willingness to leap with a grace that we had no way of seeing before. And in this alchemy, the Spirit makes us new people. We don’t have to know how to be holy. We just have to look for authentic signs of it in Jesus and the saints, say “yes” to this possibility every day, and persistently offer to God everything within us that stands in its way. God will do the rest.
When we take a chance on God and leap out of our little puddle, we are given new life. That’s what the saints did, and that’s what we are called to do: to make a leap of faith into God’s kingdom.
Our nation - even the whole world - is at a crossroads, and a tipping point lies in front of us. Our weak ideas have already lost their power, and the spell is almost broken. Will we make the leap?
And what about you? Will you make the leap that God intends for you, without knowing what it will cost or where it will take you? Will you risk it all, and become a saint?