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?