Sunday, November 7, 2010

All Saints Day sermon, Yr C: Blessed, holy, and worthy of praise

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

Happy All Saints day! According to one definition (and I like this one!): a saint is “a dead sinner revised and edited. But that’s not the whole story, is it?

The Old Testament uses two words Hebrew words:
• קדיש /kadesh/ [which means] "holy" and
• חסד /hasid/ [which means] "loyal, faithful; pious"

The New Testament uses the Greek word hagios [which means] “holy; holy one" to describe all faithful Christians. The Prayer Book says this: the communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise. (BCP, 862)

As we processed in today we remembered and honored those saints who lived and died before us, ones we consider to be exemplars of the faith.

The preacher invites those in costume to call out the names of their saint.

But as St. Paul reminds us in the letter to the Ephesians, the saints are the members of the Christian community. That means we are saints too, exemplars of the faith in our day.

There are also the saints who are yet to come, those not yet born, whose images are unknown to us but whose lives will be affected by our actions now. These are the ones who will come to know God by the witness we live and proclaim today.

The preacher points out the “stained-glass mirror” gets help carrying it to the center of the chancel and explains the features in it: the shape of the church at the bottom; the church’s steeple with the cross connected by a line with the downward facing Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (see the feet?).

This is a representation of what we believe. The church is here on the earth, and by the cross of Jesus, we have been reconciled to God. We are connected, reconciled to God in Christ, as promised.

Our costumes and icons honor the saints that were, those that have gone before. Persons/children are invited to stand in front of the stained-glass mirror. This is a reflection of the saints that are. Look - there’s St. Taylor, Sts. Will and Matthew, St. Lily, St. Timothy...

Then the mirror which is pointed upward toward the ceiling. This is a reflection of the saints that are yet to be, those whose images we don’t yet know, but heaven knows.

Why is this important? Because I think we give ourselves an easy out and let ourselves off the hook when we conceive of sainthood as something that happens after we die, or when we hold up saints only as heroes or sheroes of the church, holier than most others. Then we can say to ourselves, ‘I’ll never be that holy’ or ‘I’ve already messed up too much, so sainthood is beyond what’s possible for me.’

Well it isn’t. Sainthood is already our reality.

If we have donned the white robes of Baptism then we are members of the community of the faithful and beloved children of God. And if we are members of the Christian community, then we are saints.

But the expectation that as saints we must be sinless or miraculously powerful is in error. Humans sin. And only God is powerful to redeem. But that’s the point, isn’t it? God IS powerful, and willing, and always ready to redeem.

The gospel reading today provides a kind of Word-mirror which which reflects for us the qualities of saints, that is, those who share life in Christ. These aren’t people who rise above their humanity. On the contrary, Jesus makes very clear that saints are deeply and totally human. And he calls them blessed, that is, consecrated (set apart), made holy, and worthy of praise.

Jesus says that saints are blessed when they know poverty or lack of spirit, because knowing they need God, they place themselves in God’s care, and find themselves in God’s kingdom. Saints are blessed when they suffer loss, or desire justice …when they are generous with mercy in the face of sin, … when they work to bring peace out of conflict …when they keep God’s will as their priority, even though they may suffer indignities and injustices themselves for the sake of the gospel. Blessed are they, Jesus says.

One saint I loved was an 8 year-old beggar I met in Romania. Some of you have heard me talk about him before. This little boy was smart, savvy, and doomed by his poverty. But while he lived he was a saint, at least for me. One day, as we walked along the streets of Cluj Napoca, this precocious little guy begged some money (which, by the way, he could do in about 5 languages), then went and bought a banana. As he returned to where I was sitting near the fruit stand, he broke the banana in two and offered me half. I was overcome by the generosity that came so naturally to him. Blessed was he, and holy.

Another saint I loved was my beloved aunt and God-mother, whose bitterness and anger, though justified by the circumstances of her life, made her quite unlovable to many, but her authenticity – I could say her purity – made her beautiful to me. Blessed was she and worthy of praise.

The call to purity, to blessedness in our Scripture readings isn’t about the color of our souls or the rightness of our behavior. It’s about our willingness to rely totally on God. Those who rely on themselves, or put their trust in their wealth, or their good reputations will be sadly surprised to learn that they were wrong. Our hope is in God – and only in God.

As we suffer and struggle through the days of our earthly lives, as we celebrate and shine with the light of Christ in our world, we do so always in the care and grace of God. Our trust is in God who continually (eternally) holds us close and speaks in our hearts, so that as we live the fullness of our lives, individually and as a community of faith, we do so according to God’s will.

Then we too are blessed, holy, and worthy of praise.

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