All Saints’ Day: November 6, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Well, what language we have to work with on this Stewardship Ingathering Day. ‘Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.’ For several weeks now the stewardship committee has been begging from you, so if you haven’t filled out your pledge card, here’s your last call! In a few moments we’ll be bringing them forth to the altar together. I’m begging you.
We’ve made our way through some of our great saints, St Michael and St Jude, and now we land on All Saints. All Saints on November 1 is a feast that was put on the calendar as a kind of group celebration of ‘all the other saints’ who don’t have a day of their own on the church calendar, the great ‘Etc.’ of the church year. But it has also come to mean all the saints of the church, the way the New Testament refers to ‘saints’ – that is, all who are members of the church, the followers of Christ. And this celebration is so important that even when November 1 falls on a weekday, we celebrate it again on the Sunday that follows – which is why today is the Sunday After All Saints, one of the four Sundays in the year marked for baptisms, for those being initiated into the community of saints.
Or as the very early church said of one of the first martyrs, we ‘gather together in joy and gladness to celebrate the day of his martyrdom as a birthday, in memory of those athletes who have gone before, and to train and make ready those who are to come hereafter.’ So it’s a good day for a marathon as well.
So all of us saints will soon be streaking over the finish line of the pledge drive marathon begun on October 2, St Michael’s Day. We’ll bring our pledges forward to the altar to bless, the gifts we are giving back to God through this community. And a few moments ago we crossed the finish line of another marathon, completing the work done this year on the north wall and the organ with a blessing for the organ. It’s shaping up to be a wonderful day for all of us saints here today – with cupcakes aplenty as our post-race treat.
But All Saints isn’t just about the group thing, what we all do together on a Sunday morning in church. In a few moments we’ll all renew our baptismal vows together. We’ll take up again the statements of our faith in God, and the promises that we make about our own behavior as we live out our beliefs. We say those words all together, but they’re very individual promises – promises that each one of us makes and tries to fulfill on our own, with God’s help. Continuing in the worship and prayer of the community. Resisting evil and repenting when we mess up. Proclaiming the gospel by word and example. Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving others as ourselves. Striving for justice and promoting the dignity of every human being, That’s work for each one of us. We may be all running the race together, but as the marathoners say, we each ‘run our own race.’ We each have a task, a set of tasks, laid out before us, a part to play.
So what does that look like? One picture of it is in the gospel we heard today, Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, blessed are the sorrowful, blessed are those who are persecuted and excluded. But woe to the rich, woe to the full, woe to the joyous, woe to the popular ones. All the upside-down economy of God’s kingdom – pretty much the exact opposite of high school, urban society, corporate culture. You could say it’s a description of what it is to be a saint. It seems kind of hard, though. Being hungry, poor, sorrowful, and persecuted…doesn’t sound terribly attractive, does it? What’s so wrong about laughing and being full and well respected?
But of course the Beatitudes are not a set of commandments saying, go and seek out hunger and loss and poverty for its own sake…as if this life filled with negatives – or empty of positives – is somehow what God wants for us, is good in its own right. This teaching is not a rule book for what we ought to do. Jesus is telling some truth about how we operate spiritually. People who know that they are in a place of loss and need, people who aren’t getting what they want and need out of life in this world, are readier to receive God. Sometimes our first entry into faith is when things fall apart, when we lose a loved one or lose our job or just can’t make sense of life anymore. While too often, people who think they are doing quite well – who have every desire met, who win the popularity contest every time, who believe themselves to be masters of their universe – are already filled up and satisfied with what the world has given them. It is harder for them to know their need of or desire for God, because their hands and bellies are full of other things. They’re not looking for God, because they’re occupied with plenty already. Being a saint, in other words, depends on emptiness – enough emptiness to realize what we’ve been given.
Because realizing what we’ve been given means that we know it’s not been our own doing. We didn’t get ourselves here all by ourselves, even in the most fundamental ways: we didn’t create our children or get ourselves born in a developed country; we didn’t create the money we live on or make the air we breathe. We know that we have received and so we are grateful – and that gratitude becomes the source of our living as a saint in the world. Gratitude leads us to live out the promises we make. We proclaim the gospel because we know it to be good news for ourselves. We love others because we know how we are loved ourselves. We strive for justice and peace for all because we know we need it too.
So what does being a saint look like? We’re praying for some saints right now out in Standing Rock, North Dakota, most of them members of native tribes from all over the country, some of them clergy there in solidarity. They are there to protest the building of an oil pipeline across native land that they believe will poison their water. They may have to protest there for a long time. But they believe it to be right, and they are doing it with God’s help.
What else do saints do? Some have been praying for Tuesday’s election and encouraging people to get out and vote. With God’s help. There are saints who prepare the food for guests at Saturday Kitchen and for all of us on Sundays at coffee hour, and a whole lot of saints who baked cupcakes this weekend for us to have today – with God’s help. Saints are teaching children and balancing budgets; saints are in the lab looking for cures for diseases and in the forests fighting fires and in the construction sites making sure people are safe – with God’s help. And so many things, not just doing good deeds or being amazing people or showing heroic sacrifice but just living, living in gratitude and in service, with God’s help. As so many of us will do here today, when we give our pledges and thank offerings. With God’s help.
Being a saint starts with being empty, but instead of filling the hole with what is not God – material things or food and drink or other people or whatever it might be – saints allow God to fill them first. And then saints do whatever lies before them to do, in gratitude to God. That is, I think, what it is to be a saint: a life that finds its joy and grounding in God, in all things and through all things. A life of gratitude, because we know and see how much we have been given. Each one of us is and can be that kind of saint. All of us together here today take part in that kind of sainthood.
So what does being a saint look like? Well, we sing a song of the saints of God, faithful and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. Saints past and saints to come; saints among us now. All of us with God’s help.