November 1, 2020- The Feast of All Saints'

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; I John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

From St. John’s first letter to the Church, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     Today is one of the great festivals of the Church year. It is known as All Saints’ Day; a day that recognizes all the saints who have gone before us and those who dwell among us still today. Most folks have heard of saints. There are Sts. Peter and Paul, Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, St. Mary, the mother of God, and St Joseph her spouse, St. Elizabeth, St. Benedict, St. Francis, to name just a few. We might consider the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be modern day saints just as there are no doubt other saints living today even in this community. (There’s St. Allan. No? Oh well.) Saints are typically recognized as persons of exemplary self-sacrifice, witness, virtue or accomplishment.

     I have spent considerable time reading the life histories of various saints. And what strikes me in my reading is that more often than not, they were very imperfect people and each one very different from the other. But this one thing they held in common and perhaps it is what matters the most: each of them knew that they were a beloved child of God because Jesus Christ dwelled within them just as Christ dwells within us. You see, St. Paul tells us that all who believe in Jesus Christ are saints. In Colossians, Ephesians, I Corinthians, Romans, and Philippians,[1] Paul says that all members of the Christian Church are saints: all who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in “the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God”[2] Paul says, share in the life of Christ and, therefore, are children of God and saints of the Church. So, being recognized as a saint throughout history and even contemporary society today is not really about perfection, but rather, about, again as St. Paul says, how we “share in the life of Christ.” What Paul means by “sharing in the life of Christ” is how Christ lives in you and me, transforms us, and how Christ lives throughus.

     In all our admiration for various historical saints, we need to remember that while we would do well to emulate their example of Christly living, they are known as saints not because of what they were able to do of themselves, but rather, because the transforming work of Christ within them enabled and empowered them to live differently in this world. And in choosing to live differently, the saints offered a glimpse of what God’s kingdom will be like when all people acknowledge, when every knee bends and every tongue proclaims, that Jesus Christ is Lord.

     In today’s reading from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, we hear our Lord’s teaching on what is commonly called the “Beatitudes” which means “supreme blessedness” or “supreme happiness.” We tend to think of Saints as supremely blessed and happy, but that is not what Jesus had in mind. I was raised to believe that what Jesus described in this list of blessings was a philosophy of life that offered an immediate happiness that would make us smile all day long. So, I worked very hard to find reasons to mourn all the time, to be poor, to be hungry, to be meek enough to allow others to walk all over me, to keep silent and maintain the peace at all costs, rather than speak out against injustice, and I had this mistaken idea that martyrdom would be the epitome of happiness. Now think about that one for a moment: Martyrdom is the epitome of happiness? I don’t think so! Fortunately, this is not what Jesus is talking about here. See, in this particular reading, our Lord alternates between the present tense and future tense and that is important in grasping what Jesus is saying. Those who are poor in spirit now, those who mourn today, those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, those who are merciful today, and those who are reviled and persecuted right now will, someday, be comforted, they will inherit the earth, they will be filled for such is the promise of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not offering a “philosophy of life here designed to make us feel better or be more successful or calm in the midst of overwhelming adversity and hardship. Christianity is not a scheme to lose weight, reduce stress, advance one’s career, preserve one from illness. Christian faith, instead, is a way of living based on the firm and sure hope that meekness is the way of God, that righteousness and peace will finally prevail, and that God’s futurewill be a time of mercy and not cruelty. So, Jesus says, blessed are those who live this life now, even when such a life seems foolish.” [3] That is the way of life embraced by the saints: A way that lifts up an example of how life should be. An ideal where all humanity lives in unity with God and each other in Christ and where God’s promises of redemption and wholeness, God’s promises of life everlasting and triumph over evil, are fully and forever realized.

     In our reading from his first letter to the church, St. John affirms that we are all children of God and yet, he says, what we will be has yet to be revealed. Nevertheless, I find in my own journey of faith just as I am certain you have found in your own journeys, there are times when we do catch a glimpse of what will be, or can be, a glimpse of God’s kingdom where mercy, love, grace and justice don’t just exist, but abound! Like many of us, the saints were not necessarily supremely happy or blessed in life; nevertheless, they caught a glimpse of God’s kingdom and that pushed them to envision a changed world. The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., caught a glimpse of God’s Kingdom. In his “I have a dream” speech, Dr. King speaks of standing on a mountaintop where he had a glimpse – if only for a moment – of a world that truly embraced God’s values, a world where all people worshipped and lived together in peace and unity, where all flesh recognized the value and dignity of every human being. He offered us a glimpse of God’s kingdom. Mother Theresa of Calcutta chose to see Christ in every single person she met. She offered water to the thirsty because she saw Christ in that thirsty person. She offered food to the hungry and nurture to the sick, because she saw a hungry and sick Christ at her door. And in so doing, she offered us a glimpse of God’s kingdom where all are fed and watered, where death and dying are no more, where, as we heard in our reading from the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, God, indeed and forever, wipes away every tear from our eyes.

St. John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” I hear these words of St. John and I am reminded of one of one of my favorite saints - a 14th Century mystic known only by the title of his book (The Cloud of Unknowing) who wrote, “Not as thou art, but as thou wilt be – as you will be – God with loving eyes - sees thee.”  While our scriptures affirm that we are already children and saints of God we are challenged to realize that there is always more to learn and more to do. Christ desires to continue to transform us that much more until we become just like him, until we not only glimpse God’s kingdom, but embody it and live it right now, so that webecome that change – that difference - longed for in every community. That is the difference the saints made in their day and they urge us to do the same in our world today.

And so, as we honor those whose lives have modeled to us and the world God’s ways of mercy, grace, love, justice, care and nurture let us remember that the saints, “call us to live as God’s children right now, to do more than we do, to say more than we say, to give more than we give, and above all else – to love more than we love.”[4] The life examples of the saints remind us that how we live as Christ in this community is a choice we each must make. And while that beloved All Saints Day hymn affirms, “They were all of them saints of God” the question for us this morning remains, “do you mean, God-helping, to be one too?”

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” May God help us to not only embrace the vision of God’s kingdom, but as saints, strive to make it the world’s reality for all people today and always. Amen.  

 

[1] Rom.1:7, I Cor. 1:2, II Cor. 1:1, Eph.1:1, Phil.1:1; Col. 1:2

[2] I Cor. 6:11

[3] M. Eugene Boring, New Interpreter’s Bible Reflections on Matthew 5:3-12, p. 181; Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2004.

[4] Ibid.