Sermon for All Saints, Sunday, November 03 2019, 10:30 am
Gerlyn Henry, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
Daniel 7:1-3,15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
The trinity of the days: Halloween, the feast of All Saints and the feast of All Souls has long been one of my favourite times of the year. It is a thin place in the turning of the year. The days are haunted… in a good way. It offers an occasion for us to remember, to reflect, and to offer thanks for those who have shaped our path by the path they have walked. These days remind us that in the Body of Christ, death does not release us from being in community.
We tend to have two ways of thinking about the saints, and it turns out that neither one of them is very helpful. On one hand, we think of “Saints” with a capital “S”: St. Peter, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Augustine, the named heroes of the faith who made their mark in the world and left a legacy of holiness that outlasted their lifetimes. And then we think of “saints” with a lowercase “s,” and here we usually mean someone of heroically long-suffering patience or upright moral conduct.
If we think about sainthood in only these two ways, the people who we called saints seem so intimidatingly inaccessible and unattainably good, that the fact is most of us feel unworthy of that title. Plus, we can look at a saint like mother Terresa and think well, she is a saint because she was meek and poor so if I too want to be blessed and esteemed by God, I should try and be meek and poor like her.
Don’t get me wrong, we could use a few more people trying to be like Mother Teresa, I just don’t think that her virtue of meekness and poverty qualified her to be considered a saint. Is it someone like Mother Teressa who Jesus refers to when he says “blessed are you who are poor?” or is it referring to the ones she served with? Or is he talking about them both?
The beatitudes according to Luke are always the gospel reading on Year C of All Saints Day. It can be easy to view this sermon that Jesus delivers as an exhortation – a sermon to urge the listener to do something. However, the beatitudes aren’t necessarily a list of conditions we should try and meet in order to be blessed. We are not invited by God though this scripture to try to be hungry, or hated, or sad. But rather, the blessings in the beatitudes is a divine recognition of honour that Jesus bestows on those who are already living in particular circumstances.
You might’ve heard Mother Maggie say this in a sermon a few weeks ago. The word “blessed” in Greek is “Mikarios”. A more accurate use of the word in translation is, honoured. Hunger, poverty, grief, hate, exclusion, and defamation are not virtues that we should aspire to, so that we would be honoured by God, they are rather circumstances in which Jesus lavishly blesses the ones whom society doesn’t seem to care for. Jesus lifts his head and says “blessed are you. Honoured are you. To you belongs the kingdom of God”.
So, for this All Saints Sunday, here are some beatitudes for this day, for this place, and these people.
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are they for whom nothing seems to be working. Blessed are the ones who work two and three jobs, but struggle to make ends meet. Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard – for they are those with whom Jesus chose to surround himself. Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists. Blessed are the poor. You are of heaven and Jesus honours you.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are foster kids and trophy kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved. Blessed are the parents who work tirelessly to put enough food on the table for their family. Blessed are the ones who are alone, the ones who part take in drop in breakfasts and dinners, one spoon of one dish. Blessed are the ones who have received such real grace that they are no longer in the position of ever deciding who the “deserving poor” are. Blessed are they who know there has to be more than this. Because they are right.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you, your reward is great in heaven. Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex-workers. Blessed are the parts of ourselves that are so small. The parts of ourselves that don’t want to make eye contact with a world that only loves the winners. Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted. Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented. Blessed are the hated, excluded and defamed. You are of heaven and Jesus honours you.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are they for whom death is not a concept. Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears are as real as an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted any more. Blessed are the fatherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet” Blessed are they who laughed again when for so long they thought they never would. You who weep, are of heaven and Jesus honours you.
Something drastically different in Luke’s narration of the beatitudes than that of Matthew’s is that Luke places woes right alongside the blessings. He places those whom God calls to question, right alongside those who are struggling.
Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who have evaded taxes, who have accumulated wealth through exploiting the marginalized. Woe to you who desire to build huge houses in local neighborhoods, forcing it to gentrify. The ones who choose profit over people and pleasantries over the poor. Woe to you, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are laughing, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to those who cannot hear the depth of pain in the wailing of your neighbour. To you whose land has not been taken from you, to you whose hair was not cut, whose skin was not bleached, to you who did not experience cultural genocide. Woe to you who did not hear the mourning and the weeping of your fellow saints, while you were laughing.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are proudly self satisfied, dreaming for nothing, repenting for little. Woe to you who waste food, who buy more than they can consume, throw out what you can share. Woe to ones who believe that it is your ability to feed yourself that qualifies you to be fed. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you.
Why are we offered the beatitudes on one of our Church’s principal feast days? It is a day to remind ourselves that we are not alone; and that those who have gone before us stand in witness of our journey. The Gospel lesson today makes me wonder if it is not just the heroes of our lives and the saints of old that stand as the cloud of witnesses. But maybe also people who we encounter every single day.
The cloud is comprised of those with whom we have shared joy and pain, love and hard work. Saints. People honoured by God. People who have shown us the way. I believe that the twenty, forty, sixty-year olds we encounter on our streets and in our breakfasts, when they from their labour rest, will be a part of this congregation’s cloud of saints.
When we see war waged against the one, two, nine and twelve year olds on our TV screens and in the newspapers, wounded, separated, hungry, often burrowed in the tears running down their mother’s face, they are the ones that the Gospel lesson is speaking to when Jesus says “Honoured are you who weep now.” They are a part of our cloud of saints.
It is appropriate that we grieve on All Saints Day. It is appropriate that we catch our breath, shed tears as the names of the necrology are read this evening. But it is also appropriate that we rejoice. We will be sharing the great Eucharistic feast at the end of our service. We will be sitting at table with all who have gone before us and all who are yet to come.
We will be joined by the saints who have passed from among us and who surround the throne. When you look around, you will see the persistent widow, Lazarus the leper. You will see the poor, the hungry, families separated by world crisis, families reunited. Fathers, mothers, children, Mother Teresa, St. Peter and the rest of our ancestors.
They take our hands, pass the peace with us, and maybe you will hear them join us when we entreat, “The Lord be with you,” as they will joyfully answer, “And also with you.” They will press the bread in our hands, “Christ’s body given for you.” They will tip the cup to our lips, “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.”
I reckon, we are all saints.