All Saints Day 2022
Happy All Saints Day!
I am wholly glad to be back with you,
after a week’s vacation, which ended in COVID, extended my time away.
While I wasn’t here in person,
last Sunday, I did worship with you online.
I cozied up with a blanket in my reclining chair,
tuned into YouTube and waited. I saw Joe go up to ring the bell.
Then I heard you all singing together the first hymn,
“All Creatures of our God and King”
and tears came welling up in my eyes
“Lift up your voices let us sing…. Alleluia.”
I promise my tears were not a commentary on your singing.
They rolled down my face, which had a great big smile on it.
I was thinking– here are the Saints Alive,
carrying on the Church’s mission—
it was very moving.
When I first came to Saint Luke’s,
I loved finding out that this parish’s weekly birthday remembrances and announcements of what’s happening here is called Saints Alive.
I think we continually need the reminder:
We too are saints.
The word saint literally means “holy ones,”
those called by God, set apart to do the work of the kingdom.
This is why the NT writers often opened their letters,
just as the one we read today in Ephesians,
begins “to all the saints who are in Ephesus,”
Other epistles say to the saints in Corinth or Rome
referring to all those who’ve begun to meet and learn to follow
the teachings of Jesus Christ.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he even closes
with a greeting from the saints,
He writes to them, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.
The friends who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you,
especially those of the emperor’s household.”
Apparently, Christianity was blooming even inside Caesar’s own house. Those were some brave saints.
One of the reasons I think we forget that we too are saints—
holy ones charged with carrying on the gospel—
is that on this day we celebrate the saints who are heroes of our faith, and those saints are often depicted very differently from you and me.
You can visualize them, Saint Peter with his keys to the kingdom,
Saint Mary glowing, dressed all in blue,
Saint Patrick with his crozier and clover–
All the famous saints have halos over their heads.
I could never imagine me or you with a halo.
Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, even have much odder images.
They are traditionally symbolized as the four creatures
listed in the Revelation to John.
Luke as a winged ox, John as an eagle,
Matthew as an angel, Mark as a lion.
A few years ago, in seminary, one of my professors on her first day
asked us to give her a way to remember our names.
She said, choose a preface or a rhyme to go along with your name.
When it was my turn, I said, just call me Saint Polly.
I think her reply was something along the line of,
well, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, a severe life, and a miserable death.
It was too late by then to take it back.
She called me St. Polly all semester, and we’d laugh about my future martyrdom.
Many of our saints sacrificed all for the sake of Christ.
They are exemplars, and in that way
We do not have much in common with them.
Yet, Christ’s Church is also full of common saints—without whom the love of Christ would not be known.
Our understanding of saintliness, then, needs broadening.
Our Wednesday book study group is reading book by Nadia Bolz-Weber called Accidental Saints,
This author is Hilarious and flawed, brilliant and crude. Honest to her core.
An ordained Lutheran pastor
Nadia subtitles her book Accidental Saints,
“Finding God in all the wrong people”
Recounting the many experiences in her life
When she met people who accidentally stumbled into finding redemption,
finding themselves set free from the power sin…still flawed, yet able to see God’s grace working in them so they can offer themselves to others.
She tells stories of ordinary persons, someone in AA, someone realizing their own conceit…
Nadia reminds us that we are all, as Martin Luther said so long ago,
we are simultaneously, Sinners and Saints.
Even THE Saints, who are our heroes…
“What we celebrate in the saints,” she says, “is not their piety or perfection but the fact that we believe in a God who gets redemptive and holy things done in this world through, of all things, human beings, all of whom are flawed.”
“What makes us saints of God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinners.”
This past week I spent a couple of days at Camp McDowell, as part of my work with the diocesan commission on ministry. We interviewed in small groups with several persons discerning a call to ordained ministry—this was the culmination of a long process sometimes taking a year or two.
One of the distinguishing characteristics I’ve come to look for in this work
is just a plain honesty about ourselves, where we fall short.
One of the qualities I try to listen for
is a willingness to be with people without having to have all the answers.
In one interview we ask folks to tell us about a time
when you offered pastoral care to someone and it went poorly,
and what you learned from it.
There is sometimes, a reticence to share.
That’s when one of us would offer a story.
I can tell of an early time in my chaplaincy years ago
when I struggled to be the same caring pastoral presence
to the woman recuperating in the hospital from her third drug overdose
as I was to the mom of four who’d just been diagnosed with cancer.
One person in the interviews answered by telling
how he used to say the words, “I understand,”
when listening to someone tell of their hurt or their loss.
That is, until he offered those words of comfort to a woman
who’d lost her child, she looked at him so intensely,
as if to say, really, do you?
“I learned from this that I really can’t say I know,” but I can listen.
I can be open to hearing about the hardest experiences,
the anger, the feeling of abandonment.
I can offer love and a presence.
Through this he came to know more fully the good news
Christ Jesus offered to us in his life and ministry.
God’s chose to walk this earth: so that we may know God more fully, and we may know God loves us intimately.
We hear this profusely when Jesus is preaching his sermon on the plain.
We hear the words of a loving God who’s seen poverty up close
and offers these persons God’s blessing.
Blessed are you who are poor,
A God who’s seen loss and known hurt, and offers
Blessed are you who weep
Whose seen violence and denegration, and offers a blessing
Blessed are you when people hate you…
Nadia writes, “that is just like Jesus, Extravagantly throwing around blessings as though they grew on trees.”
And she helps us imagine how these blessings might be heard today in some new beatitudes:
Blessed are you who doubt, who aren’t so sure, who can still be surprised by the Holy Spirit.
Blessed are you for whom death is not an abstraction.
Blessed are you who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are you who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.
Blessed are you who can’t fall apart because you have to keep it together for everyone else.
Blessed are you who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are you who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The night-shift workers.
Blessed are you who are forgotten, closeted, ignored.
Blessed are you when you are wrongly accused, you who never catch a break, you for whom life is hard, for Jesus chose to surround himself with people like you.
Blessed are you without a home, without a safe country… Blessed are you who are underrepresented, without lobbyists or lawyers.
Blessed are you my children, foster kids and special-ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved.
Blessed are you who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people.
Blessed are you, burned-out social workers, overworked teachers, and pro bono case takers.
Blessed are you, kindhearted football players and gracious fans.
Blessed are you who step between the bullies and the weak.
Blessed are you who hear that you are forgiven.
Blessed are you who has ever forgiven another, even when it felt underserved.
Blessed are you who feel the woes, as you know where to turn.
Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it.
I can also imagine an epistle written
To all the saints called by God here in Scottsboro,
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ,
Carry forward the faith passed on to you
ground yourselves in the struggles you face,
entwine your lives with those straining to hear God’s blessings,
striving to live with dignity and hope.
In doing this you share the joy of Christ’s victory with all the saints—
the haloed and the hurting.
May you, Saints Alive, in your worship on this day of All Saints
devote your will to the purpose of God, in Christ Jesus our Savior.