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All Saints Day

Unmasked!

Readings: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us.


So goes a rather flippant prayer for All Hallow's Eve, better known to us as Hallowe'en. On Hallowe'en children went out dressed in all manner of costume, their faces scarred and ugly. They banged on doors demanding candy and treats from people they didn't even know. They did not think about the historical significance of Hallowe'en. They did not delve into its relationship to the Christian celebration of All Saints Day. But we need to make some of those connections as we celebrate All Saints Day.

It is a celebration that calls us to see ourselves as saints of God. It is a time for us to look behind the ugliness of the masks we wear, masks of sinfulness and brokenness, masks of hurt and ignorance, and experience the love of God. Isn't that what we really want from our faith? Isn't that the kind of healing power we want in our own lives?

John tells us in his vision of the kingdom that we are part "of a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages". This is a celebration that says we are numbered among those saints of God. We – Saint Mary, Saint Cheryl, Saint Gord, and Saint Michael – belong to that vast company whose bonds stretch beyond time and space into the ultimate reality of God's presence. In these secular times when we see numbers in the mainline churches dwindling, when we see the Christian faith being eroded, what a hopeful image that is!

But hold on there just a minute. There is something wrong with this picture of the kingdom of heaven. There are people who don't seem to belong, who don't seem to fit in. There are people of other cultures and creeds. There are people who don't speak English. There are the ugly and the deformed. There are the poor and the handicapped.

Another crowd scene! We are seated on a hillside across from Tiberius overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Wherever Jesus goes these days the crowds gather. This crowd is a microcosm of the kingdom of God.

Many in this crowd are poor; listening to the words that Jesus speaks gives them great hope. They have come hoping to be healed from their various infirmities. They have come hoping for help. Jesus calls others in the crowd to see them not as masses of poor people but as brothers and sisters, as members of God's family. He reminds them that it is their call to be a blessing to those who are not as well off as they.

There are people in the crowd who have suffered persecution for their faith; Jesus offers them hope as well. Christian faith is sometimes costly, demanding courage and sacrifice. It takes courage to challenge trends in society. It takes courage to go against what your peers think. It takes courage to stand up for what is right. It takes courage to challenge the authorities when they become oppressive. Jesus reminds the people that the highest human activity is to seek justice and the rights of others even when it entails great cost to oneself.

There are people in the crowd who are carrying great burdens in their hearts. They have lost loved ones. They know the loneliness, grief and heartache that accompanies such loss. Jesus knows that by acknowledging their loss they will be open to the resources that they will find comforting. They will, in turn be open to God's love. They will receive the strength they need to face the days ahead.

There are people in the crowd who sometimes seem to be afraid of their own shadow. Looking at them you wonder how they will ever cope with life. How can they expect to work at anything but the lowliest of jobs? How can they expect to get ahead in life? They are born losers. Yet Jesus is telling them about his own experience. He is meek, but he is certainly no doormat. As he tramped the hills of Galilee, he rebuked the stormy seas, he fed and healed the multitudes, he tangled with wily scribes and Pharisees, and he cast moneychangers from the temple. He proved that meekness has nothing to do with cowardice. "You are a gift from God," he tells them. "See yourselves as God's precious children."

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus does not offer a cure for human ills. His sermon does not offer something to be attained or accomplished; it is the goal of Christian living. As saints of God we strive to live within its guidelines. It does not lead to salvation; that is ours by grace. It leads to authentically living out our Christian faith. It is the portrait of a saint that results in the kind of life that communicates God's healing power to the lives of sick, lonely, oppressed, broken and unhappy people in our world and community. It is a way of life that helps us to grow as members of God's family.

The point, then, of this All Saints Day celebration is that God is much more generous than we would ever imagine. Where we would put up barriers to keep people out God breaks down every barrier. Where we would include only the select few to be saved, those who are most like us, God accepts us all. Where we would cut back the numbers to acceptable proportions, God expands them to people of every language, race, creed and way of life.

And you know, once in a while we experience something going on in our world that reminds us the sanctity of humankind. I could not help but reflect on that as I watched a video on You Tube this past week. In the video, a man named Zakaria Ghanem is dressed in a traditional Muslim gown called a Dishdasha while another man, Devin Giamou, berates him in public and says he wouldn’t feel safe getting onto a bus with him.

Reactions pour in from other people waiting for the same bus who don’t know the whole thing is staged.

“You can’t stereotype and judge people by their clothes,” one man said. “Or their nationalities or anything else, you know what I mean?”

One woman commented that what happened to Cirillo in Ottawa was “awful and tragic,” but could not see any reason to “persecute someone just because of what they’re wearing.”

One man objected to Giamou’s staged racism so much that he punched him in the face. Now I do not condone punching someone, but the decency that came out in that crowd was an affirmation of the inherent goodness in people. We are, all of us, called to be saints, and somehow the best manages to come out once in a while.

Back to Hallowe'en and those terrible masks! Each of us is in some way disfigured, imperfect and flawed. But Jesus looks on our ugliness and sees beauty. Jesus looks on our disfigurement and sees perfection. Jesus looks on our flaws and sees righteousness. When others exclude us and reject us Jesus invites us to the party. When others shun us and turn their backs on us and hurt us, Jesus breaks bread with us. When others look on us with repulsion, Jesus welcomes us with open arms. When we take off our masks of sinfulness and brokenness then we are able to experience the love of God and truly become members of the family of God.

So take off your mask and open yourself up to the love of God. Look around you at the saints of God. See each other as saints living in the kingdom.


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