Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Feast of All Saints, Year A

To All the Saints

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

To the saints who are in Port Hope and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

I am speaking to you as Paul spoke to those to whom he wrote. I suspect that many who hear themselves spoken about as saints cringe at the thought. We have a definite picture in our mind of what it means to be a saint, and it is not how we see ourselves. Most of us shudder at the thought of being saintly. It raises all our misconceptions of what it means to be a saint. Saints for whatever reason have a bad image. We imagine them wandering around amongst the clouds, playing on harps. Their heads are piously bent. They have sickeningly sweet smiles on their faces. Their hands are clasped in an attitude of prayer. Their haloes are in place just so. We want to scream at them, “Get a life!”

Or it may be that you simply cannot see yourself as a saint. For most of us it is a stretch. We look at ourselves and see our imperfections. Each one of us is in some way disfigured, imperfect and flawed. On Halloween our children live that out. They dress up as evil beings wearing grotesque masks and costumes. They parade through the streets. Today’s parade needs to be a very different one, a procession that recognizes the good that is in everyone. This feast of All Saints is a wonderful one for us to look behind the ugliness of the masks we wear, masks of sinfulness and brokenness, and experience the grace and love of God.

So what does it mean to be a saint? Who are these saints that we remember? Sometimes when we speak about the saints we mean one who stands as a giant of spirituality in a past age. Sometimes we mean someone who embodies for us what we think it is to be Christ-like. Sometimes we mean the figures we see depicted in stained-glass windows.

That is certainly not the portrait of the saints that is revealed to us in Scripture. The readings for All Saints Day offer a portrait of the saints of God in all their diversity. There are certainly the ones we recognize as saints of God, the suffering martyrs, the struggling saints, the priests and prophets, the servants and disciples of all ages. But there are also the ordinary people like you and like me, going about our daily routines but doing so with a sense of integrity and faithfulness to God’s promises.

It is there in John’s amazing vision from the Book of Revelation. What a thrill it must have been for the early Christians to understand that despite the trials and tribulations under which they lived they were not alone. They were part of a vast multitude of saints that no one could count. They were purified through their suffering. It was a time for them not of despair, but of great celebration.

It speaks to us in a similar way in this secular age in which it sometimes seems an embarrassment to be a Christian. There are times in personal Christian experience when one feels horribly alone, isolated and irrelevant. Does it thrill us to know that we are part of a great multitude of saints? We belong to a vast company whose bonds stretch beyond time and space into the ultimate reality of God’s presence.

In his letter John explains to us who we are, whose we are, and who and what we can become. If we do not feel much like saints, we can take heart in our becoming. A number of years ago a scientist broke down the value of a human being. It works out to about four dollars in today’s currency. It included oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, iron and iodine. But I have to tell you! Our value is so much more. We are not simply bundles of molecules and atoms. We are the offspring of our creator. We are God’s children. That is not something we work at or wait for. It is the gift of God’s eternal love. We have discovered our identity and significance. We know who we are and to whom we belong and where we are going. We may not know the whole story of what we will become. We do know that we are children of God created in God’s own image. We do know that we are made in the image of Christ. And that makes us saints of God.

Yet I do not want to diminish that quest for holiness that is part of our human struggle. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus challenges us to be godly people. It is amongst the most remembered of Jesus’ words. We often sentimentalize what should provoke and disturb us. It is a picture of life totally contrary to everything that is human in our world. Impossible to attain! It is designed not to be something accomplished, but rather ├ča goal of Christian living.

“Happy are the poor,” Jesus says. And the world replies, “You know what makes you happy. Look at the beautiful home you have. Look at how you live. Don’t you have everything you want?”

“Happy are the hungry,” Jesus says. And the world replies, “You need so much more to be happy. Go out and buy some more things. Then you’ll be really happy!”

Jesus says, “Happy are you who weak now, for you will laugh.” And the world says, “Enjoy what you have. Life is too short. Live it to the full.”

Jesus says, “Happy are you when people say nasty things about you, when they exclude you, when they put you down.” And the world replies, “Put them down before they put you down. That will surely make you happy.”

The Beatitudes do not lead to salvation, but by following them we will live a more authentic life that communicates God’s healing power to lives of the sick, lonely, oppressed, broken and unhappy people in our world and community. Living that way will not win us God’s favour. We already have that. We are graced by God. Living authentically will empower us and help us grow as members of God’s family.

The point of our celebration of all the saints is that God is much more generous than we could ever imagine. God is much more inclusive than we could ever think. In Jesus Christ, God is more accepting and welcoming than we could ever dare to dream.

To the church of God that is in Port Hope, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: grace and peace, this day and forever. Amen

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Come and See Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 Invitations come in many shapes and sizes. They ...