Based on Matthew 5:1-12. This message owes a great deal to Barbara Brown Taylor’s All Saints sermon in her book "Mixed Blessings." I’d love to hear your responses to it, and if anyone can use anything I say, please feel free.
This morning I want to say just a few words about saints and sainthood,
and when say “a few words,” I mean fewer than I normally do,
but not a whole lot fewer, so don’t get too excited.
First, I thinks it’s important for us to clear up a few misunderstandings about what we celebrate on All Saints Day.
Yes, one of the things we do today is to remember those people who have left a holy mark upon the world and upon our lives.
You know the kind of people I am talking about:
People like the recognized saints: Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint Mark, and Saint Francis of Assisi.
And lets not forget those who may not be sainted by any church,
but whose influence has marked many people:
those like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr.,
maybe there are even a few pastors in the mix for you:
People like . . .
I know for me the pastor of my hometown church is there: Sister Ruby.
A more dedicated teacher and preacher of the Word I have not met since,
and she not only spoke the word,
she lived it in her life.
Sister Ruby died just a couple of years ago,
but her legacy lives on in the lives of hundreds of people she touched,
my own included.
We all have people like that in our lives,
people who have helped shape our faith journeys,
people who drawn us out of ourselves and into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God.
The Rev. Mark Girard was and is another such person for me.
He was the minister at the Wesley Foundation at EKU,
and it was him and his words and actions that you can either credit or blame for me leaving behind my dreams of being a college professor and taking up the call to ministry,
which I had at one time said I would never, ever do.
Mark, still alive and now a District Superintendent in the Kentucky Conference,
is not a perfect person,
and he would be the first to say as much,
but his witness helped shape my Christian life and ministry.
And so it is that today we celebrate and honor and remember all the faithful throughout time,
the living and the dead,
but especially those who have died.
And we also recognize this morning that many of these folks are nameless to us,
many of these peoples’ stories have not been told,
and they are to us like that great cloud of witnesses that the writer of Hebrews talks about in chapter 11 of his book:
Here he mentions those who have gone on before:
people like Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob,
people like Joseph and Moses and Rahab,
people like Gideon, Samson, Samuel and David,
and on and on he goes before finally saying I don’t have the time to list all these people for you,
but you know who they are,
you know what they have done,
and since you know this,
and since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
despising the shame,
and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The writer of Hebrews is on to something I think.
He knows that the saints are not just people we should admire.
He knows that they are not just names to recall and remember.
No, he also knows that they are people who call us to live our lives differently.
They call us to follow Jesus,
and to imitate them in being his disciples.
That is the mark of a saint,
and that is what we celebrate today:
that great cloud of witnesses in the life of this world and in our own lives who call to us and say to us:
Run to him, run to Jesus, with everything that you have.
Nothing else is as important than this.
And once we do this,
the saints then call us to be saints in our own living.
Barbara Brown Taylor tells the story of how a church took their Halloween celebration one year and tied it to a celebration of All Saints.
They did this by inviting everyone to come to a party dressed as their favorite saint.
Most people followed the instructions.
Saint Paul was there, as well as Saint Francis.
Saint Nicholas made an appearance,
and Saint John the Baptist showed up too,
after he had been beheaded, mind you,
with his head on a silver platter overflowing with fruit and a cardboard box as a table,
hiding the rest of his body.
St’ Louis was also there,
but in this case, it was the city, not the person, who attended.
The woman had a huge silver arch above her head,
complete with a label – Gateway to the West.
Then there were a few who did not follow the instructions at all,
or maybe they just had a better understanding of what the word “saint” means.
There were a couple of cowboys present,
one of which who looked a lot like Kenny Rogers.
There were a few Native Americans,
complete with war paint.
And many people came dressed in the costumes of nurses and doctors,
constructions workers and policemen,
firefighters and even a politician or two.
One person even dressed up as a pastor. Imagine that!
At the end of the party awards were given out to those with the best costumes,
and then everyone was given a glittery halo to wear.
My guess is that they were made with Christmas tinsel,
but regardless they were beautiful things that hovered over ever person’s head,
just like the real thing might.
And then everyone marched into the church sanctuary and took their place for a time of worship –
Halos bobbing and swaying and sparkling in the light of candles.
Taylor says that she was amazed at how funny and eerie and even beautiful this all looked.
”There were all kinds of people there,
from all the different times and places on earth,
and binding them all together,
making them one,
were those delicate, beautiful halos,
linking each person with the others and everyone there with all God’s saints in all times and places.
And that, my friends, is how it should be.”
Now like Taylor comments in her message,
I had neither the time nor the materials to make each of you a halo this morning.
I would have loved to as it would have been a visible reminder of whose you are and who you are.
But as I look out upon you today,
if I use my imagination and squint my eyes in just the right way,
I can just see out of the corner of my eye a faint image of a halo above each of you here.
Yes, some of them are tarnished,
others are a bit crooked,
but they are there nonetheless.
And if you look carefully,
if you try real hard,
I bet you’ll be able to see them too.
It’s all a matter of how you see things.
I’ve used this quote before,
but it’s such a good one, let me use it again this morning.
In his introduction to Cannery Row,
the great American writer John Steinbeck wrote:
"Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered,
and iron and rust and splintered wood,
chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps,
honky tonks, restaurants, little crowded groceries, laboratories, and flophouses.
Its inhabitants are (and I paraphrase here), as the man once said,
‘Prostitutes, bums, gamblers, and SOB’s,’ by which he meant Everybody.
[But] had the man looked through another peephole,
he might have said,
‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’
and he would have meant he same thing."
Can you, for just a minute this morning, look through that other peephole and see for yourself the holy men and women,
the angels and martyrs,
and yes, even the saints that fill these pews this morning?
Can you see the saints?
And if you can,
if you can see the saints around you,
if you can see the saint even in yourself,
I want to encourage you to live that saintliness out in your life so that others can see it too,
and so that they may be drawn to the light of God within you,
just as surely as a moth is drawn to the flame of burning candle.
You see, all of us here this morning are saints of God,
and I would add that it is time, high time, for us to live like the saints we are.
We have been joined to the body of Christ through baptism.
We have shared and will share in his body and blood at his table.
We are linked with him and with all the others who have gone on before us.
We are children of the living and loving God,
and we have a choice:
We can live like the saints we are,
or we can choose not to.
It is really up to us.
This is why, I believe, the beatitudes are the selected gospel reading All Saints Day.
Now some people see this list of sayings as little more than a glorified “to-do” list.
Let’s all go and become poor in spirit,
let’s go make some peace or mourn a little.
Who’s up for being meek or persecuted?
And so on.
But, if these beautiful sayings were a job description of sort,
who among us would even dare assume we could be up to the tasks they lay out?
None of us could do that.
Few of us, if any, would even try.
No, I believe that these beautiful words reveal a deeper reality,
a reality that Taylor points out in her writing.
“While] each [beatitude] deserves a sermon of it’s own,
[if you] read between the lines . . . this is what you hear:
You are loved, act like it.
You are redeemed; act like it.
You are a saint; act like it.
Become what you already are and you will be blessed with every breath you take,
which means happiness,
which means joy,
which means fullness of life –
blessedness is just what happens when you are who you were created to be,
living the life you were created to live.”
And that is the truth,
whether or not you can see the halos on your neighbor’s head,
or even on your own this morning.
We are the saints of God,
and we are called to join that great cloud of witnesses,
the communion of saints,
in proclaiming to all the love and mercy and grace of God.
That is why we are here today.
That is why we remember those who have gone on before us.
For they remind us of this truth,
and they call us to live it out in our lives.
So what do you say?