A sermon for All Saints’ Sunday. The lectionary readings are Revelation 7:9-17, Psalm 34:1-10, 22, 1 John 3:1-3, and Matthew 5:1-12.
Last Sunday our bishop-elect met with some of the clergy and spouses. It was meant to be a casual gathering, one in which we could ask questions of one another and begin to prepare for the future. At one point someone asked Rev. Budde what plans she had for the current staff at Church House, the building that contains our diocesan offices. She answered by saying that it would take her some time to understand exactly what the future needs of the diocese might be, that she would make no rash decisions, and that if, over time, any positions were phased out or changed, she would work with people to be fair and forthright. The person asking the question must have looked unconvinced, because Mariann then said, “I guess what I can say is that I’m not bringing people with me who I want to put to work in Church House. In other words, I don’t have ‘people.’”
We all laughed. But while I would not want to correct my future bishop, and while I know what she meant, I would also suggest (in the context of All Saints’ Day) that she DID have people, she DOES have people, and she WILL CONTINUE to have people. As she moves to Washington, she brings with her all of the people who have ever inspired her in her faith, all of the people who have encouraged her, or challenged her, or pushed her to deeper faithfulness. Our new bishop also moves into a faith community that is ready to offer help, offer support, and to pray with her and for her. That’s what All Saints’ Day is really about—it’s about the fact that, as people of faith, we are never, ever alone.
All Saints Day reminds us that “we’ve got people.” We’ve (all of us) got people.
Having people, having support, having help makes the words of today’s Gospel possible. Otherwise, the Beatitudes would be hopelessly out of reach. They are lofty ideals, they are high, and for many of us, the blessings they contain are far, far away from our every day experience. How many of us are very often among the poor in spirit, the meek, or those who hunger and thirst after righteousness? When have we been pure in heart, shown mercy, or practiced the art of peacemaking?
To approach the Beatitudes is a little like beginning to climb a mountain. Some in the Orthodox tradition have pictured the Beatitudes as a ladder. In a Ladder of Beatitudes, “Each one leads to the next, and is placed in a particular order. To reach the second step, we need to make the first step.”
Whether we imagine the Beatitudes as a ladder, or a mountain, or simply a series of signs that points us in the way of holiness, the good news is that we are not alone in our journey. There are others who have climbed this ladder, who have ascended this mountain, who have received the blessing upon blessing that Jesus offers. These are the saints. And they offer us holy help.
From time to time I call on holy help. For example, when I am running low on faith and when doubt is about to do a number on me it helps me to know that St. Teresa of Avila once went years wondering whether God was really listening. When the political nature of life begins to get me down and discourage me it helps me to know that Hugh of Lincoln, bishop-saint of the Middle Ages, was able to be prophetic with kings as well as commoners. Our local saints inspire and help me, as well. When I’m discouraged about some problem facing our church, I hear the words of our former senior warden, Nancye. And I’m encouraged. At various times, and in different predicaments, I imagine Jeff, and Mary, and Erling, and Frank, and many more.
In the New Testament the word “saint” normally just refers to someone who puts her faith in Jesus Christ. In the New Testament sense one does not have to be a martyr or even a particularly holy person to be called a saint. The Apostle Paul addresses his Letter to the Romans, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints.” In helping the Corinthian church sort out its squabbles, Paul suggests that the aggrieved parties not go to secular courts, but go “before the saints,” the local gathering of Christians. In Revelation, John shows us various pictures of the saints—some who have died for their faith, others who have died natural deaths—but ordinary believers made extraordinary by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it is a grand and glorious company.
. . . [A] great multitude which no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”
We have help in heaven and on earth. We’ve got people. We’ve got saints surrounding us. And by the grace of God, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be saints for one another—helping, supporting, encouraging, challenging, growing together into the likeness of God. Thanks be to God that we’ve got people.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.