All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2020
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Blessings of this beautiful day to you and to all those you love. I hope your Halloween was not too scary, and that the candy you got or have will last a while. Today, All Saints’ Day, is one of the church’s major feasts, a day to celebrate who and what we are – a collection of faithful people living here and living in heaven, for whom Christ is Lord. The great saints who have gone before us have demonstrated heroic virtue or exceptional bravery in the face of many challenges, and so the church has for centuries held them up as exemplars for us. And quite a crew they are!
Let me begin with a little story about sainthood. It seems a certain man died, and as it turned out, he was not a very savory person. The man’s brother called the church and asked to see the pastor. He explained to the pastor that his brother had died and he hoped the pastor would do the funeral. The pastor listened, heard the story of the departed man’s life, and then was told by the brother, “It would mean a lot to me and my family if you said my dead brother was a saint. In fact, here is a check for $20,000 if you’ll do that.” “No problem,” said the pastor. “See you on Saturday.” As soon as the man left the pastor took the check to the secretary and said, “Take this check, go to the bank and deposit it immediately.” The day of the funeral came and the pastor began the service, said the prayers, and then he went into the eulogy. He intoned, “The deceased was not always a nice person. In fact, he was a liar, and a cheat, and a thief, but compared to his brother, he was a saint.”
Now like many church stories, this one works because it contains a grain of truth. A lot of the saints we love, the ones who were famous for their brilliance, the saints we emulate, a number of these were less than perfect people. They were, in a way, broken. Sure, for some of the saints, and for some folks we know, goodness and piety come easily, but not for most of the people we encounter. For myself, I admire the saints who are a bit rough around the edges. Francis, who was a rich playboy before the cross in the Church of St. Damian spoke to him. Peter, who denied Jesus three times before he became the Rock upon which the church was founded. Paul, who had persecuted the church only to be knocked senseless by the Risen Christ. St. Augustine, who was a wild child before his mother Monica’s entreaties to God got through to her son. Teresa of Calcutta who struggled with intense doubt for most of her long, long life. I love these saints because they remind me that there has always been room for imperfect people in the Kingdom of God. I admire them because they give me hope that I, too, might find a place there. I take comfort in them because in and through their brokenness, they remind me to do what they did – to hear the call of Jesus to be part of the Kingdom, and to act upon that call.
To be reminded. This All Saints’ feast of the church is about remembering and that is important, wouldn’t you say? The capital C Church is the living memory of the Kingdom of God, a band of faithful people who can look to the past, cherish the memories and use them in order to be sustained and sustaining. In our communion service, Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me. Remember who, what, and where I am.” By implication Jesus is also saying, “And remember who you are, too. You are my brothers and sisters, children of God.”
Yes, remembering is one of the important things the church does, today and every day. But we can’t leave it there. We’re not just about looking back. The church is also about looking around and looking forward. Where are we right now and where are we going? As St. John had his vision in the cave on the island of Patmos, so too the church must have a vision for our own day and time. In fact, the church is called not just to have a vision, but to be a vision. In whatever time and place we find ourselves, the church is called to incarnate its vision of the Kingdom of God.
What the scriptures tell us is that it doesn’t matter how trying the times and situations may be. St. John’s vision in the Book of Revelation describes a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. A multitude which had come through a great ordeal. The psalmist also speaks of tribulation and affliction, and both readings offer a vision of the Kingdom in which God is exalted. Thongs of angels calling out, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God and to the Lamb, forever and ever. Amen!”
Faithful people of Christ the King-Epiphany Church, you do not need me to tell you that we live in troubled times, times of strife and affliction. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have died in a pandemic that shows no signs of letting up. Tens of thousands of us in American have taken to the streets to shine a light on racial injustice with an urgency that sometimes tragically erupts in violence. All of us are living through a political season that has exposed a darkness at the heart of the American dream for all. I know of no one, not one single solitary person, who does not hope that these troubled, broken times will end soon.
And yet, as believers, we exalt God, blessing and praising his name. If God has placed us among these troubled times, God has also given us a moment in which we may reveal God’s kingdom. And how do we accomplish this? Two things come immediately to mind. First – vote if you have not already done so. Our bishops describe voting as a Christian responsibility. People have died for the right to vote that we enjoy. Even more, our votes are expressions of our hope – what we hope this country is, and what we hope it will become.
Second, as the weeks of November unfold, please pray about the way you will be supporting this church financially in the coming year. Now more than ever, this church, our church, stands as a beacon of hope in this town and in this wider community. Not a day goes by that someone from this church, our church, does not reach out and touch a person, or a family, or the world in a holy way. In this time of trouble and affliction, and yes, even ordeal, that touch is as important as it has ever been. Your support for this work, your standing behind this ministry of sustaining the faithful and the world we serve, is vital. I am confident you will be generous when it comes to pledging and making your commitment to Christ the King-Epiphany later this month.
Two simple steps in the midst of a busy time. Vote, commit to the church. And then, pray that we will be like the saints whose day we celebrate today. Following Jesus, let us engage the world with humility, poverty of spirit, even meekness, let us hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice, setting aside our own agendas so that we might meet our fellow travelers where they are and be people of peace. Mourn with those who mourn, so that our grief at all our losses may energize and transform a world that is really hurting. One step, one day at a time, let us be the church that embodies that communion of broken and restored saints. Let the church, this church, give us hope and remind us that you do not have to be perfect to be good.
Together, as St. John reminds us, let us be the Kingdom church of memory, the church of vision, the church of hope, the church that cries out, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, for that is what we are.” One with the saints in heaven and on earth. Amen.