All Saints Sunday – November 6, 2022
Today, in our church calendar, we celebrate All Saints Sunday. All Saints is an occasion to celebrate and revisit the faithful people who have gone before us – it’s not just about those who have been canonically designated as saints. It is more so about those people whose lives provide inspiration for us. Saints, who are not models of perfection, but real people who opened themselves to the ways that God sought to work in and through their particular lives and gifts.
We tend to think of saints living perfect lives and perhaps caught up in some sort of Vision when not engaged in prayer or good works. Immortalized in stained glass windows, they take on the trappings of perfect Christians. And for most of us, that is something unattainable. In point of fact, they were flesh and blood people. When they were alive they were simply a man called Peter or a woman called Teresa.
So, today is an invitation for us not to copy their lives, but to draw encouragement from them as we seek to let God do this same work in our own particular lives, with our own particular gifts.
Today, we are given the passage from Luke which is often referred to as the sermon on the plain. There is a reason that Luke describes Jesus preaching his most famous sermon from a plain rather than a mountain. In Luke’s version, Jesus has just come down from the mountain after spending time in prayer, a night of prayer, and appointing his disciples.
In other words, Jesus literally comes down to us to meet us in our vulnerability, in our humanness. And then gives us a series of blessings and then woes. He tells us to love our enemies and do to others as you would have them to do you. It makes us a bit uneasy to hear these words from Jesus in their totality. But at the heart of his talk is our need to recognize that at our core, we are all very much alike. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all vulnerable, we are all human beings with human limitations.
So, perhaps this is not about a moral check list. Perhaps Jesus is inviting us to imagine what it’s like to live in the kingdom of God. And by inviting that imagination, drawing a sharp contrast between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world – challenging our often unconscious allegiance to the ways of the world.
Notice that the people who Jesus is calling “blessed” are definitely not the people the larger culture viewed as blessed. Those who are poor rather than rich? Those who are hungry rather than full? Those who weep rather than laugh? That kind of thinking was, and mostly still is, a bit absurd.
So perhaps Jesus is playing for larger stakes than an improved ethic. Perhaps he’s challenging who we imagine being blessed in the first place. Who is worthy of God’s attention? Who deserves our attention, respect, and honor? And by doing that, he’s also challenging our very understanding of blessedness itself and, by extension, challenging our culture’s view of, well pretty much everything. Blessing. Power. Success. The good life. Righteousness. What is noble and admirable. What is worth striving for and sacrificing for. You name it. Jesus seems to invite us to call into question our culturally-born and very much this-worldly view of all the categories with which we structure our life, navigate our decisions, and judge those around us.
And this includes our view of those we have loved and lost. We have not “lost” those who have died. Instead, they live now in the nearer presence of God, beyond our immediate reach, yet connected to us through memory, faith, and love. Part of what we do when we celebrate All Saints’ – and, at all memorial services – is to participate in the inversion of the kingdom of the world which believes that all we can see, hold, control, or buy is all that there is. When we commend those we have loved to God’s care, we proclaim that God’s kingdom is not some distant thing or place but exists now, exerts its influence on us now, transforms our reality now. All Saints’, along with all Christian funerals, is a repetition and rehearsal of the Easter promise that there is something more, something that transcends our immediate experience, and this proclamation is rooted in the confidence that God’s love and life are more powerful and enduring that the hate, disappointment, and death that seems at times to surround us.
Today we remember those who have gone before. We are called to remember saints who have gathered around Jesus in every time and place, people with needs and hopes, people who caught at least a glimpse of a world more fully God-shaped than the one they lived in.
We come from a people and from individual persons to whom we owe much of who we are and much of who we long to be. Our history and our imagination of God’s reign look back to the promises of God as Jesus spoke them on a Plain long ago. These people who have gone before remain vital in the great communion of God’s people as we celebrate All Saints.
There is more for us, though, much more. This text points ahead into God’s coming future, the fullness of which we seek to know. It is for all the saints who gather now to be reminded that the hope of the world is not for the same old thing to continue, not for all of us to become the elites, never to worry about illness or loss. The hope for God’s world is that we lean into God’s future together. Jesus delivers this sermon as a guide for daily life right now — for all the saints.
Death doesn’t get the last word; love does. Before there was death, there was love. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses both here and in the heavens. Praise the Lord. Amen.