November 1: All Saints Day

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. This sermon was delivered on All Saints Day, November 1, 2022. The sermon was a response to Luke 6.20-31 and based on the manuscript below.

O blest communion,
fellowship divine,
we feebly struggle,
they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee,
for all are thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Who are your favorite saints?
No, really, who?
Speak up!
If they’re not in the litany of the saints later on
email me, and we’ll be sure to get them next year.
I’m really excited about this week.
All Saints Day
is possibly my favorite church Holy Day.
I love the idea that we don’t hear tonight
but from the letter to the Hebrews
that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.
That in that surrounding,
we’ve got cheerleaders,
so we need to run with endurance the race that is set before us.
We celebrate that cloud of witnesses
whose race is won.
I’m excited about this week
because we’re keeping sacred time
and letting each festival be itself
and starting to let each festival’s focus
shine brightly on its own.
Tonight the saints who have run the race.
Tomorrow the saints and souls who we mourn
but whom we have entrusted to God’s care
as they move from strength to strength.
Sunday, celebrating tonight’s saints
and tomorrow’s saints and souls
but focusing on making new saints
centering baptism and our communal life in Jesus.

When we look at the saints across time,
those saints who have run the race:
Hilda, Patrick,
James, Phoebe,
Mary, Lydia,
Peter, Paul,
how often they were —
sometimes because of their faith,
excluded from community,
oppressed by the government —
poor, hungry, and weeping.
Despite that, they kept the faith,
and looked for the day of Christ’s coming again.
They knew that in Jesus’ resurrection,
death itself had been defeated.

The text for today
is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes
and Jesus’ directions summed up in,
“Do to others
as you would have them do to you.”
Before the three-year lectionary,
Matthew’s Beatitudes were the Gospel text
every year for All Saints Day.
Those are the ones
you’re probably more familiar with:
the poor in spirit,
the meek,
those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness sake.

That’s not what we have in Luke!
We have the well known beatitudes,
the blessed ares
(think about when someone is beatified
before becoming a saint),
but they’re earthy, not ethereal.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you who are poor [—
not in spirit, but just poor —]
for yours is the kingdom of God.”

Last month musical artist Derek Webb mused,
“i used to think the beatitudes were aspirational.
like, ‘strive to be meek, pure in heart, poor in spirit…’.
increasingly, i find them to be involuntary lanes of living,
circumstantial seasons you sometimes land in.
point is, they’re the places where god is hanging out.
want to find the divine?
look for the people jesus was talking about:
the beaten down, rejected, and marginalized.”
A commenter added some wisdom from Paul Simon,
“Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on.”

“involuntary lanes of living,
circumstantial seasons you sometimes land in.”
And for some not circumstantial seasons,
but systems stacked and packed
to keep you sat upon, spat upon, and ratted on.
Or like Justice Kagan said yesterday,
people who have been kicked in the teeth
by our society for centuries.
These are the people Jesus is saying are blessed!
It’s not the people in fine robes.
There’s no demonstration of God’s favor
based on conditions now.
It’s the great reversal.
The blessed are the ones
who don’t have a thumb on the scale in their favor.
The people who are doing well
aren’t doing well because God has a thumb on the scale for them.

When Jesus speaks to the disciples
on a level place today,
he’s not talking about the saints
who are yet to be tried,
who are yet to demonstrate
the depths of their faith.
He’s talking about those who are wearied
by the changes and chances of life.
He’s talking about those on the margins,
those whom the saints served,
even if they themselves were outcasts.
In Luke today,
unlike in Matthew,
Jesus doesn’t just pronounce blessing.
Jesus gives curses, woes,
and he means them.

Luke has made clear since last Advent,
that Jesus comes to right the wrongs of the world,
and to create a just society.
There’s nothing clearer
than today’s directions about the great reversal
that Jesus has come to bring.
Woe to you who are rich.
Woe to you who are full.
Woe to you who are always joyful and carefree.
You’ve had yours on this earth,
enjoy it while it lasts,
because it won’t be so at the end of time.

As we celebrate all the saints
whose work is done and whose rest is won
the church points us to Jesus.
A beloved All Saints hymn says,
“They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and God’s love made them strong;
and they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake,
the whole of their good lives long.”
These are the people we celebrate tonight,
the ones who’ve gone to the inheritance that Ephesians talks about,
the inheritance of everlasting life
given to them through God’s work in Jesus
whom God raised from the dead.
So we celebrate them tonight.
We feebly struggle
whether we’re struggling in the ways Jesus calls blessed
or struggling and living in a way that Jesus calls cursed,
we feebly struggle –
but they in glory shine.
In their shining light we ask them to pray for us.
To intercede to Jesus our savior and redeemer
so that we might follow their example
and run the race that is set before us.
Amen and amen.

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