November 6: All Saints Sunday

The Sermon for All Saints Sunday, November 6, 2022, was preached by the Rev. Paul Eldred. Pastor Eldred is the pastor at Central Lutheran Church in Seattle. His sermon was preached as a response to Luke 6.20-31 and based on the manuscript below.

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I am so grateful to be with you all this morning to celebrate Finny’s baptism with you all. And I bring greetings from the saints at Central Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity in Seattle, where I serve as pastor. Especially on this festival day, I’m thankful for Fr. Joseph’s invitation to be with you all as we remind ourselves that the Body of Christ is larger than our congregation or even our denomination, but encompasses the fullness of the communion of saints, the church on earth and the church in heaven.

And it’s such a joy to join you for one of my favorite days of the church year. For centuries Christians have gathered on this day to remember all the holy ones who have gone before us into the fullness of Christ’s glory. We remember those paragons of virtue whose names adorn cities and hospitals and churches. We honor the witness of those pillars of our faith who have passed on Christ’s sacred story from the earliest days until now—St. Mary the Mother of Our Lord; St. Luke and all the Evangelists; St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, St. Paul, and all the apostles; St. Martin Luther King, Jr., St. Oscar Romero, St. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and all the teachers and martyrs and reformers and prophets who brought our church and society a little closer to God’s vision for us. And as we sing “O blessed communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine,” perhaps these are the figures we envision—the ones we see as blessed.

But then we hear today’s gospel text; today we hear of the unlikely people Jesus sees as blessed. It’s a challenging text for many of us on this feast day—a reading that is certainly familiar, but perhaps more than a little uncomfortable. We hear Jesus proclaim to a crowd filled with the poor, the hungry, the mourning, and the reviled that they are blessed, we may wonder what he means. And when we hear his warnings to the rich, the well-fed, the happy, and the well-liked, we may be surprised or even offended. Jesus is turning our understandings on their heads!

For nearly a year now, we have been rooted in Luke’s gospel and in this book especially, we hear about God’s vision for a new creation. We heard the song of Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, who dreamed of a day when the hungry will be fed and the rich sent away, when the mighty will be cast down and the lowly lifted up. We heard Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth when he announced his mission to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captive, and freedom to the oppressed. And for much of the past few months we have heard Jesus parables warning us about amassing wealth, hording material possessions, holding private feasts, and not recognizing our need for community. Even this reading of the beatitudes, perhaps better known from Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, takes place in Luke not on the side of a mountain, but on a level place—sometimes called the Sermon on the Plane. And rather than just proclaiming blessings upon those whom the world so often ignores, Jesus names the dangers of what we often mistake as blessings in our society. Because, especially in Luke’s telling of the gospel, Jesus foretells of the day when the mighty will be brought low and the lowly lifted up, not so one group will be above the other, but all are brought to the same level. The day when the righteous and the unworthy, those who have it all together and those struggling to get by, those doing everything right and those who we think are doing it all wrong, all of us are brought together to our rightful place as equal in God’s eyes. All of us sinners, all of us forgiven, all of us equally loved and redeemed by our God. 

So perhaps Jesus’ words this morning shouldn’t be all that surprising to us, even if they are admittedly uncomfortable. He is inviting us to see our lives, see each other, in the light of God’s unfolding reign. And he is lamenting that most of us are missing out on the fullness of this new creation, this new community. Because while these binaries of blessings and woes are not always helpful, while there are certainly times when we hunger and feel the sting of hatred and when we mourn—especially on this day—if we’re talking rich or poor, fed or hungry, respected or reviled, I’m going to guess that most of us find ourselves among those whom Jesus is warning. A warning not to rely too heavily on our own ideas of success. A warning that reminds us that we need each other, that we can’t do it on our own. A warning that our own strength, our own wealth, our own possessions can never save us or make God love us and may in fact be a barrier separating us from our siblings. A warning that we have a responsibility to care for our neighbors and the whole creation. A warning that no matter what we may try to tell ourselves, we are fully reliant on our God. And while these warnings may sound like Jesus is ready to condemn us to our fates, that he’s ready to write us off, I hear a deep lament, a longing, even, that we would understand that we would see the world as God sees it. I hear an enduring vision of a day where we dismantle all the binaries and no longer try to classify people as saint or sinner, blessed or condemned, in or out. I hear a longing for all people to embrace the fullness of community Christ is proclaiming, a community rooted in love and mutuality dedicated to striving for the wellbeing of creation and life for all people.

And Jesus teaches us how we can begin to live into that new community while we wait for its fulfillment. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Again, this is no easy teaching, but thankfully it’s not some test we must pass to achieve God’s love, it’s the journey of our whole lives of faith, attempting to fashion our lives according to God’s intentions for us all.

Especially on this All Saints Sunday, we can look to that cast of all-star saints who surely lived as Jesus wanted them to, reflecting on how feebly we struggle as they in glory shine. But as Sister Joyce Rupp writes, the saints are not only those people “who have been canonized by the church, but all people whose lives reflect the goodness of God. Saints are not perfect people. They have their faults, idiosyncrasies and weaknesses. They have their own struggles and difficulties. Even the canonized ones are noted to have been difficult to live with because of some unique mannerism. Yet, the saints are people of integrity. They have a central focus at the core of their lives: the love of God. They consistently choose to act out of that central reality, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary their lives may be.”[1] Saints, then, are not ineffably virtuous, they are people who, through their life and actions, strove to make the love of God more fully known. They are ones who have glimpsed God’s vision for the world and passed it onto us, so we can experience that love in our lives and strive with them to make that vision a reality. We celebrate a communion of ordinary people, beloved by God, bound together in Christ’s body, working for a day when all people can feel that love in their lives, standing as equal on earth just as they are in God’s eyes.

Today, we welcome our new brother Phineas into that same communion of saints and start him on his own baptismal journey. He will be joined with us into this family of ordinary individuals who, despite all our flaws, are named as blessed saints by our Creator, who are doing our best to live into Christ’s love for us and to share that love for the world. And, with Finny and his sponsors, we will renew the covenant made in the waters of our baptisms—the life of faith we walk with God’s help. A life of resisting evil and working for peace and justice among all people. A life of striving to live as Jesus did, proclaiming the good news and loving our neighbors as ourselves. A life renewed and strengthened by water and the word, by gathering around this table to partake in the foretaste of the feast to come and reunite ourselves with the great cloud of witnesses which surround us all our days, the communion of saints which spans all time and space, working together to embody and enact God’s reign of love in our world.

I must admit, Finny, this journey you begin today is not an easy one. It’s full of challenges and uncomfortable truths and falling short. It’s a path of self-denial and working for the betterment of others. But in those waters, little one, you will be enveloped in the fullness of God’s love for you, marked with an identity that can never be taken away from you: a beloved child of God and member of God’s family. And along this lifelong journey, you will be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, saints alive and saints triumphant, who will walk with you, pray for you, support you, and embrace you as a fellow member of Christ’s body and coworker in God’s kingdom. Together we will strive to live into Christ’s invitation as we cling to that love that has claimed us, to make it the cornerstone of our lives, to use everything that we have been given—all our resources and wealth and possessions—to proclaim God’s love in word and deed as we live into our identity as saints—ordinary as we are—who yet never cease praising God and loving and serving God’s people in extraordinary ways. And when our baptismal journey is complete and we come to die, we will be enveloped in that same love and made alive together in Christ’s resurrection with all the saints who have come before us and will follow after us.

Who knows what this journey will bring for you—perhaps you will be listed among the so-called all-stars, with St. Phineas adorning churches and institutions. Perhaps you will be just another ordinary saint, feebly struggling alongside us to live into Christ’s vision for us despite our flaws. It’s quite a journey, little Finny, quite an adventure you have in store. But regardless of what lies ahead, I promise you will not travel it alone. You will be surrounded by these saints gathered here today, saints who live with God, and saints you have not even met yet. But most of all, you will be traveling with the one who names you and claims you as his own, the one whose symbol of redemption will adorn your brow forever, the one who showers you with love beyond measure, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

[1] Rupp, Joyce. Out of the Ordinary: Prayers, Poems, and Reflections for Every Season, Ave Maria Press, 2011. 16.

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