November 5: All Saints Sunday

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for November 5, 2023 was preached in response to Matthew 23:1-12 based on the manuscript below.

In her primer on feminist theology
called “Esther, Ruth, and Rahab” –
which is explicit,
so be warned if you look it up –
Christian drag queen Flamy Grant
sings in the refrain
“Castaways who outlasted and outplayed
An immigrant ancestor to the incarnate divine
Everyone has a star that lights their way
We see our paths by someone else’s shine
Esther, Ruth, and Rahab, they were mine.”
On All Saints’ Day,
we celebrate the stars that light our ways,

those whose shine helps us see our path.
By virtue of our baptisms
we have been made saints.
In the water of baptism,
we are buried with Christ
in his death.
By it
we share in his resurrection.
Through it
we are reborn
by the Holy Spirit.
At the font
we are born again to continue forever
in the risen life
of Jesus Christ our Savior.

Yet historically All Saints’ Day
is a little different.
We hear Jesus making promises
speaking into existence the realities
that the downtrodden
are being and will be cared for
in God’s reign
that Jesus is making manifest.
He gives the promises of blessing
that we know as the Beatitudes.
These are the great multitude John the Revelator
sees crying out in a loud voice,
“Salvation belongs to our God
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!”
On All Saints’ Day,
All Saints’ Sunday,
we don’t merely celebrate ourselves
or those who we love
and were water washed and spirit born.
It’s a little more than that.
We’re remembering exemplars of the faith,
those who like Flamy Grant says
shine so we can see our paths.

I think we’d probably all do well to reflect on
whose lives and examples
get us through this Christian journey
as we listen to Jesus saying
that the Kingdom of God is at hand
but there is so much death, destruction, and despair
surrounding us every day.
In a few weeks
we’ll be remembering St. Hilda
who the church remembers for her wisdom.
We ourselves celebrate St. Patrick
who is known for his teaching
and sharing the Good News
not just of Jesus’ teachings
but Jesus’ defeating death by death
and on those in the tombs
bestowing life.
I am inspired by Li Tim-Oi
the first woman priest
in the Anglican Communion.
Jonathan Myrick Daniels
a seminarian who laid down his life
to protect a Black teenager
from a deputy sheriff’s shot.
Pauli Murray
who couldn’t integrate the UNC Law School
but was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt,
and wrote most of the legal theory
that Thurgood Marshall used
in arguing Brown vs Board of Education.
Murray later became an Episcopal priest.
Rachel Held Evans
a good church girl from Alabama
who grew impatient with back row boys
helped plant a church
and then found God
speaking to her through the Sacraments.
She took those words,
recorded her ongoing conversion
and gave voice to what so many millennials
have experienced
but have never been able to say.
She died unexpectedly
far too young.

On All Saints’ Day
we look at the exemplars of the Christian faith.
We remember, too,
that their lives weren’t static.
They lived their lives not seeking to be remembered
but trying to follow Jesus the resurrected Christ.
In Matthew’s gospel
faith-and-ethics and actions
are two sides of the same coin.
It’s not enough to believe
to know the “Blessed are…s.”
Belief throughout the New Testament
is about a life being transformed
because of believing in Jesus
and the good news
that through his life, death, and resurrection
death, sin, and evil have been defeated.

It’s living in a way
that the world can be.
In Hadestown as Orpheus is about to leave Hades
the company, of saints perhaps, sings
Show the way so we can see
Show the way the world could be

Show the way so we believe
We will follow where you lead
We will follow if you
Show the way.
All Saints’ Day calls us to
join the glorious company of saints
who have gone before us
and shown us the way the world can be.
All Saints’ Day calls us
to walk the path
that we can see because of others’ shine,
as they reflect the light of Jesus.

At St. Hilda St. Patrick
we do a pretty good job reflecting God’s love
made known to us in Jesus.
Our work, however,
isn’t finished.
The work of the church in proclaiming
what Bishop Curry calls the good news
of the loving, liberating, life-giving God
isn’t finished.
On Friday evening Bubba Copeland
died by suicide.
Bubba was the pastor of First Baptist Church
in Phenix City, AL.
That’s my hometown.
He was also the mayor
of a smaller nearby town.

On Wednesday on online media outlet
ran a story about Bubba
living a double life online
as a transgender woman.
We don’t know
if Bubba was trans
and unable to safely transition
because of commitments, laws, and culture
of where Bubba lived.
What we do know is that for three days
Bubba received unimaginable
harassment online
and probably via email and telephone.
Friday afternoon
he withdrew from contact with friends and family
and saw death as either the only option
or a better option
than continuing to live.
May his soul rest in peace,
and may light perpetual shine upon him.

As the light of Christ shines
and we celebrate those saints
who’ve reflected that light
so that we can see our own path
we see the way the world could be.
The world where the meek inherit the earth
and the hungry and thirsty
are filled.
Looking to the light of the saints
shining on our paths
isn’t the end game.
When we come through the font
we join the company of saints.
We join like the company in Hadestown
singing to those on whose shoulders we stand
Show the way so we can see
Show the way the world could be

Show the way so we believe.
As we follow their footsteps
we look to the outside
hearing the pain and anguish
and the song being sung to us
Show the way so we can see
Show the way the world could be

Show the way so we believe.
Show the way.

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