All Saints Sunday allows us time to mourn, time to remember, and time to thank God for the love we’ve known. Meanwhile, the world warms, our government flails, and our unhoused neighbors cry out for shelter. How do we balance service and self-care? Who will help us carry these heavy burdens? Yes friends, while still here there is work to be done, and we follow the One who knows how.
Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
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 when people hate you,
and when they exclude you, revile you,
and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,
for surely your reward is great in heaven;
for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
But I say to you that listen,
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.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Grieving for the Saints
On the cover of your bulletin are pictured some of the dancing saints from St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church across town, over on de Haro Street. They’re dancing the Tripudium, a solemn dance of the Early Church. These dancing saints illustrate what we claim every time we gather for the Lord’s Supper: that those who have gone before us are here already, praising God in perpetuity, dancing in the light of eternal life. They join with us, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts…” Now, remembering the saints can help us imagine our loved ones perhaps dancing alongside Shakespeare or Malcolm X. Remembering our departed loved ones will also make us feel sadness, and some of us can get stuck in sadness. The saints are not exactly here, and they are not exactly gone. If you’ve working your way through grief, you know what I mean. Calvary’s Loss & Grief Support Group will meet in two weeks following worship, down in the library. The world is complicated enough without ignoring what is eating you, the loss we all carry.
It’s extra difficult to work through grief in a world already full of nauseating meanness. People are busy, money is power, meanings are blurred, morality is contextual—and we’re supposed to follow Jesus through all that. He says:
“…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.”
I actually heard someone exclaim “no thank you” when they heard those words of Jesus in today’s lesson! We are programmed to resist the teachings of Jesus. Following Jesus is not easy.
When Will Thy Kingdom Come?
In a new Netflix movie called The Laundromat, Meryl Streep plays a woman named Ellen Martin, whose husband is killed in a commercial boating accident. The boating company’s insurance turns out to be a money-laundering scam. Streep plays a woman of faith, who prays about the challenging teachings of Jesus. Her prayer:
Thank you, Lord, thank you.
Thank you for everything.
I hate to ask this,
but I was just wondering when exactly
the meek will be inheriting the Earth?
Will that be in my lifetime
or in my grandkids’?
And the part about the first being
the last and the last shall be first,
when does that start? Hm?
And what about the rest of us
in the middle, you know?
We’re just falling further and further
and further behind…
I’m supposed to say,
“Forgive them, Father.
They know not what they do.”
But I think they do know [very] well
what they’re doing, they just don’t care.
If just one of them could say, “I’m sorry,”
you know, and mean it…
It’s not that they’re breaking the laws,
it’s that the laws are so poorly designed
that they allow people,
if they’ve got enough lawyers
and enough accountants,
to wiggle out of responsibilities
that ordinary citizens
are having to abide by.
Injustice & Empire. Love & Loss. Suffering. This is the context into which Jesus always speaks.
The Great Web of Saints
Every first Sunday at Calvary, we feature youth readers. My thanks to Fitz and Phoebe for reading today. Coincidentally, Phoebe was my maternal grandmother’s name. I am reminded of her just by you showing up. That’s how our memories are triggered, how our minds flash onto the saints of the past, the patient people who believed in us anyway. This comes full circle when we realize how the future depends on young people like Phoebe & Fitz Brockway.
There’s also a Phoebe in the New Testament. She is the first deacon named in scripture, a canonized saint of the Roman Catholic Church. She met all of the Pope’s requirements and got enough votes from the cardinals for sainthood. Later, during the congregational meeting, you will vote on our newest deacons and elders, and some of you will be reminded of others who have served. You will, inevitably, remember the saints. In the Reformed tradition, to be a saint, you don’t need a feast day, you just need a birthday. Every soul is a sacred text, a living witness, full of possibility. If all God wants is to be expressed in this world, then we are that opportunity. Kimberly Bracken Long writes:
On [All Saints], we not only remember those who have gone on before us, but we anticipate the life promised to us all in Jesus Christ. It is a day when we remember that the line that separates life and death is not as stark as we sometimes assume.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency declares:
While we may give thanks for the lives of particular luminaries of ages past, the emphasis is on the ongoing sanctification of the whole people of God. Rather than putting saints on pedestals as holy people set apart in glory, we give glory to God for the ordinary, holy lives of the believers in this and every age.
Perhaps it doesn’t seem like a very high bar, but that’s good news for us sinners. “[We] are part of one continuing, living communion of saints.” That’s how much your life means to God! That’s how serious God is about the work we have to do! We do more than stand on the metaphorical shoulders of bygone generations of Calvary Presbyterian Church. On All Saints Sunday, we confess that those generations are not gone. They are here, alongside us, watching and praying.
Letting Go of Letting Go
Grief is never just learning to let go. People don’t work that way. Grieving is messy, and it’s always contextual. We inherit from those who have gone before, their blessings and their woes. What was theirs is now ours, even the hard stuff. In Stefani Echeverría-Fenn’s recent Street Sheet article, she writes:
Science has now proven that trauma can be passed down intergenerationally, that rats whose mothers were exposed to stressors like water can epigenetically inherit a special fear of water.
A parent’s trauma is passed down to the child. What are you passing down to your loved ones? And what are you willing to learn from your saints? Jesus said that there would be woes, but he also lined up the blessings right alongside.
The Plain Sermon
In Matthew it’s “The Beatitudes” and part of the Sermon on the Mount, but here in Luke, they are “Blessings and Woes” from the Sermon on the Plain. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus preaches on a level field where all are equal and included, where no one is higher up than anyone else. Here, Jesus speaks in flat literalism. David Tiede of Luther Seminary calls today’s passage from Luke Jesus’ public policy statement.
Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the hungry, the weeping, and blessed are you when people revile and exclude you. Woe to those who divide the people! Woe to you who are rich, for you have already had dessert. There’s no more pie for you. You have your consolation. Who’s good and who’s bad, it sounds so clear when Jesus says it, but Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of [their] own heart?
The saints are willing! The saints are ready to do the work, to learn and grow by expressing God to the world. Knowing they will be derided and attacked by the dominant culture, the saints choose to follow Jesus anyway. He invites us to the dance with the saints, to feast on the bread of heaven, and to be ready for all the work ahead. Ready and willing. Blessed. The words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta:
People are often unreasonable, irrational,
and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of
selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some
unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
If you are honest and sincere,
people may cheat you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could
destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, people
may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten
tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may
never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
Therefore, precious friends,
choose this one day to celebrate boldly.
Bless all you see and see it as being within you.
Look out upon the innocence of the world
and bless it with the radiance of the cosmos.
You are as you are created to be
and cannot be apart from your Creator,
and your Creator is but love.
Therefore, you are the thought of love in form.