R. Knost wrote, “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” 1

It would be easy, I think, to gather here this All Saints Sunday surrounded, quite literally, by the Saints of our lives and the Saints of the Church and approach the whole endeavor with a bit of romance and nostalgia. 


It might be tempting to look at the saints commemorated in the icons and see people who are utterly unlike ourselves; somehow above us; somehow removed from us; removed from the realities of the world in which we live.

It would be understandable to see this all as, and to hear Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes from the Gospel this morning as all a part of another time, another day in which trucks were not used as weapons, when people did not live their lives in fear because of the color of their skin, who they loved, or what they believed.

But celebrating the Saints of the church is not about giving us unmatchable examples God’s work getting done in the world. It is not about holding up images of people who have done what we could never do.

All Saints is about reminding us that when God’s work has gotten done in the world it was done in times just like our own, by people just like you. Just like me. Just like us.

“And there’s not any reason, no not the least, why I shouldn’t be one to.”

You might hear that verse from the beloved hymn we just sang as an exhortation to be better. To be “saintier.” But I don’t hear it as proscriptive. I hear it as descriptive. The saints of God were just folk like us, as hard as that is to imagine.

It’s a hard leap for many of us to make because we imagine that the qualifications to do the work of God like those who peer down at us from the windowsills this morning, we imagine that they were somehow better than us, holier than us, more faithful, more something than us.

But they weren’t. They just weren’t. They were people very much like us, who in times of extraordinary pain in the world refused to respond with fear, choosing instead to respond with love. To respond in love.

They were broken, imperfect, very human children of God who we celebrate this morning because out of their brokenness and imperfection, God’s love for the world shone through.

The Beatitudes are not a to do list. They are not even marching orders from Jesus. They are not a spiritual ingredient list to make us perfect Christians, as if Jesus were saying, “go, be poor in spirit. Go mourn. Go be meek.”

Like the hymn we san, the beatitudes are not proscriptive. They are descriptive. They are a reminder to us that God’s ways are not our ways. What God lifts up is not what the world values. That the lens through which God views us is not through the lens of popularity, or earthly success. The beatitudes remind us that what he world fears, God embraces; what the world derides, God cherishes; what the world casts aside, God chooses to be front and center.

The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, the reviled and persecuted.

These are not qualities the world says we should value in ourselves or in each other. It is hard to feel any of those qualities Jesus lists and not feel somehow a bit of a loser.

No wonder then, that in 1990, Ted Turner, in a speech to the American Humanist Association, made his now famous quip: “Christianity is a religion for losers.” Because by Turner’s definition, we kind of are. And I couldn’t be prouder.

Let us not dismiss the celebration of these Saints as coming from another time when things any easier than they are now. And let us not excuse ourselves from joining our ranks because we think they were any different than we are sitting in this church this morning.

The Saints of God lived in times just like our own. The Saints of God were exactly like us.

The time in which we live needs more saints of God, just folk like us.

Yesterday at the Diocesan Convention, the Bishop spoke words from one of my favorite saints, Jonathan Myrick Daniels. Jonathan Daniels was a seminarian at what would come to be known as the Episcopal Divinity School just across the river in Harvard Square. Daniels was 26 years old in 1965 when he answered Rev. Dr. King’s call for people to join in the civil rights work in Selma, Alabama. 

Upon being released from jail, he and three other activists went to the local store to buy a soda while waiting for a ride home. In the doorway of the store stood a special county deputy, holding a shotgun. As the deputy took aim at Ruby Sales, a young African American civil rights worker, Daniels, attempting to protect Sales, was killed. Daniels was not perfect. He did not possess anything beyond the grasp of anyone in this room. But when the world offered him fear, Daniels offered the love of God in return.

These words, written by Jonathan Daniels two months before his death, seemed to me as though he could have written them to us this morning. They are written from Selma, but could be from Charlottesville, or New York, from Jerusalem or Syria, from Houston, Puerto Rico or Brookline.
Daniels wrote:

"This is the stuff of which our life is made. There are moments of great joy and moments of sorrow. … There are good [people] here, just as there are bad [people.] There are competent leaders, and a bungler here and there. We have activists who risk their lives … We have neutralists who cautiously seek to calm troubled waters. We have [those] about the work of reconciliation who are willing to reflect upon the cost and pay it. Perhaps at one time or another, [we] are all of these.
Sometimes we take to the streets, sometimes we yawn through interminable meetings. … Sometimes we confront a posse, and sometimes we hold a child. Sometimes we stand with [those] who have learned to hate, and sometimes we must stand apart from them. …[But] through the bramble bush of doubt and fear and supposed success we are groping our way to the realization that above all else, we are called to be saints. That is the mission of the Church everywhere. And in this, Selma, Alabama is like all the world: it needs the life and witness of militant saints.” 2

So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. And there’s not any reason, no not the least why we shouldn’t be one too. 3


© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

2 Jonathan Myrick Daniels, “A Burning Bush,” in The New Hampshire Churchman: The Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of New Hampshire, June 1965, vol. XVII, No. 9.

My gratitude to the Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop of Massachusetts for his inspiration.  He used the quote from Jonathan Daniels in his Convention remarks on November 4, 2017.  ( And I had been thinking about the hymn, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” since he used it as a refrain in a Confirmation sermon.  

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