All Saints’ Sunday -- November 6, 2016 (Year C)
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31
This morning we gather to remember All the Saints and to welcome, through the sacrament of Baptism, Jonathan Wesley and Lucy Caroline as our sister and brother in Christ. What a joy and blessing to be here for such a joyful occasion. I can’t think of a better time in our corporate and national life to be doing just this.
Oh Jonathan and Lucy, if only you knew. If only you knew how grateful we all are to be taking a break from the anxiety and stress of the world to remember, if just for an hour or so, the abundant life that is all around us; to bask in the perfect love we are told can cast out fear.
If only you knew, and I’m so very glad you don’t. Thank God that you are still concerned only with becoming more and more who it is God has called you to be, and helping your parents and those who love you become more of who it is God has called them to be.
Like many of you, I imagine, I have spent a lot of time over the past weeks and especially the past few days trying to imagine what life might be like on Wednesday morning. It has made focusing on tasks more difficult and there have been several articles written on the collective toll the anxiety and fear surrounding the election is taking on the general population.
And, we know, that no matter which candidate is declared the winner, come Wednesday morning, all will not be right with the world.
In past elections, I have held my breath until the results have come in. I’m not sure I can hold my breath for as long as it will take for us to recover from the past eighteen months.
The stakes are so high, and the divisions are so deep. Gathering for this celebration feels a bit surreal, as if we are putting the world on hold, taking a time out, taking a deep breath before we dive back in.
Except, maybe this isn’t surreal, maybe this is what is real. Maybe this is the life we are called to live and we spend most of our time putting this life on hold in order to hold our breath and suffer through the world as it seems.
Though the situation isn’t an exact parallel, coming to baptize Jonathan and Lucy this morning recalls my own son’s baptism.
Our son was baptized on September 16th, 2001, just five days after the worst terrorist attack the country had known. A few days before the baptism, Paul and I called our priest to ask if she thought maybe we should postpone.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “This is exactly what we need to be doing.”
There was something about gathering for this ancient rite, carried out millions of times before that Sunday morning 15 years ago that seemed to set things right again in my heart and soul.
If you are old enough to remember, the news and the papers were reporting with great ferocity and there were new theories and leads with each passing minute.
But at that baptism, the words were ancient. They were the same words that were said over me and my ancestors, all the way back to the early church.
On that morning, the world seemed to be changing all at once, and it was also staying the same that day as it was in the beginning and would be for ever and ever amen.
And so here we are this morning. Being tossed about by a world that seems to be changing with every news cycle, unsure how things will change in just a few days. And the words we will say over our new brother and sister in Christ will be the same ones said over my son 15 years ago, said over their ancestors all the way back to Jesus in the Jordon.
As I think about what awaits Lucy and Jonathan, I think about all the Saints who have come before them. I think about the Saints of my life, the Saints of the church and the Saints known to God alone.
We look at these pictures below, and we imagine pictures of saints we have seen in stained glass. There are smiles, and there are halos.
But these illustrations do not bear witness to the world in which these Saints lived.
We sing a song of the Saints of God, but we don’t spend a lot of time remembering that their worlds were very much like our own; unsure; filled with anxiety and fear and, for many of them, their lives hung in the balance.
St. Paul writes letters from jail, as does Saint Martin Luther King.
St. Mary says yes to God as an unwed pregnant teen of marginal social status. St. Oscar Romero ministers in a time of political unrest; his life the target of the government.
The saints that have gone before us did not live in a fairytale land in some time apart from the same anxieties and fears with which we struggle today. In fact, the way they lived their lives in the face of those very anxieties and fears is why we now call them saints.
They are saints to us because they did not put their whole trust in the outcomes of elections. They did not put their trust in winning or losing. They did not put their trust in being popular, or being safe, or going with the flow. They put their trust in God. And their trust did not disappoint.
Their trust in God drove them into the world to speak love in the face of hate, hope in the face of despair, reconciliation in the face of division.
The world has changed since the first saints walked the earth, but the response of a saint to the world hasn’t changed one bit.
God needed Paul to write his letters; God needed Mary to say yes, for Martin Luther King to stand up, for Romero to bear witness. God has needed every saint in his or her time to speak about, bear witness to and bring about God’s dream for the world. A world filled with justice, peace, mercy and reconciliation.
And God needs Jonathan and Lucy.
And God needs you. God needs you, and God needs you now.
God needs us to take our baptismal promises seriously, now more than ever, and God needs us to take our place in the long line of All the Saints and to speak love in the face of hate, hope in the face of despair, reconciliation in the face of division.
We must speak now, we must act now. We cannot wait for Jonathan and Lucy to do this work for us. We must be the saints God calls us to be and to be those saints boldly.
No matter how this week goes, we will continue to gather around this table, saying ancient words and sharing broken bread. We will do this to remember that this is the real world we are called to create in the broken world outside.
But we cannot be content to say words and break bread. We must be willing to bear witness to the reconciling love of Jesus we claim in this place out in our everyday lives until the world as it is, becomes the real world God calls it to be.
We are all the saints. Now is our time to live into that calling.
© 2016 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello
[i] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing. Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here: David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .