Dancing Saints

All Saints Sunday 7 November 2010

(Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18   Ephesians 1:11-23   Luke 6:20-31)

“Dancing Saints!”

I remember as a little boy one day I was riding in the car with my mom and my great aunt.  We called her “Aunt Carrie.” Aunt Carrie asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said “I want to be a saint.”  I think Aunt Carrie looked stunned, but she tried to hide it.

I know where my answer came from.  I grew up in a home where when I was very young, each month we received a book from the “Saint of the Month” Book Club.

This is how it worked!  Every month in the mail would arrive a book based on the life of some saint.  I have fond memories of losing myself in these stories of men who lived glorious lives and went into the ghettos of Africa and India to work with the poor;  and women of royalty who gave up their royalty and chose to wear rags as dresses, and  went to live in big cities, feeding the poor in soup kitchens.   Even when these people died, it was always a splendid event!

On the day a book would arrive I’d read it from cover to cover, and I couldn’t wait until the next month.  It was fascinating and thrilling and exciting!  It was the things dreams were made of!  It was the things saints were made of!  And so I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up!

My yearning to be a saint back then was all wrapped up in a desire to do glorious things, the excitement of becoming famous, and maybe even having a” book of the month” written about me.  But it was all about me and the basis of my own power!

I’ll be the first to admit I’m still trying to overcome the pride that says, “I want to accomplish a few more things in order to become a saint…if only to get a few more phone calls returned…or if only to respond to a few more emails…if only a few more hospital visits…if only to satisfy a few more people.”

Today is the day to say “no thank you!” to those kinds of messages we tell ourselves every day.  Today is the day to recognize Jesus saying something to us about  God’s power.  Today is the day to really believe that it is God’s power, not ours, that changes everything, including each one of us!

That’s the easy part.  The hard part is the description Jesus gives n Luke’s recording of the Beatitudes.  The hard part is recognizing that many times we want precisely the opposite of what Jesus says is blessed.

The Greek for “blessed” is “macaros.” Sometimes it is translated “happy.”  It can also mean something such as “I salute you…”

What we hear Jesus saying is:  We salute you who are poor.  We salute you who are hungry.  We salute you who are weeping.  We salute you when people hate you.

And then we have all those “woes.”  Another word for “woe” might be “scorn.”  What we also hear Jesus saying is, we scorn you when you are rich.  We scorn you when you are full.  We scorn you when you are laughing. We scorn you when all speak well of you!   That’s harsh.  It really is!

And it’s hard because In our world, We salute you if you have white teeth.  We salute you if you have a good figure!  We salute you if you are a hedge fund manager who gives a big donation to the church.  We salute you when you are rich and famous and the well-connected!

And…we scorn you, the schizophrenic who stops us on the street and wants to talk.  We scorn you, the noisy family who disrupts the worship service.  We scorn you, the cranky person who calls us late at night, always bothering us with the same questions.

It’s all upside down, this kingdom of saints!  Jesus says to salute the poor…the hungry…the weeping…the hated.

What is a saint? A saint is one who chooses to pay attention to those who are excluded, and so they are reviled and defamed.  A saint is one who refuses to organize around the society’s distain for the poor and weak, and so they are scorned.  A saint is one who shares Jesus’ compassion for the rejected of society, and so they weep.  A saint is one we salute.

I am reminded of a lot of people we know.

I’m also reminded of “The Dancing Saints.”  These are a fabulous set of icons of saints painted around the grand rotunda in St. Gregory Episcopal Church, in San Francisco.  Around a magnificent rotunda are more than 90 saints depicted, known as “The Dancing Saints.”  It is a grand icon of women and men, some well known and many who are not.

There is Francis of Assisi and Mary Magdalene. There is Eleanor Roosevelt, William Shakespeare, Sojourner Truth.  There is Lady Godiva, Charles Darwin, Malcolm X. There is Black Elk, a mystic and visionary of the Sioux Indian tribe, and John Coltrane, an African-America saxophone player;  there is  Cesar Chavez, son of Mexican migrants who devoted his life to organizing farm workers, and  Ella Fitzgerald, who overcame a tortured childhood to become a singer of enormous grace and joy.

Maybe most intriguing is Alexandrian Washerwoman, a 4th century woman who prays ceaselessly as she washes dishes.

And there are so many more who, together create a single statement of God’s remarkable and remarkably diverse work in human life.  It’s God’s work, not ours!  That is what we celebrate on All Saints Sunday!

What makes you and me a saint is the Jesus who loves us so much that he died for us and found new life in the Resurrection…life out of death…light out of darkness…freedom out of imprisonment.

On this All Saints’ Sunday, I wish to say to you:  Blessed are you all. I salute each of you, saints dancing in the love of the Risen Christ!  May we also salute those saints, our loved ones who have died this past year and others who have gone before us….