(Revelation 7:9-17 Psalm 34:1-10, 22 1 John 3:1-3 Matthew 5:1-12)
“Sinner and Saint We Are!”
I can still see my mother coming to the back screen door, and I can hear her voice calling to all of us children playing down near the creek. She would call, “Vic and Mike and Pat and Tom, it’s time to come in and wash your hands to get ready for dinner!” I will never forget that voice! Even today, every time I open my tool box that was my Dad’s, I pause to breathe in deeply the scent that is still lingers there. I will always recognize that scent.
All Saints Sunday will do that to us. It will bring out the mystical and the sentimental in most of us. It reminds me of the Celtic understanding of “thin places,” places so-named because it is believed that in these places the distance between heaven and earth shrinks, comes closer together, and the veil between the two worlds is so “thin” you can actually perceive something of heaven itself.
I suspect we all have these “thin” places in our lives. Sometimes they are actual places, other times a voice, a special piece of jewelry, a hand-written letter, a food-stained recipe card, a favorite hymn, a much-loved scripture passage, and in all of these—when we see it, smell it, hear it—deep down inside, we have arrived on holy , sacred and blessed ground.
This holy ground—the coming together of past, present and future—is the stuff of All Saints Sunday.
Several weeks ago when Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA was here in Gettysburg to preach at the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Lutheran Social Services of South Central PA, in his sermon that day he spoke of the promise of the future coming into the present. He spoke of our life of Baptism, bearing witness to God’s love, embodying God’s love, bringing the future life of God’s love into the present. The image he used was “standing on tippy toes, leaning forward with arms outstretched to gather together those around us.”
It is a beautiful image for All Saints, because in this image we see this movement of God moving toward us and we moving toward God. Today, we stand on the promise of life eternal, being invited to bring others into this life of God’s love.
The blessedness of the Beatitudes is not an abstraction, but rather, a concrete, visible reality. God’s love reveals what is life-giving within us, shapes the decisions we make and the words we speak, prods our consciousness, nurtures our spirits and gives flesh to our way of being in the world.
Think about it. In a world of roller-coaster rapid change and turbo-charged global capitalism, competition drives everything in the marketplace and our political institutions, as well as personal relationships, Hollywood Rap stars, even rivalries between churches for people in the pews– the very fabric of life itself. One-upmanship and social climbing are the precious stones in our altars of achievement.
On All Saints Sunday, by contrast, Jesus sits and says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who suffer persecution…for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” It feels like such a foolish contrast, which is our challenge on All Saints.
My grandmother, who lived in our house during my teenage years, was always suspicious of saints. I heard her say more than once, “anybody who had that much time just to be good probably wasn’t doing what really needed to be done.”
I think she was on to something there, in that being a saint is more about God’s love for us than it is about us trying to impress God with our good work.
The Good News comes down to a rather simple proposition.
It is this: if God is to be known to the world, that knowledge will come through the lives of ordinary people who are redeemed by God’s extraordinary message of love. What the world knows of God it will know through us. For better or for worse, we are the Good News. We are the Gospel We are the saints of God!
We do not have the luxury to postpone the blessedness of Christ into some ever-retreating, elusive future; and we dare not wait for more qualified Christians, better pray-ers, or better speakers to come along.
The work of God awaits our hands, the love of God awaits our hearts, and the people of God await our fellowship here and now, ordinary and imperfect though we may be. We are sinner and saint, redeemed in the love of God.
So finally, be keenly aware: there are “thin places” in all of our lives where God’s grace, most often revealed through loved ones, comes close to us. Because of them, we are able to lean confidently into God’s future, gathering those around us to go with us in doing the work of the Gospel. And because of such love the Father has for us, we can be called children of God—saints—because that is what we are. Amen.