All Saints Sunday November 2, 1014
(Revelation 7:9-17 Psalm 34 1 John 3:1-3 Matthew 5:1-12)
“I Want To Be In That Number!”
There is a hidden trap in today’s Gospel text, which is always there when we hear this section of the Sermon on the Mount, known as, “The Beatitudes.” The trap is very simple and extremely subtle, and it is this: that when we hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the pure in heart; blessed are the peace-makers,” we too often hear something like, “If I am pure enough in heart, God will bless me!” Or “if I am more committed to making peace…, or, if I am more merciful; or if I work harder for justice…”, if I do any and all of these things, then God will bless me!
Do you recognize the trap? It is the “if/then” trap I mentioned last week when I was talking about the difference between Law and Gospel! Jesus does not put the “if/then” in there, but very often we do!
So….. the first thing I want to say on this All Saints weekend—is that being a saint is never about, “if you do this, and do it good enough and do it long enough, then I will make you a saint.”
So why is it so easy for us to fall into this trap? My thinking is that in our world today almost nothing is unconditional. We are used to paying for everything, especially for our mistakes. One accident and our insurance rates go up! One late mortgage payment and it stays on our credit score forever. We learn to pave our own way, to always toe the line and if we do not, we will reap the consequences.
So, it is absolutely, utterly unsettling, totally confusing, and nearly inconceivable to imagine that God behaves differently than we behave! It is unheard of in today’s culture to believe in a God who showers us with blessings apart from anything we have done to earn or deserve such blessings!
>>>So this may be a good time to turn our attention to the wall in back of me. For anyone who has been here and worshipped here for more than a year, you know that as part of our Worship Area Renewal project, we added a halo to the end figure, believed to symbolize Judas the apostle who betrayed Jesus.
Quite honestly, I have always been surprised at the amount of discussion around the fact that this figure did not have a halo, and as soon as we put it on, the amount of discussion since.
So I’d like to say a few words about the halo in the context of All Saints Sunday.
In art, halos denote light, holiness, and majesty that encircle the head of a known holy person, a saint in heaven, angels, and the Blessed Trinity.
The Catholic Church has a lengthy process to canonize a person a saint, thus bequeathing them a halo (and I’m not here to argue that process); but it is a process I think only serves to muddy the “works righteousness” waters concerning sainthood. Basically, in order to be canonized a saint, the individual has to be given credit for two miracles.
My main concern with this process is that it still seems heavily weighted toward the side of “doing” something (two proven miracles) in order to be recognized as a saint—that sainthood seems based on something a person does, rather than something God does.
So back to Judas: All art is meant to communicate a truth. But what is communicated rests both in what the artist intends and in what the person viewing the art will see. Therefore, if I were to ask you, I suspect there would be many different interpretations you are noticing in looking at this artwork.
I can only tell you what I see in the context of All Saints, and why I supported putting a halo on the figure presumed to be Judas.
What I see is much more than the Last Supper. I see an invitation to a larger, deeper, more connected community. It is almost like looking into a mirror, so I am really seeing all of us, gathered in fellowship with the Risen Christ at the center. It is in this community where I need to experience the forgiveness of sins, eat and drink in Holy Communion, and encounter the real presence of the Risen Christ in one another.
And in this mirror we find ourselves, too often hiding off in the corner because we do not feel worthy of unearned love and forgiveness. The halo around that end figure speaks a solid Lutheran truth to me—that no sin is too great for the unconditional love of the crucified Jesus and the Risen Christ.
For me, this is not so much a picture of the past, but an invitation for the present and the future. For me this art is less about what these twelve men did, and much more about what the one man in the center did and continues to do in every one of our lives. To me, this end halo speaks boldly of salvation through grace! That’s an All Saints message!
In the Beatitudes, Jesus is just plain blessing people. All kinds of people. All kinds of down-and-out, extremely vulnerable, and at-the-bottom-of-the-ladder people. What the Beatitudes proclaim today is this—that God blesses us, not for what we do, but because of who God is.
Certainly in a few minutes as we mention the names of those who have died this past year from this congregation, and as each one of us remembers individuals we have known and loved; there will be tears, and smiles, and memories—all are rooted in the goodness and the gift these individuals have been to us. But I also trust that these tears, smiles and memories speak to us of God’s love and God’s grace working through God’s faithful servants.
In the end, what do we need to hear this day? Maybe more than anything else, we need to hear that God, who is rich in mercy and love, sets us apart in Holy Baptism without conditions or terms. And today we celebrate this “being set apart” as God’s saints, those who have gone before us and those who still walk with us. We remember those with halos as well as those whose halos we cannot yet see. Amen.
All Saints Sunday November 2, 1014