All Saints Sunday 6 November 2016
(Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 Psalm 149 Ephesians 1:11-23 Luke 6:20-31)
“Finding God In All the Wrong People!”
In her book, Accidental Saints, Finding God is All the Wrong People, Nadia Boltz-Weber writes, “…I think we are in a time in the life of the church where stories of failure are so much more important than stories of success. I think that God’s work in the world is and has always been done through sinners. Sometimes the people least qualified are the ones God is looking for . . . .”1
What a provocative statement to bring us to All saints Sunday! This festival of All Saints has had a rocky history. Originally, this feast was to commemorate a rather exclusive list of spiritual celebrities. In the Middle Ages, prior to the Reformation, more and more individuals were being officially canonized as saints—sometimes for good deeds and miracles, and other times for more dubious political and monetary contributions to the church—and so the calendar of saints’ holy days was getting pretty out of control! So the western Church created All Saints Day as a day to honor all the “minor” saints for whom they could not find room to have a day of their own on the official docket. Of course, the reformers thought this was a dreadful practice so they purged the dense thicket of commemorations and totally downplayed the feast of All Saints.
With the liturgical renewal movement of later years, we have recovered the observance of this feast but have given it a rather different emphasis. We now use this day to honor the priesthood of all believers, indeed, the saint-hood of all believers! This is emphatically not a day to venerate a select number of superstars of the faith, but a time to recognize that all of us as Christians together—both the living and the departed—are saints of God, that “great cloud of witnesses,” as described by the writer of Hebrews [Heb. 12:1].
So if we are all saints, what does that mean? In some ways, we get our clearest understanding from the O.T. reading from Daniel. In verse 18, as Daniel tries to make sense of a dream he just had, we hear him say “But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever” [Dan. 7:18].
When we hear this in English, it is easy to be left with the impression that, indeed, it is those (and only those) who are particularly virtuous who will inherit the kingdom. However, in Hebrew, we hear it differently. The Hebrew word commonly translated as “holy ones” is “hasid”, which means “pious” or “kind.”
However, the word used in this Daniel text is qadosh, which means not “virtuous” per se, but rather “set apart,” made holy by God’s naming and calling.2 It is the same word used by God in Exodus 19:6, where in the wilderness God commands Moses to tell the Hebrew people, “you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Daniel hearkens back to that moment when the Israelites were made a chosen people, a priesthood of believers, and he recalls God’s promise to redeem them. So “the holy ones” in today’s Daniel passage does not refer to the perfectly pious, but rather, to all of us set apart as a holy people, named and called by God—for us that is Baptism.
We used this text on Friday at a Bible Study at the prison, and what a moving experience it was to be able to say to those men who were sitting there locked up, to be able to say to them that no matter what they had done to get them there, that they are saints of God, set free, not because of what they did, but because of what God, in Jesus, did for them. At least one of these tough guys had tears in his eyes.
This takes me to the final chapter in Nadia Boltz-Weber’s book where she writes about the Beatitudes. She writes that “. . . because the Beatitudes is always the Gospel for All Saints Day, it can make the people who are called saints seem so unattainably good and the people who aren’t (that would be us) feel unworthy. Plus, it can be easy to look at, say Mother Teresa and think; well she is a saint because she was meek. So, if I too, want to be blessed, I should try to be meek like her. “ She writes, “Although we could use more meek people in today’s world, I just don’t think that Mother Teresa’s virtue of meekness is what made her considered blessed by Jesus. Maybe Jesus (in the Beatitudes) was really blessing the ones around him that day who didn’t otherwise receive blessing, those who had come to believe that, for them, blessings would never be in the cards.” 3
So I wonder what it would feel like to us if Jesus were standing here among us today offering some new beatitudes. Here are a few:
Blessed are those who are filled with doubt and confusion…..
Blessed are those who have buried a loved one and cannot stop crying.
Blessed are mothers who have miscarried…..
Blessed are those who no one notices: the kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables…..the laundry people at the hospital…..the maintenance people at the college…..
Blessed are the guests at C.A.R.E.S., especially when we don’t know what to do when one of them walks toward us…..
Blessed are the teenagers who have figured out new ways to hide the cuts on their arms…..
Blessed are those without documentation…..
Blessed are the foster kids…..the trophy kids…..the special needs kids…..every other kid who only wants to feel safe and accepted and loved…..
Blessed are the burned out social workers…..the counselors……the teachers…..the clergy persons who work unrealized hours…..
Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak…..
I imagine Jesus standing right here among us today because Jesus is the one who has the power at his disposal to give blessings to the weak and the suffering in a world that only admires the strong. I imagine Jesus standing next to that person sitting here today who feels most ashamed of his/her life and Jesus saying, “You are blessed!”
In the Ephesians text we are given a broad new understanding of “saint,” not just for those who have lost a loved one, but to those who seek a deeper and broader form of community offered by Christ. It is in such a community of saints where we seek to find comfort in our losses, courage for our daily struggles, and hope as we face the future together.
So, when we sing “for all the saints from whom their labors rest,” we remember the riches of our heritage, those women and men whose lives are the complex and colorful textile into which our lives are now woven in this congregation and beyond. And we also remember our baptism, not because we are made super-pious, but because we are called into a life of complexity and richness, a life of community, a life of service, a life as the Body of Christ.
An old Hasidic tale tells of a disciple who asked his rabbi the meaning of community one evening, when they were all sitting around a fire. The rabbi sat in silence while the fire died down to a pile of glowing coals. Then he got up and took one coal out from the pile and set it apart on the stone hearth. Its fire and warmth soon died out.4 Hear in this story the meaning of All Saints Day in a community meant to share warmth and light! Amen.
1.Nadia Boltz-Weber. Accidental Saint, Finding God In All the Wrong People. Convergent Books. 2015. p. 203.
2. Feasting On the Word. Year C, Vol. 4. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Westminster John Knox Press. 2015. p.220
3. Ibid. pp. 184-185.
4. Heidi B. Neumark. Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx. Beacon Press. 1994. P. 61.
All Saints Sunday 6 November 2016