Our worship services this weekend here at St. James, alongside of congregations of various Christian traditions across the globe, revolve around the festival day of All Saints. The day we take time as people of faith to gather together in order to give thanks for the saints. Both the saints living… those saints still on their pilgrimage on earth and who walk as yet by faith. And the dead… those saints who now from their labors rest… who have fought the good fight… who, through the promise of new life given in Christ, have joined the great cloud of witnesses. The promise proclaimed by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans and etched in the hearts of the faithful, that nothing, not even death itself, can separate us from the love of God.
While historically, the title of saint was reserved only for those people who have done extraordinary things in God’s name, given at some point after their death, in his Large Catechism, Luther argues that saints are made, not through death, but through the Word of God. He writes; “God’s Word is the treasure that makes everything holy. By it, all the saints have themselves been made holy. At whatever point God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or pondered, there the person, the day, and the work is hallowed…”
Today, God’s Word comes to us from the sixth chapter of Luke. In what is known by most as the sermon on the plain or the Beatitudes, Jesus flips the worlds understanding of what it means to be blessed on end, and commands his followers to live lives rooted in love, blessing those who need it the most… even our enemies, those we would rather ignore or even curse than bless.
“Blessed are the poor… the hungry… those who weep… those who are hated, excluded, insulted, and rejected because of their faith…”
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”
“But woe to you who are rich… woe to those who are well fed… who laugh… who are lifted up as better than others…”
“I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies… bless those who curse you… do good to those who hate you… pray for those who mistreat you… give to those who ask…”
Throughout the Gospel of Luke, those whom Jesus deems as “blessed” (the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated) are those people who have been marginalized by the world to the point where only God can bring Good News… those deemed by Jesus as “cursed” (the rich, those well fed, who laugh, who are lifted up as better than others), are those, who, regardless of their resources, fail to respond to those in need.
In the original Greek of today’s gospel, we find the word markarios translated into our English text as “blessed”. A word defined by our New Testament Lexicon as; “an internal joy that becomes external. That leads to a reversal of human values; happiness is no longer attached to wealth… to having enough… to a good reputation, to power, or to possession of the goods of this world.” That because of Jesus’ blessing and the Word of God that brings it to us, everything changes. The things of this world hold no value in comparison to the things of God… the people whom the world shows little to no regard are made saints…
Yesterday morning, we laid to rest, Christina’s great grandfather, Milton Eser, now one of the saints triumphant. He was a man, described by those who knew him best as “loving and generous”, as “having an open hand”, “who gave his love and advice with great abundance and ease”. I would say, he was a man who truly knew what it meant to be blessed and how to be a blessing to others.
In my sermon at his memorial service, I spoke to my personal belief that funerals are not for the dead, but for the living.
While today is a day to remember our loved ones who now stand alongside the likes of St. Paul and St. Peter, more importantly, it is a day that should lead us to honor them by living lives that are worthy of sainthood for ourselves… lives in which we care for the marginalized among us… the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated… lives in which we love those around us, even those we’d rather not love at all… in which we seek to bless the lives of others in ways that are reflective of the ways Christ has blessed our own.
As Luther proclaimed in an All Saints sermon; “You must turn away from the dead and honor the living saints. The living saints are your neighbors, the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, poor people; those who have wives and children… who suffer shame… who lie in sins. Turn to them and help them. That is where you are to apply your works… You have God’s command to help the living. He has not commanded you to do anything for the dead.”
While today is a day to honor the saints, more importantly, it is a day to honor that which made them, and us, saints in the first place. Christ. The one who died to take away our Sin… who through his death gave us life… who, through the cross and the empty tomb, has transformed imperfect people into holy saints… From St. Paul and St. Peter and even Judas… to the worst of criminals the world has ever seen… to our worst enemies… to you and me in all of our imperfections, flaws, and wrongs committed.
This is the Good News for us this All Saints day. That we have a God, who through his perfect love has made us, in all our imperfections, holy. A God who ate with all the wrong people… who walked alongside of criminals, prostitutes, and tax collectors… who healed and even kissed lepers… who chose poor fishermen with nothing to their names to be his disciples, and who continues to enter into the lives of the most unlikely of us today and offers us his blessing. Who proclaimed a message of love over against the law…
Blessed are you who are poor… who hunger… who weep… Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, and insult you…
Blessed are you who have lied, cheated, or stolen.
Blessed are you who doubt, who are alone, who feel as though you have nothing to offer.
Blessed are you when your relationships are falling apart, when you worry about your children and the decisions that they make.
Blessed are you who are ill, unsure of God’s presence and purpose.
Blessed are you who have buried your loved ones, and you who have never loved at all.
Blessed are the saints, those still living and those who have gone before us.
Blessed are you, for you are holy…
On this All Saint’s Sunday, may you bring your wounds to our wounded healer and Lord. May God fill the pain and emptiness of your hearts with the promise that can absorb all sorrow, and the hope that can surpass all suffering, that those you have loved and lost have been brought to new life. For just as Jesus blessed those most unlikely people in his sermon on the plain, so to does he bless each and everyone of us, you and me included.
It’s with this that we give our thanks and praise… That we live into our sainthood by applying our works of love to the living. That we lift up the faithful departed, holding firm to the promise proclaimed by Saint Paul, that nothing, not even death itself, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord…
Thanks be to God, Amen.
~Pastor Andrew R. Geib