Sermon November 1, 2020
Today, we remember and celebrate saints past and saints present. As we celebrate, we may ask what are the qualities of a saint and what are the actions saints have taken to become a saint? I think about all of the saints that we know so well. I think about Saint Francis who has always been very popular. Saint Francis gave up all of his world goods. Francis also had a love of animals that many of us appreciate.
How about Saint Patrick who brought Christianity to Ireland. He is one of my favorites. Patrick became a missionary in the land where he spent his youth in slavery. What a commitment it must have taken to return to a place where he was so poorly treated.
In the earliest days of Christianity, people often believed that they needed to be a martyr in order to truly show their love of Jesus. They wanted to follow in his footsteps. So we might think of Saint Stephen, the first known martyr or Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian, who in 1965 left seminary to join the freedom marchers in Selma, Alabama. He was shot to death trying to protect a sixteen-year old girl who had been threatened with a shotgun.
Some saints spent a great deal of time in prayer or solitary living. I am thinking of Dame Julian of Norwich who lived in a small room adjacent to the church. I don’t plan to be a recluse so I hope I don’t have to do that in order to become a saint.
Some saints didn’t take life too seriously. Saint Francis of Assisi was often willing to make fun of himself. He called himself a “fool for Christ”. Francis took seriously the words of Jesus to preach the gospel to every living thing. That is why he sometimes preached to the wild animals. But Francis knew that others would laugh at the idea of “taking to the animals. May we also find a little humor in our journey of faith.
Famous saints did many outstanding things but we can be saints too. A saint in the New Testament is often a term used to describe all Christians. A good example can be found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which begins with this introduction, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1).
Some people have interpreted the messages found in Revelation to be an indication that the number of people will be limited that go to heaven. But I prefer to hear the words from a verse in today’s lesson which says, “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne.” You see, I prefer to understand the number of people who will go to heaven as limitless.
Many saints went through an ordeal just as Revelation indicates. All of us have struggles in our lives. In Revelation, the saints came to the throne of God and they joined together worshipping God as one unit. Someone pointed out to me the words in our collect: as followers of Jesus we are knit together in one community as members of the body of Christ. We come here to Transfiguration intertwined and connected, supporting each other and praising God together. Even though Covid 19 has made it difficult to be together, we are still one community, worshipping God together.
Revelation also offers us words of comfort. “Jesus will be their shepherd, he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Can you feel God’s presence in your life, wiping away your tears?
When I think about what it might take to become a saint, I focus on the overwhelming mercy of God. Today, I am thinking about the parable of the vineyard. Specifically, the parable where the owner of the vineyard goes out and brings in laborers at all times of the day. At the end of the day, all the workers received the same wage. Some have interpreted this parable to mean that even if you become a Christian late in life, you will be rewarded by going to heaven. I prefer to think about God’s all abiding mercy and God’s willingness to bring us into heaven even if there are times we stray from the path God has chosen for us. I prefer the description of the saints found in a hymn, “for the saints of God are just folk like me”.
And so, we are inspired by the people we know that have been saints to us. They may be parents or other relatives. Perhaps we have experienced saints in those we meet at church or at work. I think of the people I have known at this church since I have been here and have sadly left us. Their saintly work lives on is this place. I most especially remember those who died in the past year. All of these saints are an inspiration to us. They may have passed but their legacy lives on through us.
When I read the beatitudes or hear them read as in today’s gospel, I find the Beatitudes move me in multiple ways. One day I find the beatitudes to be comforting. I am comforted when I think one of the beatitudes applies to me, knowing that God is sending blessings to me when I feel challenged by the world. Another day I find it to be challenging, and one day I found it to be about God’s kingdom. Each perspective has the support of various theologians. I believe that God speaks to us in a way that we need to hear his message and that is different for every person. How is God speaking to you?
The Beatitudes challenge us to live our lives in a certain way. Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness. Just as the Good Samaritan went out of his way to help someone who had been left for dead, we may have to go beyond our normal limits, for those who have been mistreated and wronged. Blessed are the merciful. We must be sensitive to the misery that surrounds us and respond with grateful hearts. After all, we might be where the other person is if not for the blessings we have already received from God. Blessed are the meek. Meek, in this case, means that we are to be humble, not prideful. Blessed are the pure of heart. Now that one is virtually impossible. All of us are sinners. Yet, the more we stay away from our temptations, the more we focus on Jesus, the better are our chances. The goals are lofty and difficult to achieve. I don’t think Jesus wants us to be discouraged. It is as if Jesus wants us to follow in the path of the saints. Saints are people who made mistakes, people who sinned. We just strive to be a little better than we are today and know that God will accept us as we are.
There is one final way for you to consider these beatitudes. Jesus often turns the world upside down. These beatitudes challenge our world view. For example, our world view is that nice guys finish last. But Jesus said blessed are the meek. Isn’t Jesus asking us to reconsider what we have been taught about the meek. Our world view is that you must have a positive attitude in order to succeed. Jesus said, blessed are the poor in spirit. God’s kingdom is different than the one we encounter on earth. On God’s kingdom, the meek will inherit the earth. Our world view is that we must be stronger than everyone else so we will not be harmed. But Jesus said, blessed are the merciful. It is just another example of how God’s kingdom will be different than what we have understood
Many people think we should seek power, success, fame or wealth. Jesus may be telling us that there is another way. God’s way is different. A former Lutheran professor, David Lose, wrote that this is less about a particular ethic and more about God’s in-breaking kingdom, a promise that God’s kingdom is real and transformative. David invites us to imagine that kingdom, different than the one we experience. It is not about working harder to follow the rules but more about having a new heart, ”one created by God’s own promise to continue to surprise us by who is blessed, who is loved by God”.
Today, scripture can touch us in many ways. We should be comforted today by the blessings God offers us in the reading from Revelation and from the Beatitudes. We should try to live our lives as each blessing suggests. Let’s also look forward with joyful anticipation to God’s kingdom, seeking to bring it to earth and ready to receive it when we die. Let’s celebrate with all the saints, both here on earth and there in heaven and together sing, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever”. Amen.
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