Sunday, November 6, 2016

All Saints Sunday

Ephesians 1:11–23 Luke 6:20–31

 

LOVE FOR ALL THE SAINTS

 

At our Learning Center Chapel this past Wednesday, I wanted to teach our preschool children about what a saint is. As I did this morning for the Children’s Sermon, I used a mirror and had them look into it. One little boy announced: “A saint is a picture of me in a mirror.” What I thought would be a relatively easy lesson required a little more explaining.

 

This morning I hope we will gain clarity on what a saint is. But the central question we will ponder is: “Who is included in the community of saints?”

 

Just a couple of months ago, on Sunday, September 4, Mother Teresa was consecrated a saint by Pope Francis. Mother Teresa was a Catholic nun who devoted her life to helping the poorest of the poor. She began her ministry on the streets of Calcutta, caring for the dying lying on the streets. That is why she has been referred to as the “saint of the gutters.” The Missionaries of Charity, which she founded, continue to serve the dying and most afflicted among us.

 

In Pope Francis’ homily he said of her: "Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded.” He added: "She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity. She made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created." Pope Francis exhorted his listeners: “May she be your model of holiness.” [1]

 

The declaration of Mother Teresa as a saint received acclaim around the globe, both inside and outside the Catholic Church. From now on, it would be normal practice to call her St. Teresa. But even the Pope acknowledged it would be hard not to keep referring to her as “Mother Teresa.” She began her missionary work in Calcutta in 1948 and founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. I was born in 1957. During my lifetime Mother Teresa has defined what it means to be a merciful, caring person. She would be included in almost everyone’s vision of the community of saints.

 

The original purpose of All Saints Day was to commemorate early Christian martyrs, who were persecuted and killed for their faithful witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. Eventually the All Saints Day commemoration was extended to include all those who lived and died in the faith.[2]

 

This morning we began our worship by giving thanks for all those from our St. Andrew family who have died this year and for all those most dear to us who have gone before us. It can be very emotional, yet so meaningful, to name our loved ones who have died and to light a candle in their honor. Tears can well up as we remember someone who died even decades ago. We are comforted by the good news that these dearly departed loved ones are numbered in the community of saints.

 

We also gave thanks for those baptized at St. Andrew this year. As David Lose explains, during the Reformation the reformers reclaimed “the New Testament confession that all those who have been baptized into Christ and declared righteous by grace are, in fact, living saints of God. . . . it is notable that the Apostle Paul addresses even the Christians in Corinth, those whom he has rebuked and castigated for many and various moral offenses, as saints, or holy ones (1 Corinthians 1:1–9). Clearly, then, their sanctity—and our own!— is not one of moral achievement.”[3] In baptism sanctity is conferred on us by God. When Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven announced, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” When Tierney, Aimée, Brian, and Harper were baptized this year, God declared publicly over each one of them, “You are my beloved child; with you I am well-pleased.” When each of us was baptized, God declared publicly that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters. A baptism is a very special occasion in the life of the one baptized and in the life of a congregation. It is easy for us to include the baptized in the community of saints.

 

On Tuesday morning, All Saints Day, we gathered in the chapel for the memorial service for Roy Luttrell. Roy served as our custodian for a number of years. He was living in his car and was in some legal trouble, when Pastor Parsons and Council President Bob Cornie decided to take a chance on him and hired him as custodian. He proved to be on time and dependable in doing his custodial work, but his time at St. Andrew was not without a hitch. At one point he had to be called to account. He was able to turn things around when it was made clear what was expected of him.

 

No one would have mistaken Roy for Mother Teresa. If she is the measure of a saint, few, if any of us, could measure up. Roy’s checkered past would surely seem to have disqualified him from achieving sainthood. But I dare say that all of us who gathered for his memorial service would number him in the community of saints. We were united in viewing him as a beloved child of God.

 

Not too long after Roy came to St. Andrew, Jeannine Douglas learned that he had not been baptized. She jokingly said to him, “If you do not get baptized, you will go to hell.” We do not teach that the unbaptized go to hell. Baptism is intended to be the assurance of salvation, the assurance that nothing can separate us from God’s love. But Roy took her seriously and went right to Pastor Parsons to arrange to get baptized. On the occasion of his baptism God declared publically that Roy was his beloved child. To put it another way, God declared that Roy was a member of the community of saints. As baptized children of God, we can all rest secure in the promise of God’s deep love for each one of us and be confident that, despite our shortcomings, we are numbered in the community of saints.

 

It is reassuring to know that we are included in the community of saints. But what about those who are not models of saintliness like Mother Teresa, nor have they died in the faith, nor have they been baptized? Are they excluded from the community of saints?

 

In our gospel from Luke Jesus announces: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” To proclaim the poor, the hungry, and the weeping “blessed” is another way to say they are holy— that they are saints. Jesus makes clear there is a special place in God’s heart for those in need. God stands with the poor, the hungry, and the weeping. All in special need are included in what Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as the beloved community— the community of all those loved by God— the community of saints. One could view our St. Andrew Welcome Statement as an attempt to articulate a vision of the beloved community. We seek to affirm that all people— “regardless of ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, education, income, or family status”— are included in the community of saints.

 

As saints of God, we are called and sent into the world to be a blessing. We are to bear witness to the inclusive love of God, revealed in Jesus and modeled by people like Mother Teresa. That witness will be tested in the wake of the presidential election on Tuesday. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are said to be the two most disliked major party nominees in history. Both are deeply flawed. I suspect even their most avid supporters would not call them St. Donald or St. Hillary. Their supporters are no Mother Teresa’s either.

 

Both candidates are also very wealthy. In Luke 6:24 Jesus pronounces: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Is Jesus saying that rich, privileged people are outside the community of saints?

 

On Thursday night Otis Moss III delivered Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s annual Collins Lecture at Concordia University. The theme was: “Redeeming the Soul of America: Race, Justice & Reconciliation.” A number of people from St. Andrew attended. Moss is the senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. His father was an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He minced no words in naming the racism that continues to infect the hearts and minds of Americans. Even people of good will tend to want to sing “Kum Bah Ya” before we have dismantled racism. But singing the blues and naming the sin of racism are essential he said on the way to the fulfillment of the Beloved Community.

 

Near the end of his presentation he offered this powerful affirmation: “All God’s children are created in God’s image. Period. End of story.” That means every person is to be regarded as one of God’s saints, no matter how deeply flawed they may be. That does not mean we are to ignore injustice, discrimination, racism, and the like. We cannot forget that all God’s saints are also sinners. We are to struggle against all that works against God’s beloved community. Our leaders, their supporters, and each one of us need to be held accountable. It is not loving to ignore deplorable behavior. We are to be as clear as possible on our core values and speak and act accordingly in the public sphere. But the only way the soul of America will ever be redeemed and the beloved community will ever be realized is if we learn to see that all persons are members of the community of saints, the community loved by God, and if we learn to love them as God first loved each one of us.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/04/europe/mother-teresa-canonization/

 

[2] David Lose, “For All the Saints,” https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1557.

 

[3] David Lose, “For All the Saints,” https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1557.