SERMON 11/3/19 All Saint’s Day, St. Monica’s Episcopal Church
Saints: A Motley Crew
If you look closely at the bulletin cover today, you will see an ancient icon for All Saint’s however, I have modified it to include the faces of some modern-day saints. Those faces are just normal everyday people just like you because, we all are saints believe it or not. We sometimes think saints as merely those special people we see depicted in ancient icons. However, consider the crew Jesus chose as his first followers. There was old Peter (the bold and yet, “first to run” disciple), James and John, (the two who wanted seats of honor, over and above their fellow disciples), and Matthew the Tax Collector. There were many other disreputable followers of Jesus over the centuries, and yes, I am one too.
Jesus seems to call some incredible characters into the Communion of Saints, doesn’t he, just look around you. His first group of followers, and we the generations who have come on the scene much later, have not been nor are we saints of perfection. We are both sinners and saints. Even Mother Theresa, the well-known nun who helped lepers in Calcutta, stated in her memoirs that she had moments of doubt, and failure all along the way. Saints are scruffy, motley, and imperfect people, who are just trying to get it right, and often short. Christian community can be pretty messy but in it, find the beautiful and hopeful nature of God’s grace in action.
My favorite bible verse is from the second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians which states, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Think about grace in those words because it is through the frailty and brokenness of our imperfect “fleshly containers” that God’s abundant grace flows through us and into all the world.
Also, we Christians are like stained glass windows of sainthood, through which the world sees, experiences, and receives God’s bright shining love. Now, you may hear that as cliché, and think that it sounds like, all we have to do is just let the light shine in us, and our mission is complete. However, being a saint is a little more difficult than merely sitting still trying to be all holy. Disciples have to move and do and be like Christ.
All Saint’s Day
Today is the Feast Day of All Saint’s, a principal feast of the Church, and the feast where the Episcopal church remembers the saints, known and unknown. Today is also one of the holy days denoted as especially appropriate for baptisms. Today, you will notice some changes in our worship. In contrast to the Pentecost season, the service music is somewhat more uplifting and celebratory, we will chant portions of the liturgy, and we replace the Nicene Creed with the Renewal of Baptismal Vows.
In addition to liturgical changes, this feast typically is the day Episcopalians make an annual commitment of treasure (as well as our time and talent), and through this commitment, we make our claim as saints, apledge to continue the mission of Christ’s reconciling love, through the ministry of our local branch of the Body of Christ, St. Monica’s Episcopal Church. Today’s feast day also serves as the renewal of our own stewardship.
This past year, I have encouraged us to recognize God’s generous grace poured out abundantly on us. Today and in the weeks to come, we are called to tangibly respond in gratitude to God for God’s gifts, by returning a portion of those gifts back to God. Because we saints follow a heritage of saints that span for over two centuries, those billions of faithful, committed Jesus followers who have shown us the path of discipleship, and now it is our turn to pass on Jesus’ Way of love on to others. That is not an easy task, but we do have grace.
Saints and Enemies
Jesus commands us saints today to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” That sure is uncomfortable, challenging, and some pretty high expectations. What? Wait a minute, you want me to do what? Jesus is not merely offer us a corny saying that looks impeccable engraved on pewter statues, silicone bracelets, or framed artwork. Jesus was serious; love your enemies.
Webster defines enemy as, “an individual or a group that is seen as forcefully adverse or threatening.”(2) In other words, any person that is seen as a threat to our well being is an enemy. You may say, “Fr. Eric, I have no enemies.” Well, I am sure we all have people who we would rather not spend time with, or folks with whom we disagree, or people who just plain irritate us. So, our natural response when threatened by folks like this is either to run away or to put up our dukes and fight. Jesus says that we should resist our natural response of “fight or flight,” to react in opposition to our sinful nature, and choose to respond in love.
“Loving enemies” does not seem possible in this competitive, destroy your opponent, and push your own agenda kind of world we live in today. Imagine what the political advertisements would be like next year, if the politicians really followed Jesus command to love your enemy. Maybe they would say, “My opponent is really an honest, committed servant, we just differ on our policies and approaches to government. I think I want to sit down with her/him and learn more about them.”
Imagine how we might react to folks we might treat our adversaries on social media if we really followed Jesus command to love your enemy. We see one of our Facebook friend’s posts or we receive a well lubricated email late at night. In it our opponent has written something negative about us. On Facebook, we might ignore the post, like it, or post a nasty comment. We might fire off a fire filled email response, BCC’g all in our inside clan. However, what if alternatively, we called them on the phone and reminded our acquaintance how much friendship matters to you, regardless of our differences.
Imagine how we might react to people heaping injustices on certain folks in our nation. What if we really followed Jesus’ command to love our enemy, and rather than publicly making condemning personal attacks on the oppressors for their actions, we would go and stand alongside in solidarity with the oppressed of the world, and show the oppressors that God’s love and grace flows through us
Imagine how we might react when someone in the congregation hurts us, speaks wrongly about us, or simply ignores us. What if we really followed Jesus’ command to love our enemy, and maybe we we would reach out to that person who is hurting us, and show them a better way, through an outpouring of kindness, compassion, and patience. In all these modern day examples of “loving our enemy,” Jesus would tell us that our mission as Christians is to show others the Good News and by so doing, we through God’s grace help convert enemies into friends. We certainly live in a world today that really needs us to be saints every day, even when the truth is that we all both saints and sinners.
Saints in a Changing World
So, being a saint is risky these days, especially in these volatile times in our country. Now more than ever, we saints need to follow the command of our Lord and love our neighbors. We saints must not participate in our nation’s emerging “like for like,” “eye for an eye,” “destroy the other guy” mentality, because that has nothing to do with love, and honestly, it is not of God.
We saints must enact love with responses that include as the scriptures say, “Doing good, blessing others, and praying for others.” We must show up in our society, in our neighborhood, and in our church and respond to injustice, racism, and the other plagues that pit one group of God’s people against another. We saints must bring incredible resilience and commitment to this world by loving one another, addressing our internal conflicts honestly, and working toward reconciling, healing, and restoring from within, so that we can go out into the world, and do the same thing with integrity and love out there.
The truth is this my friends; we are both saints and sinners. We know in our hearts that we have a great capacity for grace, mercy, and love. At the same time, we possess the capacity to inflict pain, create harm, and wound one another through our misguided need for power and control. If can accept this paradox that is within each of us, we will know that we saints and sinners have only hope in Christ. Jesus reminds and lovingly demands that we must resist fear, hate, and division, and just let God transform us so we might “choose love!” Theologian Warren Carter asserts that in the midst of the challenges of community life, God calls for our best efforts, our “best sainthood efforts, which sums up the divine character (merciful even to the ungrateful and wicked) and the obligation on disciples to imitate this indiscriminate mercy for all.” (1)
Good News for Saints and Sinners
So, what is the Good News for saints and sinners on this All Saint’s Day, in this life comingled with division, pain, uncertainty, and wounded ness? We saints always have the choice to follow the path of Jesus Christ or not. We can choose to live each day in self-giving love, returning hatred for grace, war for peace, and division for unity, or we can just let our animal nature take charge and resort to “fight or flight” with those we just do not like.
To the first apostles, those saints of old, Jesus’ left his mission of reconciliation, mercy, grace, and love, and he left it to we 21st century disciples. We can take up the mantle of the high calling of God if simply, “do good, bless each other, and pray for each other, and live into those baptismal promises each of us will take upon ourselves again in a few minutes.
Sisters and brothers, our example of Christian love is needed in this old world now, more than ever. We saints and sinners, followers of the Jesus Christ, the choice is ours. We can choose to have our portrait included in that beautiful icon of sainthood. With God’s grace, we can take our place among All the Saints who are illuminated by the light of God’s abundant, radical, and overwhelming love. We all have a job to do we saints and sinners. We are the only light of God’s grace, the only example of God’s love, and the only gospel the world will be able to hear today and tomorrow. So, Saints and Sinners, go out today and Shine your Light, the light of Christ, shine for all the world to see.
1 Carter, Warren. “Love Your Enemies.” Word & World 28.1 (2008): 13-21. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 1 Nov. 2013.