November 1, 2020
On this All Saints day, our second reading after the Beatitudes comes from 1 John 3:1-3. Continue to listen for the Word of God as it speaks to you today.
READ 1 John 3:1-3
We are God’s children… now. That’s one of the things I do like about All Saints day… and why I choose to refer to you all as saints again and again… because it recognizes that we are God’s children… now. I think we still get distracted by the word “saint”… holding onto the more Roman Catholic definition of that one special person… that person who is somehow unique or set apart from other believers. There’s the whole process in the Catholic church of determining who is and who is not to be a saint. Or there’s also our everyday, regular, non-church use of the word… there is this idea that being a saint is akin to a certain level of perfection… usually moral perfection or just an above and beyond level of goodness. A saint is above and beyond… worthy of our veneration… a saint is someone who has accomplished something amazing.
As a Presbyterian, though, I want to get around this special achievement understanding of sainthood… and go back to the scriptural definition which is akin to the understanding that we are all God’s children… now. I don’t want to start with individual achievement and the reaching some level of acceptance with God… I always want to start with God’s choice… I want to go back to the thinking that is at the beginning of John’s gospel… “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” It’s that being born from above theology from John’s gospel. And that power God gives us through the Spirit… through the example of God’s son… that power given is the power to love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action… the truth and action that is the wisdom behind the Beatitudes that we heard today from Matthew’s gospel. To live in that wisdom doesn’t take some next level of faith reserved for a special few. To live into the wisdom of the Beatitudes takes the understanding that we are… now… children of God… and as God’s children we are to love in truth and in action… we are to follow in the footsteps of Christ with our own spiritual strengths and abilities… all gifts from God who called us… who claimed us as God’s own children. A belief that is in baptism… an action that isn’t about us claiming God to be our God… but an action of understanding of what God has already done… how God has already claimed us as one of God’s own.
We are the saints… and it is the ordinary everyday living out of our faith in this world… this living in a way that is a reversal of the world’s norms… like what the Beatitudes reveal… these everyday miracles of love are what transforms the world by the light of God’s living Word. We do not dwell in darkness and death and despair… we bring God’s light to shine into every shadow and every corner… so there is only God and only love and only grace.
Saints… blessed are the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit are those who feel like they don’t have much to give… that they are poor in comparison to those super saints… those that are easily recognized and hold places of power and public persuasion… those who can show amazing spiritual achievements on their faith resume. The poor in spirit ask, “Who am I? What do I have to give? I am nobody.” The kingdom of God is not given to the big and the powerful. The kingdom of God is revealed through the small acts done by the many faithful consistently. The kingdom of God is not achieved by the one who does something big and is declared to be a saint by the acclamation of others. The kingdom of God is quietly brought about by the millions who do their small acts of love in truth and in action… and move the world towards God’s will. The Beatitudes point a light on all the hearts that ache and yearn and seek after God… who know the rightness of God’s truth… that it is in God’s love that true meaning for life and death can be found.
I mean… look at the rest of this list from Matthew. Those who mourn. Those who mourn recognize and feel empathy for others. Those who mourn know the trauma of injustice and work through their means to stop suffering… to bring comfort. Those who mourn do not trade off the lives of others so that they may benefit, but see and understand that just as they became a child of God through God’s undeserved grace… so are they to see and understand and treat the weakest of their brothers and sisters around them.
Those comforted… also have their eyes opened. They reach out and work to end the trauma of needless suffering. Those who comfort change the systems to take away the cause of mourning. This is what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Or to go back to other words found in 1 John… “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” Or the well-known words in James… “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” The meek inherit the earth because it is shared with them… it is given to them. What is it to gain the whole world but lose your soul? This is the question that comes after Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” That is the word directed to those who would conquer or possess and keep the world for themselves and their children alone.
Anyone can show mercy. Anyone can be a peacemaker. The pure in heart… the pure in heart are those who have a sincerity in their seeking after God and God’s ways. The pure in heart aren’t burdened by mixed motives… they are not distracted by the empty promises of idols. The pure in heart don’t confuse the words of God with the self-seeking words of man. To see God. To act as God has acted toward you. To be a child of God now in truth and action. As we remember the people we have journeyed through life and faith together… these are the qualities that we want to highlight… these are the qualities we want to have inherited from generation to generation. When we memorialize those saints who have gone on before us, it isn’t their achievements that we talk about… it is their saintly attributes. What I hear most in conversations or in the tributes given are usually words like kindness… or generosity. I hear about strength of commitment to others… to communities. I hear… and I know you hear too… stories about good humor and easy sacrifice. These are the gifts… to borrow the words of our funeral liturgy… these are the gifts that are good and kind and faithful for which we give praise to God.
This past Wednesday when we gave witness to the resurrection as it was shown through the life of Dan McIver… I shared with his family and friends a memory that was in some emails that were shared after Dan’s death. Dan was remembered as the one who made the coffee and brought the cookies. And at first glance you might think that such a memory seems small or trite for all the complexities of a life of 88 years. But after the service, talking with his children they told me how much it meant to Dan to do this. That he would sometimes choose being the one who made the coffee and brought the cookies over other things… family get togethers or trips. No. He needed to be here to make the coffee and bring the cookies. And you know as well as I do, that it’s not about coffee or cookies… it’s about what that man valued in his heart. Coffee and cookies were just one of the ways the Beatitudes came to life. Nothing big. Nothing that changed the world in a way that would merit being declared a saint by achievement. But… but… a small act that revealed the kingdom of God by an everyday saint… a man who believed himself a child of God… now.
So let me close this short homily this morning with a meme from Facebook. I know… not always the most reliable of theological sources. And this one claims it comes from the Talmud. I don’t know if it does or not. I’ve haven’t done my research to prove whether or not these words represent that great collection of wisdom. But… the words of this meme connected with me enough this week that I did that rare thing and shared it to our Facebook page… so those of you who are watching this on Facebook now can see it for yourself if you scroll down our posts. As we remember and reflect in our worship this morning on the more than 225,000 lives lost to the Corona virus… the meme evokes the familiar words of the prophet Micah and reads like this… “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” Be the children of God now. Amen.