Sunday after All Saints' Day
November 6, 2005
The Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
Sermon: "All Saints' Day 2005"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
All Saints' Day 2005
Sunday after All Saints' Day - November 6, 2005
Growing up in the church I remember the hymns of All Saints Day very well. I remember singing, "I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true" and "For all the saints, who from their labors rest." I remember thinking of the stained glass windows I had seen of these men and women. Perhaps it was the songs or perhaps it was the stained glass windows, I'm not sure. However, as a child I always thought of the saints as old. It never occurred to me that there could be saints in our own day. I never thought that people I knew were saints. After all, I knew those people well. I knew the good things they did in their lives. I also knew some of the mistakes they made in their lives. Could they be saints? I didn't think so.
After all, the saints did grand and marvelous things. They wrote incredible letters like Paul and John. They wrote gospels like Matthew and Luke. They gave up everything they owned like Francis and Teresa of Avila. They died for the faith like Peter and Perpetua. Sometimes even their names sounded old. How could the people I know be saints? Even more important, there was no way I could be a saint of God. I might be a good person, but how could I be a saint? With this list of people before me, how could anyone be saint like them?
And yet, the songs call us and the scriptures tell us to be like the saints. The last line of I sing a song of the saints of God is, "and I want to be one too." In the reading from Revelation we see an incredible host of saints before God. They come from every nation, every tribe, every tongue. They proclaim the glory of God and they worship God and the Lamb. They have come out of tribulation. They have persevered in following God in a world that wants us to turn away from God. The size of this body of saints is incredible. They have to span not only the days of old, but today and the days to come.
So, who are these saints, what did they do to in persevering for God? I believe we see a part of the answer in the beatitudes. If we were to take a look at each individual beatitude we could be here a long time. If we look at the heart of the beatitudes I think we will see three things, three traits of the saints. The first trait we see is humility.
Being humble is a true virtue of a saint. Humility is defined as being not proud or haughty nor being arrogant or assertive for one's own personal gain. In other words, humility means placing the needs of the other first. If one is prideful or arrogant or haughty, they are placing themselves above the other. A person can not be humble and look down on another human being. I remember a story I was told about Mother Teresa and a teacher of mine in seminary. My teacher is still at the seminary and he is a retired Episcopal Bishop. He was once a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. When he was younger he went to India. He was sent to minister in the hospital where Mother Teresa worked. When he arrived she assigned him to a particular patient. This man had an advanced case of leprosy. According to my teacher, he said looking at this man was painful. He went to Mother Teresa and told her he could not work with this man. It was too painful for him. He was ashamed of himself and embarrassed, but would she assign him another patient. She said no. She told him if he could not work with this man then he would really be unable to work with anyone. She sent him back to the man. Mother Teresa understood humility. In the beatitudes we see it described in the words, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
The second trait I believe we will see in the beatitudes is love. Love and humility are very closely linked. It is impossible to be humble and not love the other person. Love requires respecting the dignity of the other person even if you don't agree with what they say or do. Loving the other person means reaching out to help them with no sense of condemnation or condescending behavior. We see this attribute all the time. We see it in the helping hands of our community at the Soup Kitchen, the Outreach Center, the Free Clinic, and Help, Inc. People come to these places and they receive a hot meal, food, medical help or shelter. Most of them can't help the situation they are in and many of them will never get out. However, the loving and compassionate person will at least meet the need. Sometimes the need is just a listening ear or a time of prayer. Many years ago a plane left Charleston, SC headed to Ethiopia with relief supplies. The country was in the throes of a horrible drought. Thousands of people were starving. The churches in the Charleston area of all denominations put together funds and supplies to send over relief items. This plane was the first of several to go. On this plane was a doctor. He had nothing he could offer in the way of his skills. There were no supplies and he was a surgeon. No matter how hard you try, you can't surgically remove hunger. I saw a picture of him. He did not know anyone was taking the picture. He was kneeling on the ground. Around him was a group of children. You could tell he wanted to take them and put them on the plane and bring them back to the states. But he couldn't so he did the only thing he knew to do. In the picture, he is leaning forward and his forehead is touching the forehead of the child before him. His eyes are closed. He is touching the child's shoulder and he is praying. Someone in the group caught that moment. He did all he could do. He loved with all of his heart. In the beatitudes we hear the words, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God."
The third trait, though I know it is not the last, is perseverance. We live in a crazy world. We have divisions amongst ourselves due to race, sex, creed, economic status, education, and birthright, just to name a few. To follow the way of God in this world isn't easy. We are called to persevere for our own selves and to stand up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves. Persevering means standing up for what is right and true even though the world may, and often will, line up against it. This last week we watched as the whole nation mourned the death of Rosa Parks. She was one who took a stand against the injustices of her people. It is kind of ironic that she took a stand by taking a seat on a bus and not moving. We see in her the attribute of perseverance we see in the saints. In the beatitudes, we see perseverance in the words, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
These three traits are those that we see most often in the saints. They are found in all people everywhere. They are found in people of all creeds, all nations, all sexes, all economic strata. In fact, we have seen these traits in many people in our lives. We have seen these traits in our friends, our family, our co-workers, our church members, our community. The saints of God are all around us. In the beatitudes, Jesus reminds us that we are all called to these traits when he says, "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven..." Yes, today we are reminded of the saints of old. But we are also reminded that we too are called to be faithful followers of the way of Christ. As the song says, "They were all of them saints of God and I mean, God helping to be one too." Amen.