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All Saints Sunday
November 6, 2011
The Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
Sermon: "Roll Call"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
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.
A group of Christians from the United States was on a mission trip in Nicaragua. While there, a young man in this group was killed. This left the group devastated. That Sunday a memorial service was held in the local Episcopal Mission. From the altar the priest said, "The peace of the Lord be with you." The people of the congregation, Nicaraguan people, began to embrace these North Americans and say, "Paz" or "peace." These people who had suffered so much in so many ways themselves were passing the peace of Christ to this hurting mission group.
During the Eucharist there was a pause. The congregation was silent for a moment. Then someone called out a name. In one voice the3 congregation responded, "Presente!" Another name was called out. Once again the response was, "Presente!" During the service at least twenty names were called out, and each time the same response: "Presente!" The mission trip group suddenly understood what was happening when they heard the name of the young man from their group called out. Then they realized that all the names were those of persons who had died locally. From that moment on they joined in the response "Presente!"
"Presente" is used by school children to answer roll call. At the Altar the word "presente" means "in our midst" or "present with us." Shouting "Presente!" at that worship service was a way of proclaiming the reality of the communion of saints. Although those persons named had all died, their presence and their influence was still there.
Today is All Saints Sunday. It's the day we remember those persons who have influenced our faith development, whose presence is still felt in our lives even though they now rest from their labors. All Saints is the Church's Memorial Day, a time to remember and give thanks to God for those who have died in the faith. It's also a time to consider that all believers are saints in the true Biblical sense. Despite the fact that we seldom live up to that noble title, we are to strive to; not so much for our own sakes as for the sake of those who will follow us, and the sake of the honor of those who have gone before us.
With these thoughts in mind, then, go with me now to a mountainside where Jesus is teaching. He begins his sermon with a list of Beatitudes; blessed sayings. Here, near the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew we are given a picture of the characteristics that are to make up the life of a saint. So, on this All Saints Sunday let's consider three of the more difficult of these Beatitudes to see at least a part of what you and I are to be about.
The first thing that we are to be about as saints is this: WE ARE TO LIVE OUR LIVES TRUSTING IN NOTHING OTHER THAN GOD. Verse3: "Blessed are the poor in spirit," says Jesus, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." While it sounds like it initially, Jesus isn't extolling the virtues of poverty here. Many of us can identify with that couple who said they had saved money by going over their household budget every single evening after work. Someone asked, "How does that save you money?Ē They responded, "By the time we make any sense of our situation, it's too late to go out and spend anything."
Jesus is not extolling the virtues of poverty. Rather, he is extolling the virtues of faith in God. God is our ultimate source of security. We so often think that if we have enough money, enough land, enough possessions, we will be in control of our lives. We will be protected. We will have security. People who have experienced natural disasters know that control is an illusion. People who have experienced devastating illness know the same truth. There are times when only faith in God will pull us through.
A young man tells about the most devastating event of his life; the death of his mother. His mother was a beautiful person, this young man writes, not because of any remarkable physical appearance, but because of her deep faith in God and her love of her family. She never complained about her life being cut short at the age of forty nine. Throughout her suffering, his mother would say, "I thank God for my family and my life." Even though she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, his mother radiated the joy that comes from placing her total trust in God. Each morning her husband would say to her, "This is the day that the Lord has made!" Courageously, she would respond, "Let us rejoice and be glad in it!" So she responded with her nearly last breath. That is saintly faith; living life trusting in nothing other than God. That's the first thing that we are to be about as saints.
Here's the second: WE ARE TO SUBMIT OUR WILL TO THE WILL OF GOD. Verse 5: "Blessed are the meek," says Jesus, "for they will inherit the earth." In the original Greek of the New Testament, "meek" means literally the "tamed" or the "broken" (as a wild horse is broken). A wild horse is of little use to anyone. It's not even much use to itself as the wild life is a much shorter and significantly less healthy life for the horse. But a "meek" or "gentled" horse is invaluable not only to its owner, but also to future horses in strengthening the blood lines. Meekness is a matter of submission of the will to something greater. For the saint, it is submission to God's will. God's will letís you and I live for something much greater than ourselves; it lets us make a contribution to the quality of life that could not be done if we only focused ourselves on our own will. It gentles us, which of course is of endless value to those who love us, and have to live with us. Yet, submission is something most of us are not particularly good at.
Just like that first grader who appeared greatly upset when he came to the principal's office one day. He requested the use of a phone. "Can I help you with something?" the principal asked. The little boy explained, "Yesterday I forgot my sweater at school. This morning my mother told me not to come home without it. I can't find it anywhere. I just want to call her and ask her where she wants me to go!"
For many of us life is one long battle for control; first with our parents, then with our teachers, then with our employers, and then ultimately with ourselves. That is the humbling effect of a bad habit or a defiant will. We discover we can't even control ourselves. We have only one hope; to yield to God's will. When we finally yield, we can rest assured that God will take control, and, paradoxically, will give us true control for the first time ever in our lives. Saints submit their will to God's will. That's the second thing you and I are to be about as saints.
Here is the third: WE ARE TO STAND FIRM AND WITNESS TO OUR FAITH. Verse 11: "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account," Jesus told his disciples. When those things happen, and they are bound to happen at one time or another, Jesus says, "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven." Jesus knew as he addressed his disciples on that mountain side that the day would come when they would be persecuted for believing in him. Jesus knew that living the kind of life that he outlined would be difficult. In his final beatitude Jesus warned the disciples that the Christian life is sometimes very difficult.
All through the ages saints have suffered because of their faithful convictions. They took unpopular stands, but they remained strong in the faith. They did not waver in the face of adversity. Such persons are examples for us. They offer us hope. They endured and so can we.
When Margaret Helminski was seven, she received a gift from her grandmother. It was a tiny cross on a wisp of gold chain so fine, its weight was barely perceptible. "Never forget what this cross means," her grandmother said as she fastened it carefully around Margaret's neck. Over the years, Margaret says, that cross became a part of her, like the lone freckle on her left cheek. She could look at herself in the mirror and not even see it.
As a graduate psychology student, she took a job tutoring at a school for emotionally disturbed children. The thought of being suddenly surrounded by children who expressed their displeasure by kicking, biting, and screaming, terrified Margaret, though she determined not to let it show.
On her first night there, the head counselor said that three of the boys had asked to escort her to dinner. Alone! How would she handle it if all three decided to act out at once? She swallowed hard. She desperately needed this job, so she fought back the panic and walked with her charges to the dining hall.
They passed through the cafeteria line as tantrums and fights erupted all around them. Fortunately none of her boys exhibited any kind of behavioral outburst. They made their way to a table in the center of the busy cafeteria and the boys took their seats with her. Margaret picked up her fork and was about to take the first bite when she noticed that all three boys were staring at her. "What's the matter?" she asked.
"Aren't you going to ask a blessing?" asked eight year old Peter.
"I didn't think I was supposed to," she responded. "This is a state school, isn't it?"
"Yes," said David, "but you wear a cross."
Her grandmother's words surged to the surface of her memory. "Never forget what this cross means," her grandmother had said.
"We thought that meant something," said Roman, clearly disappointed.
"It does boys. Thank you for reminding me," Margaret said, as she bowed her head, no longer afraid. Margaret learned something about sainthood that day. Saints trust in God for their ultimate security. Saints submit their will to the will of God. Saints stand firm and witness to their faith in God.
I've known a few saints in my time, haven't you? Many of them are awaiting us in Heaven. But a lot of the saints I know are sitting right here among us on any given Sunday morning. None are perfect people, but they fit these three criteria; trusting, submitting, standing firm; most of the time anyway. And to those who are now in the Church Triumphant? They blessed our lives, and they blessed all who knew them. On this All Saints Sunday I would like to say one thing in their behalf. "Presente!"