November 2, 2014 | All Saints’ Sunday

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by the Rev. Robert C. Laird

It’s good to be back among you this morning,
especially on such a marvelous feast of the Church,
the Sunday we celebrate all the saints
that have gone before us,
living lives that have revealed the Kingdom of God,
whether or not we remember their names,
and the faith they lived.

Perhaps you’ve been to churches
that have lots of old photos on the walls,
group portraits from early processions,
with lots of folks dressed in cassocks and surplices,
all the men sporting what look to be brand new haircuts
and recently shined shoes,
with ladies wearing their best hats and white gloves;
everyone wanted to look their best,
and so they took a subway ride down to Macy’s,
or was it the El to Marshall Field’s,
or perhaps it was a bus or two down to Nordstrom’s,
to get just the right thing.

And they’re there, in these sepia-toned photos
with a banner proclaiming the founding of their church,
and you can see the pride they feel in having built it,
with the resources that God gave them,
and careful planning,
and not a little bit of luck.

Well, those photos are filled with the Saints of God,
each of them having lived lives
wrestling with Christ’s call to live in the kingdom of God,
and today is their feast day.

Today we celebrate them,
even though their names may have faded from memory.
And I mean all of them,
the countless billions who have gone before us in the faith,
struggling with the same kingdom calling that we do today,
working to make their faith known
through both the words they say,
and through the choices they make;
endeavoring to live the promises of their baptism,
a baptism we share with them,
and promises we will renew today,
as we join with all those who are baptized today,
future saints, in pictures yet untaken,
joining in the song that continues through eternity:
“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.”

These saints that have gone before us
also got to struggle with the Gospel that we heard today:
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ first teaching,
the Sermon on the Mount,
at the north end of the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus has just called the apostles,
and has been healing people as he went,
which had drawn the attention of a large crowd,
who were following him.

“And when he noticed the crowds,
he went up a mountain.
He sat down, and his disciples came to him.
[And] he taught them.”[1]

The first words out of his mouth
were not about what we ought to do,
or how we should be different,
(though we’d hear a lot of that
from Jesus by the time he was done).

Instead, Jesus tells us
what the true reality of life is:
“Happy are people who are hopeless,
because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”[2]

“Happy are people who are hopeless,
because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

This translation,
from the Common English Bible,
takes a different approach to what,
almost all of the English translations of this passage
for the last 500 years:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[3]

But regardless of the translation,
to say that the hopeless,
the poor in spirit,
are happy, and that the Kingdom is theirs,
that really stretches our imaginations:
Jesus is laying out an understanding of the world
that totally contradicts
the way the world understands itself.

Jesus is saying that in the Kingdom of God,
the hopeless, the humble,
those that seek righteousness,
the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers,
those who are harassed because they are righteous,
and those who are persecuted for their faith,
they are all blessed;
“Be full of joy and be glad,
because you have a great reward in heaven.
In the same way people harassed the prophets
who came before you.”[4]

Jesus is describing another world,
another reality based on the Kingdom of God,
not on the kingdom of humanity;
and each of the folks in those black-and-white photos
struggled with this Gospel in the same way we are today.

And to be honest,
the struggle in this Gospel
is believing it, and acting like we believe it.

It’s hard to believe the humble are happy
when humble folks in West Africa are dying of Ebola
at a shocking pace,
and when the disease is showing up in our country,
causing us to panic.
(It’s also hard to believe Jesus when we see ourselves
mistreat people because of our panic,
like the nurse from Maine who was forced to live in a tent
without a medically sound reason).

It’s hard to believe that people who grieve are happy,
like the communities grieving the deaths of
Zoe, and Gia, and Shaylee, and Jaylen,
who died school in Marysville,
and Andrew and Nate, who are still recovering
from the ordeal.
It’s a real struggle to believe what Jesus was saying
in the face of this kind of grief,
which is so palpable, and so real.

But that is the Kingdom of God:
it’s a kingdom in which the whole world is upside down,
and we live in hope, because God is love.

And the saints in the black-and-white photos
certainly had their struggles to deal with;
some of them knew the senseless tragedy of World War I,
which was fought for no good reason;
and the pure evil of World War II,
and the Holocaust, and the Atom Bomb;
and farther back, the American Civil War,
and the American Revolution,
and the Small Pox, and Yellow Fever,
and the Plague,
and our faith has survived all these challenges
because Christians struggled to believe
despite all of the evidence to the contrary
they saw around them.

That’s the Kingdom of God:
Belief in the face of adversity,
trusting Jesus when it’s so easy to doubt him,
listening to Jesus,
even if his words feel hollow
in the face of great suffering and misery.

And God gives us the strength to believe
in the face of that great suffering and misery,
if we’re willing to receive God’s gift.

God did so for each of the people
in those dog-eared photos,
and God is ready to do that for us, too.

So today we renew our baptismal vows,
we promise to try and live our faith
the way that the billions of Christians
that have gone before us
tried to live their faith.

We renew our promises,
and remember the saints that have gone before us,
those whose names we recall,
like Luke and Matthew, Francis and Ignatius,
and those whose names are known to God alone,
many of whom are in those photos we see
hanging up around the church,
whose feast we celebrate today.

Someday, we’ll be in those photos, too.
In fact, let’s talk one now:
[Shoot selfie with crowd] Someday, in all likelihood,
our names will be forgotten,
just like so many who have gone before,
and we’ll be faces in a photo without names,
and today will be our feast day, too.

Thanks be to God.
[1] Matthew 5:1-2, CEB

[2] Ibid., 5:3

[3] Ibid., NRSV

[4] Ibid., 5:12, CEB