Sunday, November 1, 2020
All Saints Day, Year A
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Revelation 7:9-17 The multitudes of heaven worship the Lamb
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3 We are God’s children
Matthew 23:1-12 Humble yourself before God
Title: Thinking and Living As Saints
Some of you may have heard that recently Scott and I became car owners again. After nine years of care-free, car-free, Manhattanites-don’t-need-cars living, we are back in that truly American cohort- Car Owners. And I have to tell you it is a strange transition. I have lived on this great island for a composite of 16 years at four different addresses and this the first time I find myself a car owner. And the incongruity of this new situation for me really showed itself last weekend. We purchased this used car through Vroom, which meant we bought it online, never test drove it, and it was delivered right to our door. And so, it arrived with temporary license plates. (From Texas, of all places.) Due to the COVID related slow down at the DMV, it took a while for our real, New York State plates to arrive. But they finally did. I went to put them on the car, only to realize that in our car’s two years of life, it had never been licensed in a state that, like NY, required a front license plate. This meant that I had to first install a license plate mount. I’m sure this comes as no surprise, but there are no car parts stores within walking distance of here. So, I was going to have to go over to Brooklyn where there are numerous Auto Zone stores. I started by looking to see which location was most accessible to a subway line. There was one on Atlantic near the C train, or there was one near Red Hook close to an R train station. Hmmm, which one is easiest to get to? Finally, Scott says, “Why don’t you drive the car there?” Oh right, I can take the auto to Auto Zone – the auto supply store, to purchase a part for the auto. That we own now. Yes, this being a Manhattanite AND a car owner is going to take some getting used to and invites some new ways of thinking.
Now, I tell this story not to boast of my privilege. I know, it does reek of it and seems to go completely against Jesus’ final words in today’s Gospel reading – a call to humble ourselves. So, my apologies if it triggers anything off-putting in you. But, I tell this story because this experience occurred just as I was beginning to think about All Saints Day. And it got me thinking about our call to develop a new way of thinking as saints. Yes, saints. I know, when they start dividing up the saints and sinners, we think it best to humble ourselves and go with the sinners. But, as I often do on this day of All Saints’, I call attention to one of the many legacies of the Reformation that we remembered last Sunday. That is the understanding that we are simultaneous sinner and saint.
This morning’s second reading puts it this way – the love of God has made us children of God. And just as the world didn’t know Jesus – after all, the people of his time questioned him, tested him, doubted him, rejected him, and ultimately crucified him – (all things we continue to do today in the ways that we treat one another because we who are sinners in this sinful world, do not fully know Christ); yes, in the same way that the world didn’t see the God-ness of Jesus, so the world (ourselves included) does not see the saint-ness in us. Yes, including ourselves. Just as in my story, we have a new identity that we are growing into, and with it comes a new way of thinking. Birthed in the adopting and renaming waters of baptism by the mercy of God, nurtured and schooled by the life, teaching, and presence of Jesus the Christ, cultivated and sustained by the leading of the Holy Spirit; our journey is ongoing, our transformation is a work in progress, our thinking is evolving, as we live as sinners who are saints.
Our first impulse, our first reaction in the face of trial or tribulation, our first response to attack or insult, our first thought in search for answers to life’s questions and challenges is that which is forged in the world. Of course it is. That is what we are used to. The world has been the overwhelming influence on our lives. It is the broken classroom of our formation. And it is a fear-filled place of self-centeredness and power-grabs, a ruined fortress of egotism and hyper-capitalism, a palace of privilege where (as Jesus identifies it) “do as I say and not as I do” hypocrisy reigns, our hurting and hurtful world is a place of othering and oppressing, a place of fear and stagnation. It has taught us much too well.
You could even say that we are addicted to this way of thinking. Yes, I use the word addicted in the same way that we are addicted to other things that are not just unhelpful, but that actually damage and destroy. And like other addictions, we have convinced ourselves that this worldly thinking is not a problem, we have it under control, and besides, it’s necessary for our survival, it’s the way we have to think and act to make it through each day, even to survive these most chaotic days.
As defined by AA and other organizations that bring healing to the addict, the first two steps of the 12 steps to recovery are (1) admit that we are powerless to our addiction, and (2) come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us. Perhaps All Saints’ Day is the best day to lead a 12-step meeting rather than a traditional liturgy – Hi, I’m Mark and I am a sinner. And the baptismal font reminds me that a Power greater than I – God – has restored me to being a child of God, aka a saint. The words of the psalmist remind us to look to God, to call to God, to taste and see, to take refuge, to see glory in, to proclaim the greatness of God, our help and our salvation, the one who makes us saints.
In the the humility of truth-telling, (what we call daily dying to self,) the journey into this new identity moves forward. A journey that will take us into a new way of thinking, about ourselves and the world, even death and what lies beyond this world. We are called to a new way of acting and reacting – not striving to be some cartoon version of a holy person – but made new for the sake of others, for the sake of justice, for the sake of peace, for the sake of speaking truth to power when others are oppressed, for the sake of standing with the outcast and shouting with the unheard, for the sake of dismantling the sin-supported structures to which the world continues to be addicted. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we do this work of resurrection and healing not to become saints; we do this work because we are saints.
As saints we see with new eyes, we think with a new mind. Our reading from Revelation reminds us that saints don’t find power in weapons and physical strength, we know that true power is found in something as weak as a lamb when it is the embodiment, the incarnation of the love and mercy of God. John’s letter that is our second reading also reminds us that as saints we can live with the tension of not having all the answers, not seeing the fullness of God’s promise, because our calm and our peace is found in the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus, the assurance that is ours in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Often on this day we hear the Beatitudes (in a few moments we will be singing them). They provide more examples of this new thinking that is ours as we grow into our saint-identity. We can be happy even when we see our spiritual poverty because in light of our truth we know to seek the righteousness of God and not self-righteousness. We can mourn not in despair but with hope and faith. We can refrain from greed and gluttony, and in meekness and gratitude see that all we need is created and provided by God. We can set our priorities according to Christ’s teaching, knowing we will be more than satisfied. We can share mercy because we have been given mercy in abundance. We can see God in others when we open our hearts; and we can see God in ourselves when we seek peace for all. In all this we can be happy as the saints God has made us to be and know that there is nothing, nothing that this world can do to us that will take away this gift, this identity, this hope, this relationship with the God who creates us, loves us, sustains us, who calls us claimed and cherished children – aka (say it with me) saints.
Devon, Toby, and Luna – we rejoice that you are joining this community as an expression of your sainthood. Because none of us can do this alone. We need you. You need your siblings in Christ. Together we are the body of Christ, individual members, working together to be Christ’s presence in the world. To be saints.
On this day of All Saints, in all humility, let us renew our identity as saints of God, recommit ourselves to having the mind of Christ (even as the world strives to exert its control), and reinforce our trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit that leads us this day and forever.
The Rev. Mark Erson,