November 3, 2019, the Rev. Louise Kalemkerian
Sermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
Choral Evensong for the Feast of All Saints (Observed)
Welcome to all as we continue the celebration of the Feast of All Saints, with hymn and song, in the traditional Anglican way of singing Evening Prayer. All Saints is that day when we recognize and celebrate men and women who understood the challenge of living the gospel in the context of their own place and time. They are remembered because they lived it with imagination and devotion. They used what they had been given to live their lives into the freedom of the kingdom.
Episcopalians use the word saint in a biblical way. When we talk about the saints we are not just talking about the famous and not-so-famous who have earned a day for commemoration on the church calendar. Scripture uses the word saint to refer to all the faithful, even all of us here today. That mean we are also saints, yet most of us don’t believe that. We look down at the “S” on our chest and think “A saint? Not me, I’m only human.”
What we know about the saints we celebrate is that they were not born that way, they were formed along the way. The people we admire the most received grace upon grace so that an unfakeable inner virtue shined forth to bring light and guidance to our lives.
The lesson from Luke’s Gospel presents a picture of what life is like in the Kingdom of God where earthly values will be reversed. We call these promises that give us a glimpse of God’s Kingdom the “Beatitudes., or blessings.” Jesus spells out how he expects his followers to live, or be formed. These are the persons he calls to sainthood. Jesus turns conventional thinking on its head by stating, “Blessed are you who are poor… hungry… who weep… when people hate you…” Hardly a recipe for winning friends and influencing people! Jesus blesses those whom the world curses—the poor, the unemployed, the dispossessed and the oppressed.
Eugene Peterson, in The Message Bible puts it this way, “You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all.
God’s kingdom is there for the finding. You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry. Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal. You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.”
There’s no doubt about it, this is hard stuff. The point is that those who follow Jesus, instead of being filled with satisfaction at our own good fortune or keen insight, are those acutely aware of what’s missing in life, what’s wrong with life, what’s empty and weak, what’s lacking in the world where political rhetoric has become gutter language and gun violence runs rampant through our culture.
And it’s our call to try to change it. The bottom line, Jesus says, is that we are called to serve one another, we are called to help one another, we are called to seek out and advocate for those who cannot speak out for themselves.
Passionate concern for the poor is at the heart of the Christian way and the saintly journey. Many times in our lives, we have to choose sides, whether we side with those who have, or those who have not, and the Gospel imperative makes clear that Christians are on the side of the poor and hungry.
Peterson continues, “Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens… for even though they don’t like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.”
There are countless persons who lived in the 20th and 21st centuries I would count as saints. Persons who really put their money, actually their lives, where their mouths were: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Jr., Tessie, the 6 year old girl in Robert Coles’ book The Call to Service, ordinary, flawed people, like you and me, who did extraordinary things. Persons who lived into the blessings Jesus speaks about in the Beatitudes. Their examples are witness that the love of Christ can indeed change the world.
The important lesson the Beatitudes teach us is that Jesus does not promise us happiness all the time, but promises us God’s blessing when our need is most acute. That’s counter to the message our world gives us.
In every major religion in the world there is an ethic which closely aligns with “The Golden Rule” noted here in Luke. In every society, people have figured out that real service to another is not a tit for tat equation. Jesus initiates this ethic for Christians by setting forward the dictum at the conclusion of his Sermon on the Plain. “Love your enemies,” he says, “bless those who curse you,” he goes on.
Peterson puts it this way, “Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? …If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal?… If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity?
There are all kinds of reasons not to obey Jesus’ words of how to treat — say — our enemies, tormentors, those who take advantage of us. We can claim the demands are not possible, not fair, not realistic, not logical. But they are what it means to be a Christian, a saint. And they are the path to a life of love, purpose, and reconciliation.
Some years ago I ran across this anonymous piece about sainthood. It’s the best description I’ve found, and I think it’s eminently doable. It’s entitled, Why Were the Saints Saints?
Because they were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful; patient when it was difficult to be patient. And because they pushed on when they wanted to stand still; and kept silent when they wanted to talk. And because they were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable. That was all. It was quite simple, and always will be.