Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
All Saints’ Sunday – November 7, 2010
May Christ be beside us as we go, the Spirit shine light on the way, and God the Loving Parent watch over us with love. Amen.
The Minister of the local Fundamentalist congregation wanted to be sure he got his point across in his Sunday sermon about living the virtuous life so he decided on a visual demonstration. He put four worms into four separate jars. The first worm, into a container of alcohol; the second worm he put into a container of cigarette smoke; The third worm into a container of chocolate syrup and the last worm he put into a container of good clean soil.
At the conclusion of the sermon, the Minister reported the following results: The first worm in alcohol: DEAD! The second worm in cigarette smoke: DEAD! Third worm in chocolate syrup: DEAD! The fourth worm in good clean soil: BLISSFULLY ALIVE! So the Minister asked the congregation “What can you learn from this demonstration? Crotchety, outspoken Maxine who was setting in the back pew, quickly raised her hand. “Yes, Ma’am,” the preacher acknowledged her. She stood and said quite emphatically, “As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won’t have worms!” Here endeth the lesson.
No doubt the Preacher was trying to demonstrate the inherent evils of drinking, smoking, and enjoying any earthly pleasure. If he were preaching today he would probably tell you that living that kind of life is the way to guarantee that you’ll never be numbered among the saints. Like so many preachers, he turned his focus to what you shouldn’t do, rather than what it is that makes a saint a saint.
Today we remember and honor all the saints but not so much the familiar, popular ones, each who has a special day allocated to their memory on the church calendar, but rather the Jacks and the Jills, the ordinary folk who constitute the whole of God’s creation and live by faithfulness. Sometimes they do remarkable things, expressing extraordinary love to those in need, and just in the nick of time. But these saints are not perfect or even near perfect people. When we overlook the humanness of saints, we fail to recognize God’s role in the making of saints. And so, All Saints includes us—as it well should.
What’s more, the word “saint” refers to all those who have been made holy through the gift of the Spirit. We are made saints in baptism (and in a few minutes Lena Joanna Ray will enter into that glorious cloud of witnesses we call the Communion of Saints.)
We get there simply by being a part of the body of Christ, sharing in the holy meal he has given us, living as the unique person God called each of us to be, and, above all, doing all we can do to bring about the reign of God’s Kingdom here on earth. That last item on the short list would, of course, be the hardest part, the real struggle, for most of us.
The question is: are we capable of understanding what life would look life if we were truly living it in God’s Kingdom and under God’s economy? Perhaps a little perspective is needed to help us with that one. We’ve just come through what, in my memory, was one of the most heated, mud-slinging, and expensive political campaigns. The general tenor of the country seems to be dissatisfaction with the way things are. People want things to be better—better economy, better employment, better everything. Are you aware that the top ten candidates for various offices across the country, who financed their own campaign, spent more than 300 million dollars collectively—and only two won the race?
Now here we might want to turn to the Gospel today. How many of the poor, how many of those who are hungry right now, how many of those in deep depression, how many of the excluded and marginalized for any reason could have been helped with even one third of that amount? “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
From where I stand, I think our undoing is to look only towards the would-be powerful and those in power to fix the world for us, to make it better, when the real work of building the Kingdom of God—a realm where there will be a reversal of worldly values, where the poor will be cared for, the hungry fed, the despairing given hope, the marginalized welcomed to the center in a community of God’s love and justice, the real work of building God’s economy—of making a better world— is ours, yours and mine, the saints who have been called to this powerfully holy endeavor. If we listen to the beatitudes in the Gospel today with our halos on and ears and eyes wide open, they may unlock our minds, even transform them, and enable us to recognize that what God’s Kingdom looks like is not at all what our world resembles today.
There is a segment of the TV program Primetime that asks “What would you do?” Actors play out situations in public places that are troubling—even potentially life-threatening. In the past few weeks they’ve featured scenarios of anti-gay bullying, and a bakery clerk making cruel anti-Semitic remarks to two customers wearing tee shirts with Hebrew words on them, and a parent drinking to excess in the presence of his or her kid and then attempting to drive to a soccer game which was part of this Friday night’s episode filmed in the Black Bear Saloon in South Norwalk.
“What would you do?” is the question host John Quinones poses. Some people just ignore the situations and go about their business. A few walk away in disgust. Others step in and confront what is clearly destructive behavior or an expression of racism, homophobia, and injustice. But the question we’ll be asked today, as we reflect on our baptism—our entryway to sainthood—renewing the covenant we made with God on that day is “What will you do?”
Listen carefully to these questions. They are more than words on a page. The Prayer Book version is more formal, but I’d like to paraphrase these questions so that we might think about what we’re committing to before we answer them.
Will you continue to gather here regularly in community to pray together, learn together, and eat together at God’s Table, gratefully taking the nourishment given in the sacred Sunday meal?
Will you recognize evil when you see it and, when you think it is luring you to a place you shouldn’t go, will you walk away from it and return to a place of grace and light?
Will you preach the Good News of the Gospel to others by the way you live—using words only if necessary?
Will you look into one another’s eyes and into the eyes of every human being and try your best to find the image of God there?
Will you work as much as is humanly possible to bring justice for the wronged, make peace where there is conflict, bring reconciliation and forgiveness to relationships in disrepair, and honor—even celebrate—the differences of every one of God’s children?
Do you want to know what a saint is? It’s someone who with all his or her heart wants to answer, “I will, with God’s help.”
The Victorian novelist, George Eliot, who knew well the full extent of the human condition, once wrote, “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” Recognizing the commonality of our human natures, our human struggles, our human hopes, is it not precisely through our hunger for being and living in community that we come to fully embrace our need for God and one another?” That’s the essence of the Communion of Saints.
It implies some hard work and it is and will forever be a struggle. Building a world that looks more like God’s realm than what our world looks like may seem like an overwhelming task at best. But Jesus didn’t say we had to do it all. He just said we needed to go out there and get about doing it—with the help of all the saints who surround you here today.