All Saints’ Sunday
November 3, 2013
“Beauty is as beauty does,” my Mom used to tell me. I remember it especially when I was a sophomore at Tucson High School. The really cool girls were cheerleaders and models for the local travel brochures. They usually had advantages that I did not – Dads with impressive jobs, long-standing friendships with other cool girls, families to whom fashionable and expensive clothes were important, and confidence in their important place in the world they inhabited. They were exclusive and clutched desperately to their advantages; obvious to me even then. Much as I envied them, I didn’t actually want to be them. Things haven’t changed all that much, I think. Face it, we live in a world that worships glory and all the trappings of it: powerful friends, success, money and the expensive things it buys, time to indulge yourself. You just have to pick up a People Magazine to get the scoop on what the beautiful, confident people are up to these days, and what the world admires.
And here comes Jesus: blessed are you who are poor, hungry, weeping, oppressed. And woe to you who are rich, full, laughing, so confident. It’s been a hard week for me to live with today’s reading: there has been a constant stream of people coming for help. They are people with meager resources who have experienced their worst nightmare – losing their job, a car that needs repair, a spouse who leaves with the checkbook. My heart breaks for them, they are trying so hard to make things work and there’s just no margin. There have been times in my life when I was dependent on the help of others to, so it’s hard not to be touched by their stories. I am glad to offer the help you have offered in the funds you have put into our discretionary funds.
At the same time that I am meeting these people who struggle so hard, I am hearing that SNAP benefits are being cut. And I hear the debate that rages about who deserves help and how to give it. This is not meant to be a rant about what we should do about it. I’m just hearing Jesus bless those who are poor and curse those are rich and wondering where I am in this polarity and what it all has to do with the Saints. Beauty is as beauty does.
One thing I know for sure. Jesus didn’t hang out with the rich or powerful. He hung with the losers, those who were hungry, riddled with disease, those who were robbed of their rights by a crooked political system, and those who were always being told they were not good enough, happy enough, beautiful enough. Not only did he give up his Godly advantages to become one of us, he began life homeless and as a refugee. He traveled on the support of others, never holding a job or having a retirement account. Jesus knew in person what it meant to be ‘the least.’ He stood up for the outsiders, and offended the elite by telling them that they had lost their way as God’s people and God’s ambassadors of blessing for the world. God’s prophets rant that God will deliver those whom God’s people have abandoned, and Jesus follows in their footsteps.
Today we remember those who have taught and modeled for us the teachings and the love of God in Jesus: the saints in history, many of whom also died for their faith, and the saints who were our own teachers and witnesses about God’s love. Today we remember their dependence on God’s promises as they lived and died, and our own dependence on the promises of everlasting life with God to which they witnessed. We remember that at the end of time, when God’s kingdom fully comes, there will be no more poor people, none who are hungry or left outside by disabilities and disadvantages. We rejoice that God sent Jesus to show us the true beauty of God’s love and how it works.
It makes me pretty uncomfortable that my place in the world is closer to the rich than to the poor and the hungry. It is a blessing for which I give thanks daily and sometimes hourly. But the beauty of God’s love makes me see my poverty. When I was in Mexico, I witnessed the generosity of the poor, who cared for each other because there was no one else to do it. They didn’t have much, but they had each other. In our riches, we are so prone to turn to our own devices for support, and to hide our needs. Jesus calls us to see our need as a blessing, the beginning of connection to love.
Jesus calls us to another way of seeing who’s beautiful. Jesus sees right into our fear and loneliness, into our isolation from the riches of community and being embraced by people who want to hold us up; the barriers of have and have not, of beautiful and not beautiful. Jesus sees with a heart for sinners, for failure, for all that keeps us poor and apart. The cross is the ugly reminder that God sees differently than we see. It tells us that God will go to any and all lengths to bring us into God’s kingdom where sharing and service and healing for all are the norm. It tells us that riches won’t save us, nor will a lack of them. The fact is we are all poor, we all need healing, we all depend solely on God’s mercy and love for our existence. On this day of remembrance, may you see your own poverty as a chance to be made beautiful in God’s love, and the needs of others as the opportunity to live beautifully. Amen.