All Saints’ Sunday
November 5, 2017
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One thing must be perfectly clear on this 500th Anniversary year of the Reformation. Protestants don’t have saints. Dr Martin Luther wanted to be perfectly clear about that. The practice in the Roman church is that certain people are so favored by God and live such exemplary lives that they earn more credit toward heaven than they need, so there is a surplus of merit that is unused when they die. That merit is available for those whose lives are not so exemplary to draw on, so ordinary folk can draw on the merit of the saints to help them close the gap between what they have done on earth and what they need to get to heaven. In claiming that each of us has been saved for heaven already by God’s gracious love poured out in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, Luther blew up that whole system of sainthood. His claim was that God does not need our good works, it is only our neighbor who is helped by them.
So who are the Saints we celebrate today? I can tell you about my Grandma whose quiet life of prayer came out in the care she took of her household and all of us, even though we were far away. I can tell you about my Grandpa, who prayed before each meal and pronounced the blessing – “The Lord bless you and keep you….” upon us at the end of dinner, his voice trembling with emotion because he was so grateful we were together and one never knew if it would be the last time. I can tell you about my mother’s mother, “Mammy,” who converted from her Jewish background to Roman Catholicism to marry Joe Doyle, and went to Mass every Sunday for the rest of her life. My Dad held every church office available and taught a Bible Study on Sunday mornings for years, and my Mom led Lutheran Braille Workers, and held national Lutheran Women’s Missionary League office. My parents began to tithe after my Dad recovered from a life-threatening illness when I was 14. They raised me to do the same. My Aunt Anita was my Godmother, and never failed to send birthday cards, letters, gifts, and to nurture my life of faith.
I’ve come to the time in life when more of the people I have loved dearly are waiting for me in heaven than are here of earth, parents and grandparents, friends, colleagues. I loved them in spite of their imperfections, or maybe because of them. And I loved them because they loved me, even though I failed so often to be the kind of child or friend that they wanted or needed me to be. I guess that is why this morning’s reading has touched me so deeply. It tells me that God sees us in all our failure and emptiness and longing, and loves us.
This is Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew’s Gospel, and this is how it starts, with blessing.
He blesses being spiritually weak, feeling bereft, pining for justice, recognizing that peace is so fragile, feeling odd because the rules you live by are so different than those of the people around you. He gives hope to those who face the loss of hope and who live on the edge of despair. He assures us that God sees our wounds, God loves us in all our woundedness. And he promises that no matter who you are or what you lack, God is with you. Jesus knows all the pain of the losses and struggles he blesses. Scripture tells us that, in fact, he suffered them all, and was persecuted even to death by the very people he came to save.
I was listening to an old interview with my favorite theologian, Jurgen Moltmann. He said, “God is a God of wroth, indeed. But God’s mercy always trumps God’s wroth!” The Apostle Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Trusting this to be true makes all the difference. We are God’s saints, the ones who struggle to be faithful, to be brave, to be kind. We are the ones who are blessed beyond what we are unable to do. The power that raised Jesus from the grave is the same power that changes us from being inward and craven to being loving and generous. It is the power that makes the small and great things we do in our families and our world to relieve suffering and despair possible.
We are God’s saints as we trust that we are part of the way that God works in the world, creating a more just and peaceful place. Whoever expected that God would bless our failures, our longings, our attempts at healing? Whoever expected that our sufferings and anxieties are blessed. Whoever expected that our yearning to be better, try harder, do more are meant to bless the world we’re part of? Did you ever think of yourself as a saint? Uncelebrated and unlikely as you may be, you are the one who is loved into life now and forever, simply because God sees you, walks with you, and loves you. Amen.