All Saints’ Sunday, November 5-6, 2016
Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA + The Rev. Roy Almquist
Once we get beyond Christmas and Easter, the holiday most cherished by Christian people is Mother’s Day. I suppose one of the reasons we cherish Mother’s Day is that it reminds us of our unqualified indebtedness to others – particularly our mothers. For everything that is important to us ‑‑ our lives, our character, our faith, and our values ‑‑ all these things have been shaped by those who have loved us and encouraged us.
Today we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday … the ultimate Mother’s, Father’s and Mentor’s Day for the Christian Church. All Saints’ Sunday reminds us of our indebtedness to those who have gone before us, endowing us with the sacred traditions that undergird our faith.
As we observe this Festival we pause to remember those blessed saints who taught us to say grace before a meal, who helped us end our day with bedtime prayers, and encouraged us to think of others beyond ourselves.
Today we also remember those dedicated priests and lay leaders, who lived the faith publicly … pointed us toward Jesus … and encouraged us to walk in the way of trust and obedience, modeling by their example the meaning of faith in Jesus Christ. For me it was Fred Smith, my Sunday School teacher for several years, Pastor Clarence Leslie, who first talked to me about what it might mean for me to be a Pastor, and Dr. Hagen Staack, my Religion Professor at Muhlenberg who convinced me that the Christian faith could stand up to intellectual inquiry of the highest level.
On All Saints Sunday we recognize that the Christian faith did not begin with you and me, but indeed we are the recipients of gifts and blessings from those who placed our feet upon the path of faith in Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel lesson for today is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes in what is called The Sermon on the Plain. Luke’s version is briefer than Matthew’s and has a bit more snap to it. While Matthew has Jesus communicate with poetic elegance, Luke has our Lord speak bluntly to the people in expressions of sharp contrast. No one can say that Jesus is hard to understand … no, his words are clear, but they are challenging. Listen to Jesus’ words as set out in Eugene Peterson’s intriguing translation:
You are blessed when you are ravenously hungry. (Only) then you are ready for the Messianic meal. You are blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning. 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 ~ skip like a lamb, if you like! ~ for even though they do not 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. …
But it is trouble ahead, if you think you have it made. What you have is all you will ever get. And it is trouble ahead if you are satisfied with yourself ~ Your self will not satisfy you for long. And it is trouble ahead if you think life is all fun and games. There is suffering to be met, and you are going to meet it.
There is trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests ~ look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.
Poverty, hunger, mourning, hatred, exclusion, revilement and defamation – these things certainly do not seem to describe a blessed life! And yet Jesus is convinced that they do.
All Saints’ Sunday celebrates our connection with all Christian people of every time and place: women and men, rich and poor, all nationalities and complexions, from our home town and from all around the world … all are one in Jesus Christ and all are called to carry the good news of Jesus into all the world.
Frederick Buechner, the great preacher and Christian writer, once said of God:
In his holy flirtation with the world, God sometimes drops a handkerchief. Those handkerchiefs are called saints.
[Frederich Beuchner, Wishful Thinking]
Handkerchiefs dropped in holy flirtation … what a wonderful description of those gentle Christians who have shaped our lives. Sadly, it often seems like all subtlety has gone out of life today as we opt for the loud, the profane, the insulting, and the self-indulgent. Nothing is soft and gentle anymore. Flirting seems to have gone out of style … no one has an intermediary carry a message to the one who is admired.
Today things go by so rapidly that there is no time for relationships, for that delicate and delicious dialogue we call getting-to-know-you. There is a spirit in the world ~ I would say an evil spirit ~ that tempts us toward the raw and the immediate, the quick and the dirty. That spirit seems to offer fulfillment ~ it seduces us ~ but it has no character or integrity to it.
We live at at time when there are many people who are either angrily hostile toward the Church or, what might be worse, thoughtlessly indifferent.
How much we need the witness of the saints of years past, who have walked the path of life that we walk and have endured suffering and duress.
How much we need to learn from those who trusted in the message of God … believed the good news Jesus proclaimed, and lived with hope and confidence.
When people tell me they have no time for the Church and do not believe in Jesus Christ, I want to know what they are putting in the place of the Lord and His Kingdom. What is their centering truth … where do they find the still point in the wildly turning world in which we live … what are the words ~ the message of hope that gives them purpose … a sense of mission … the courage to face death. What do they have to share with others?
All Saints Sunday reminds us that God comes to us in mystery, over time, subtly, as Buechner says, in a holy flirtation with the world. Today we acknowledge that the faith of the saints is our inheritance. But the faith of the saints is also our responsibility. We must see that it is kept alive and passed on to those who will follow us.
On this All Saints Sunday I would like to close with the beautiful words with which St. Paul concludes his First Letter to his protégé Timothy:
… the time for my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but to all who have longed for his appearing.
[II Timothy 4: 6-8] AMEN.