All Saints Sunday: November 3, 2019
Year C, All Saints Sunday: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
At the time of posting, there was no audio recording of this sermon.
Good morning. Today is All Saints’ Sunday, one of the only feast days in the church calendar that we can celebrate on a Sunday in place of a regular Sunday schedule. If you look at the beginning of your Book of Common Prayer near the very beginning, on page 15, you’ll see that it is one of what are called the Principal Feasts of the church. It means that these feasts take precedence of any other day or observance. All Saints’ Day may always be observed on the Sunday following November 1st.
All Saints’ Day was first introduced in liturgy in the sixth century. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is what is called a holy day of obligation. As many of you know, my birthday is on November 1st. As a kid, I was mad that I went to public school so when all the kids in Catholic school were off, I had to be in school. As a teen, I went to a Catholic high school and they had decided that students should be in school for holy days of obligation, probably because they weren’t going to Mass on their day off.
So much for the history – how does it affect our life in today’s world?
I think that we generally have two ways of thinking about saints, and it turns out that neither one of them is very helpful. We think of “Saints” with a capital “S”: St. Peter, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Augustine. Saint Andrew. These are heroes of the Christian faith who made their mark in the world and left a legacy of holiness that outlasted their lifetimes.
And then we think of “saints” with a lowercase “s,” and we usually mean someone of heroically long-suffering patience or someone of rigidly upright moral conduct.
As I said I don’t think that narrowing our view of saints to these two types of saints is terribly helpful.
The saints we celebrate, those known and unknown, are women and men who lived and those who continue to live in deep communion with God. Their decision to accept God’s love and be a conduit of that love to others allowed them to experience the great riches of God’s grace, love, and mercy. We believe that God’s grace, love, and mercy now joins them to the saints and angels in heaven. For many, we will never know their names, but they are still our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As part of any person’s journey to the priesthood or diaconate, he or she has to write a spiritual autobiography. It is, in fact, one of the more intimidating tasks one has to do when discerning a call to ordained ministry. Upwards of twenty people will read this spiritual autobiography. It is the story of your own life and how God has been present in it.
But beyond the intimidation factor, it presents an opportunity to identify specific experiences of God and to reflect on how those experiences have impacted the person in discernment. It’s basically the story of a candidate’s personal journey with God.
When I wrote my spiritual autobiography, I reflected on some of the people that God had sent (and continues to send) to me in life to get through difficult times and good times. I reflected on how at times in life when I was most in need of help, somehow there were people there to help me. As I reflected on their presence, in many cases decades after people had come into my life, I realized that God had a hand in sending those people to me. It was part of God’s plan to keep me close.
As we observe All Saints Sunday, we celebrate not only the great cloud of witnesses whose bodies have left this world, but those whose friendships have shaped and molded us. It is a day to remember those who have entered eternal rest; and for me, it is a day to give thanks for spiritual friends, living and dead, who have brought me to this place. As Tennyson said in Ulysses, “I am a part of all that I have met.”
Each of these spiritual friends is a memorable piece of my heart, and through them, the story of my life unfolds and is told. I am who I am today because of who we were together yesterday.
Let me introduce you to some of my friends on this journey.
We can start at age six with Gwen Jacobs. Mrs. Jacobs was the mother of my best friend through elementary and middle school. She treated a little kid who came to her house almost every day for lunch with great love. She was Jewish and her commitment to her faith made a deep impression on me.
Meet Sister Mariann, a high school religion teacher who taught the love of an incredible God.
Meet Sister Daniel, who taught me to sing and whose classes in music theory got me through my seminary music class some forty years later.
Meet Sister Pat who wrote off a year of high school tuition so a student could continue in the Catholic high school that was a place of salvation.
I’ve talked about Saints Eleanor and Mary in previous All Saints’ sermons. Eleanor was my advisor in college and Mary was my maternal grandmother. Two women from radically different socioeconomic places in life: one an educated Bostonian, the other who left high school to help support her poor immigrant family. My grandmother was not yet born when her father died in a railroad accident and my great-grandmother had six children all under the age of ten to support. They were both saints in my life.
There are so many others. Meet Everett. Meet Christine. Meet Chris. Meet Bonita. Meet JoAnn, Joann, Joann, Joanne. There are lots of Joanns’. Meet Joan. Meet Kathy (not me, but another Kathy). Meet Ann and Ann. Meet Jane, Jane and Jane. Meet Peg. Meet Maryfran. Meet George. Meet Mitties. All of these people were and are saints in my life.
Queen Elizabeth II once said that 1992 was her “annus horribilis”. The mid-nineties, specifically 1994-1996 were my family’s “anni horribiles”. A good friend’s parents died three days apart in March 1994, my mother died in October 1994, my grandfather (my mother’s father) died in September 1995 and my father in April 1996.
That takes me to meet Marty. In July 1996, only three months after the worst 18 months of my life, I was introduced to Marty and my life changed forever. One of the greatest stories of grace and faith is in how I met Marty who was the person who introduced me to the Episcopal Church. Without that meeting, I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you today.
When someone is growing in faith, their life bears fruit such that you recognize God at work in them. Faith that inspires is faith that is constant, daring, and enduring. I see that faith around me in many ways. Friday night was just one indication of that faith being lived out in our community. If I had scheduled this three months ago, I never could have brought together twenty people to see a movie. But there we were. Twelve kids and eight adults who went to see The Addams Family. It might not sound like much, but the goodwill and the love and grace that I saw that evening is the underpinning of future saints.
Meet everyone here today. Your faith inspires me because it is a faith that challenges me every day to offer God’s extravagant grace. God’s grace is perfectly embodied in the gift of Jesus Christ and often manifests itself in the witness of friends who in their lives give us memorable stories of faith.
I am grateful that spiritual friends walked in front of me and left spiritual footprints. The next generation is counting on you and me for extravagant grace and a growing faith. They need us to make footprints so that they can follow in our steps.
On All Saints’ Sunday I offer a prayer of thanks for those spiritual friends who have gone before me, and I pray that you and I leave footprints of grace and faith large enough for the next generation to follow.
What is a saint? Think of our opening hymn, Number 293. “I sing a song of the saints of God.”
“One was a doctor. One was a queen. One was a shepherdess. One was a soldier. One was a priest. We meet them in school, at sea, in church, on trains, at tea, at work.”
I invite you to think of the saints in your life, the people who have helped you along the way to be who God made you to be. We are all saints in the making. May we have the courage that the saints who have gone before us had to live fully into the life of Jesus Christ.
Most sermons are recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for recent sermons, CLICK HERE.