A Sermon for All Saints'
I love All Saints’ Day! This is one of our major feast days of the Church, the day we recognize our place among all the saints, those gone before, those here with us now, and those who are to come. It’s the day we recognize and celebrate the fact that we swim in a deep and wide stream of a grand and mystical communion along with folks of all sorts from every age, the famous and the unnoticed, the grand and the ordinary. A day we recognize and celebrate our place in our tradition.
The day is special to me personally because this recognition of the connection over time and place of all the saints on earth and in heaven was what brought me to the Anglican tradition, to the Episcopal Church, and eventually to the specific parish of All Saints’ in Atlanta. I once had something like a vision of the communion of saints through time and space that flashed behind my eyes while viewing the relics of St Cuthbert in the basement of the Durham Cathedral in England, and I suddenly knew, as we sang in our hymn today, that I wanted to be one, too.
All Saints’ Day is also traditionally a day for baptisms, for welcoming new saints into our community, into our grand tradition, and we’re going to do that, too, with all the appropriate ceremony. So this is a special day for The Church, for this church St Simon’s, and for Jessica and Ryan and Havana and their families and friends.
It is traditional, as well, to read the Beatitudes on All Saints’ Day, and this year we are perhaps a bit startled to read Luke’s version, with not only its blesseds but also its woes, which are missing in everybody’s favorite somewhat spiritualized Matthew version. This is of course in keeping with Luke’s themes of God’s partiality for the poor, the right use of money, and how things of the kingdom are upside down from the ways of the world (remember how Mary sings in the Magnificat at the beginning of Luke her praise of God for giving the poor good things and sending the rich empty away, for raising up the lowly and bringing down the powerful).
It is important to remember that Luke’s list is not a check list for getting into heaven. Salvation was wrought by Jesus; our duty as those who are the beneficiaries of God’s love and blessings is to live out the kingdom values here on earth.
Nor are the woes God’s sneaky pull-the-rug-out-from-under-us tricks. We already saw last week how one who was explicitly described as rich, our small friend Zacchaeus, was declared to be fit for the kingdom, that salvation had come to him because of the way he used his riches to benefit the poor and because of his desire to do justice and love mercy in his life.
It’s the doing justice and loving mercy and sharing what we have with those who lack food, shelter, money, community, love that Jesus points us toward again and again, and we risk missing that message when we read the blesseds and woes and think only of ourselves and how we stack up. The beatitudes and the woes are not about us, they are expressions of kingdom values over against this world’s values.
I also think it’s quite fitting that on this All Saints’ Day when we welcome new saints into our midst and reaffirm our own Baptismal Covenant that we hear especially the last thing Jesus says to us today: Do to others as you would have them to to you. Even the secular world knows this as The Golden Rule.
But we the baptized have a special way of understanding it, and it’s not just about inviting everyone to your birthday party. Jesus says, pray for those who abuse you. Give to those who beg from you. Give away not only your cloak but your shirt, too. Love your enemies. Hard, hard stuff, this.
Our Baptismal Covenant gives us another set of specifics about how we are called to do to others as we would have them do to us: to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. The Baptismal Covenant is our job description as Christians, and this last part of it is how we particularly are called to observe the Golden Rule. Just as we want others to respect our dignity, to seek justice and peace for us, we are called to do this to and for others as well. All others, even those we consider our enemies. This is hard stuff, too.
But it is our duty as those who are the beneficiaries of God’s love and blessings to do our best to live out the kingdom values here on earth. We may need help with this. And we get help with this. You will notice that our response in the Baptismal covenant is that we will, with God’s help. We do these things together.
You will also notice that there is no provision at the end for the trap door to open if we don’t check off all these items every week. We look to the general confession and to the rite of reconciliation to address that issue. And confession is always followed by absolution.
Because here’s the bottom line: you can’t become unbaptized. You can’t become unsealed as Christ’s own forever. Through our baptism with consecrated water we die to the world’s ways and rise with Christ to the kingdom’s ways, and with the sign of the cross upon our foreheads with consecrated oil we are marked as Christ’s own forever. Whether or not we have been able to love every enemy or turn every cheek. Baptism is our first step into that deep and wide stream of our tradition made up of the mystical body of Christ. We no longer wait until we are nearly dead to make these promises to God in the midst our community.
But since we live in the world and we are tempted daily to ascribe to the world’s value system instead of the kingdom values, we renew our baptismal vows several times a year to remind us of our calling, and remind us that we live out this calling in community with all the saints, and remind us that we can only live out this calling with God’s help. And we vow not only to uphold the kingdom values but to uphold the others in our community, and specifically today those children to be baptized, that we will do all we can to uphold them in their calling to a life of faith. Because it is a hard calling.
And so because we are Christ’s hands and feet on this earth, we remember our job description. We vow again today, with God’s help, to live lives worthy of the gift we have been given: the gift of new life in baptism, marked as Christ’s own forever. We respond to that gift by promising to do to others as we would have them do to us - to strive for justice and peace among all people, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being.