Nov. 3, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Nov 3, 2019 in Feast Days, Season after Pentecost, Sermons

All Saints’ Sunday (Year C)

November 3, 2019 

I began this week naming and praying for those beloved among us who have died since last All Saints Day, and I invite your prayers as well; for Sharon Boyd, Richard Pfeiffer, Roland Harper, James Julien, Mort Harmon, Chris Pierce, John Barry, and this past week, Edith Harman. They’ve been by my side as I considered the All Saints scriptures, and I invite us to imagine them as part of that crowd assembled around Jesus in today’s reading. 

These include verses also similarly told in Matthew’s gospel, but he tells it as the “Sermon on the Mount” and it’s delivered from a mountain. Not so in Luke, and there’s a reason for that; Luke describes Jesus preaching his most famous sermon from the plain or level place instead. Jesus does indeed go up a mountain in Luke’s account, but does so to pray first, and after a night of prayer, Jesus appoints the twelve disciples. Then he comes down to all of the people. This is a crowd of followers and seekers, doubters and skeptics, believers, —and disciples. In going up the mountain to pray and coming back to the level plain to the people, there is both a modeling of life for the disciples, and an act of powerful accommodation and inclusion for the crowd. “They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” 

Jesus knows how needful and extremely vulnerable they are, and how Hope hides in their need. He doesn’t call them to trek with him up the mountain to pray and listen to him, Jesus prays and then comes back to be among them right there. Would we have gone out to hear him? Publicly revealed your needs or your hope for healing? Here is where we get a definition of what a saint is; It isn’t about being perfect or pious, a saint is one who recognizes their vulnerability, and in that need turns to God. It is from this they find strength and courage to do what God calls them to. 

As we think of who sought him out, with hope that Jesus could really change something, imagine that crowd today. Is there anyone who could come through the Northwest and draw such an array? Who would inspire hope and draw a crowd of people who are homeless, unemployed, poor and wealthy, executives and street sweepers, football players and migrant workers, single parents, retirees, priests, poets and atheists? How are we called to that level place with Jesus? That’s what we do it here—gathering to pray and to hear his gospel, to let our hearts be healed and find our strength in him. 

For me, this is what helps explain his pronouncement of both blessings and woes. Having just healed and cast out spirits from those who were in pain and need, and allowing the power to flow freely from him in that blessing, he follows with words of woe to those who consider themselves invulnerable or apart from such need, those he describes as now being rich, full, admired, or living like the world is their party. We need to remember it isn’t about what we have, and it’s not that money or abundance is wrong, it’s about letting that define us, control us. The problem is using it to insulate us from people in need, to buffer ourselves against vulnerability, to imagine we are not dependent on God, or to pretend we have no responsibility to the poor and needful all around us. Luke places us all with Jesus in that crowd on the level plain.  

Jesus’ prophetic proclamation re-framed the reality of people’s lives that day and transformed it. I think of them as among those “who were the first to set their hope in Christ” as our reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says. That crowd of listeners recently healed included some who may have never considered those around them as important or as equally beloved children of God. That day lives were changed by Jesus’ healing and “the power going out of him” as it says, and by minds opened and hearts unburdened. In this sermon on the plain, Jesus is not only speaking of blessings and woes, he’s giving voice to the experience of their lives, and heralding hope. As Paul writes, we discover through believing in him we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” 

Which brings us back to this feast day of All Saints, because (as we talked about last week) none of us are immune to grief or death. It is the ultimate reminder of how we are all children of God on that plain together, and let me say, the power of shared lament is deeply consoling, and shared hope contagiously inspiring. One preacher says All Saints is “the practical and personal enactment of the words we spoke on Ash Wednesday.” Just as we acknowledged that we are all dust, and will return to dust, today we give thanks and honor those who have already returned to that dust, and live in the promise of the “God who first created humanity from dust and continues to raise the dead to life in Christ.” (The Rev. David Lose, 2016). 

As I look out at our gathering today, those of you I know are not people afraid to show vulnerability or who take our community of faith for granted. We resist the shallowness of a culture that tries to teach or sell us synthetic ways to keep such realities at bay. One way this creeps up on us is in the temptation to avoid what is symbolized in that crowd’s experience with Jesus of healing and the teaching which invites them to turn their lives towards something greater. I see it when people tell me they don’t want to hold a funeral or memorial service, and instead only a celebration of the person’s earthly life as we knew them. Don’t mistake what I’m saying here, because our burial rite is absolutely a celebration of life—but it is a celebration of one’s life in Christ, the wholeness of spirit continuing in the eternal life promised in Jesus’ resurrection. We leave a big hole when we try to simply have a party about what one was about in this earthly time, and not include the powerful promise of the eternal life to come. It’s pretending we don’t need to grieve (as well as celebrate) because it’s uncomfortable or we think ‘we’ll lose it’ if we cry. It’s as if denying Christ’s promise that life is changed, not ended, and this is not the end. Not only is the power of shared lament consoling, sharing it guides us to hope and faithfulness. 

We return to vulnerability here, as part of what makes us human, and when we deny or avoid this, we diminish our capacity for joy and happiness—joy and sorrow are not only inseparable, I believe they are capaciously reciprocal. Poet Khalil Gibran wrote, “the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears…The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain….[and] is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s kiln?” 

Church at its best can be a place that reminds us that God has promised, and does indeed meet us, right at our points of need, and brokenness, in all our saintly vulnerability. Jesus came down that mountain to a level place, to bless those in pain and those whose lives made them feel inferior, and to warn us away from the idea that we have no need of God or that we are greater than others. Jesus showed us our strength by charging us to care for our sisters and brothers in humanity, to love, bless and pray for those who wrong you, even those whom we most resent or think have no need. This is the courageous work of saints, some whose names we have lovingly written on these ribbons. We celebrate that they are with us in the sacraments today and this great celebration of eternal life we are called by Christ to share in.  

May we too find our vulnerability leading us to Christ, may we fill sorrowful hollows with joy, and may we find our faith send us out strong to serve in giving of ourselves. Amen. 

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

View lectionary readings:

*Note that we added verses 6:12-19 to the beginning of the assigned lectionary from Luke’s gospel today: 

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles... He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.