A sermon for All Saints’ Day
Daniel 7:1-3,15-18, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31
From Ghoulies and ghosties
and long legged beasties
and things that go bump in the night
Good Lord deliver us. [i]
That prayer from a peasant’s Litany, near Cornwall, about 1500 has hung by the front door of our homes, ever since my parents gave Angie and I a copy for a wedding present. Angie has hand drawn copies for both our daughters and their spouses for their weddings. And once again, last Thursday, Halloween night, when all sort of ghouls and ghosts pirates and zombies all manner of scary creatures roamed the streets, it was peculiarly comforting. Although I have to admit, I believe it was the tornado and thunder storm warnings the high winds and rain that drove the frightful creatures who roamed that night from our obsess-ed sight. I’ll also admit, I did not see a single costumed saint roaming the street seeking treats. To be honest I’ve never figured what they would say:
[‘quisitive look] blessings or treat?
None the less Friday was All Saints day, which we are observing today.
The readings for All Saints are kind of new for me this year. It is the first time I’ve preached the RCL selections, which includes Daniel 7 from which comes the phrase
… the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom …
It got me wondering who the holy ones might be. The commentaries argue among themselves, sometime with themselves. The range of possibilities is from angelic beings, some interpret them as particular historic groups fighting or suffering persecution at the hands of current political rulers; still others interpret them as those who died in the power struggles that threatened to change the course of history. [ii] both of which are full of potential, that we will get back to.
But first, it was the blogging of a colleague who pointed me back to Ecclesiasticus 44, with its haunting phrases:
all these were honoured
in their generations,
and were the pride of their times …
But of others there is no memory;
they have perished
as though they had never existed …
It’s the second bit, about those of whom there is no memory that resonated with an experience at my daughter’s wedding. I had already meet many of her friends: Barry and Lisa, Kelsey, Mandy, and Katie; and there were friends who I had never meet: Chris, Jonathan, Jack, and Mandy; they all reminded me of those who reached out to her, but whom I have not yet meet: the Memphis Symphony violinist who stopped on the I 40 causeway and changed her tire; the State Trooper who, let’s just say justifiably stopped her, and told her: You have to tell your parents, and you know I’ll know. None of these folks will ever be in Holy Men, Holy Women. All of them are friends, perhaps motivated by philos, the Greek word for love of a friend, in Christian thinking Christ-like love of a friend. All of them are saints, of whom there will be no memory.
It will be … as though they had never existed … except that Family Systems theorist posit a multi-generational effect of family and friends relationships. In other words, thought I never knew my great Aunts they effect my emotional being. So, to the extent her friends effect Michelle’s emotional being, they will effect the emotional being of her great grandchildren, and therefore will be anonymously known. Perhaps not recorded in a book of saints, but none the less a saint.
However, there is more to saintliness than genuine generosity. Mark Tranvik writes:
Our designation as saints comes from our rich inheritance of Christ’s righteousness (Ephesians 1:11). [iii]
Saintliness is not derived from our generosity or morality, it is of Christ. Tranvik also notes saintliness
implies a significant responsibility [to] be an instrument of God’s purposes in the world… [iv]
Saintliness means being an active agent for God.
Ghoulies, ghosties, and All Saints Day, must mean it’s fall; and if it’s fall, stewardship is in the air. So is there a connection between Saints and Stewards? You have heard me say, I believe what we are really called to be stewards of is Jesus’ ministry to proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near. That is a purpose of God. When we take a step back we can see a connection between saintliness and stewardship: they are both of Christ they both impute being an active agent of God. Which bring me back to Daniel and to Ephesians.
Daniel is an apocalyptic book, a story of the end times, written in a time of great political, military and existential turmoil. The four beast refer to four military juggernauts that have swept across the land, washing everything away. Daniel points to the future, when God will set everything right, when the holy ones will rightly receive the Kingdom. Steed Davidson notes a faithful response is not to relax in the knowledge that divine justice and righteousness will come with Jesus’ return. A faithful response is a call to understand the challenges of living in shifting and uncertain times. [v] Tranvik ends his commentary noting the political aspects of serving God’s purpose.
When our communities, national, state, and local are gripped in cynicism and fear driven blaming it is our calling to point to the gift of good government, we are called to point to Jesus’ teachings to:
love your enemy,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you
offer the other cheek,
give your shirt, to the one who took your coat
do to others as you would have them do to you.
We are called to proclaim and act like the Kingdom of God is right here, right now!
And yes, I know all this is scarier than all the ghoulies and ghosties that ever roamed. And I know, no litany will ever relieve us of the divine responsibilities of saintliness and stewardship. At the same time, to be so chosen; chosen to be a saint, chosen to be a steward is comforting for the one who is the final judge of our living into such a calling is with us always, even to the end of the age. [vi]