The Community of Saints

Sermon for Sunday, November 6th, 2016 ||  All Saint’s Day, Year C, with Holy Baptism||  Ephesians 1: 11-23; Psalm 149; Luke 6: 20-31 ||  The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

I love celebrating All Saints Day, because it’s such a tangible reminder that we are all intimately connected to something so much bigger than ourselves: to our histories, to all the saints who’ve been a part of shaping them, and to each other. We’re connected to the entire intercommunion—or community– of saints. And there is tremendous comfort in remembering that our world didn’t just drop out of the sky fully formed yesterday, but has been unfolding and expanding and enlarging in a way that transcends time, binding us to all those who’ve come before us and to all those who will live and breath, laugh and cry, long after we’ve gone.

And today is an especially celebratory All Saints Day for us, as we welcome two very young new saints into Christ’s church—Nathan and Isla.

Now, perhaps like me, when you were growing up you thought All Saint’s Day was all about honoring the super-holy, officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church type saints—saints like Bernadette and Joan of Arc…Francis and Bernard. I wasn’t even raised Catholic, and I still thought that to be a saint you had to have visions and work miracles and be a religious super-hero of sorts.

So it was definitely news to me when I came back to the church as an adult and learned that we’re all saints– you, me, the person sitting next to you… our familial ancestors, our ancestors in the faith…the men and women who built this church, whose names are on windows and pillars and in books and on the altar hangings. All of us are saints together, and it says so right on page 862 of The Book of Common Prayer. It says, “The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.”

The whole family of God…bound together…in sacrament, prayer and praise. Defying political parties, defying denominational distinctions, defying all the labels we slap on each other to catalog and to characterize, defying even time itself. We are bound together with all who came before us, known and unknown, those we loved and those we hurt….bound together such that they are with us—however mysteriously– in the sacraments, in our prayers, and in our praise. Just as we will be with those who come after us. That is the communion of saints. All this wonderful connectedness!

But the communion of saints is actually even bigger and more expansive than that. The communion of saints embraces all of God’s people—not just those we love but those we hurt and those we might just as soon leave out. It embraces the poor and the rich, the hungry and those with plenty, those who mourn and those who laugh, outsiders and insiders, those who are hated and reviled, and those who are liked and respected…all those who Jesus calls blessed and all those for whom he foresees woe. The whole family of God, with no exceptions.

This, I think, is one of the hardest Christian truths for us to swallow—but one that Luke teaches us repeatedly in his gospel: that Jesus came to heal the saint and the sinner, the prince and the prostitute, the rich young man and the poor old widow, the son who squanders his inheritance and the obedient, albeit self-righteous, older brother. Everyone has a place at Christ’s table. Everyone belongs in the community of saints. We are all connected in Christ.

But with this gift of community and connectedness comes responsibility: “Listen,” Jesus says to us in no uncertain terms, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who treat you spitefully…Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

This, Jesus seems to be saying, is the price of admission to the communion of saints. And what a price!   It means sacrificing our hurt pride and our bruised egos, and letting go of our grudges for the sake of loving, blessing, and praying for those who don’t even like us, much less treat us well. It means giving to the poor, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving, welcoming the outsider, and otherwise committing to being present, as God’s family, to all those Jesus calls “blessed,” but towards whom it’s so sinfully easy for us to turn a blind eye. And it means treating with equal compassion and understanding those who are privileged and well-respected, who appear to live care free lives, seemingly wanting for nothing yet confronted by Jesus’ warnings of woe.

This is tough stuff. But this is what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ. This is the cost of admission to the communion of saints. This is what it looks like when we’re the “whole family of God, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.”

Now, of course we have no hope of living into any of this without God’s grace. Even with it, we’ll never do it perfectly this side of the grave. But let’s be very clear about one thing: Jesus isn’t setting before us a bunch of lofty ideals beyond human capability. The “golden rule” isn’t a job description for St. Bernadette or St. Joan. It’s for us. It’s for little Nathan. It’s for Isla. It’s God’s will for all of His saints—and it’s made possible for us in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because we are all perfectly capable of praying, like Paul, for God to “enlighten the eyes of our hearts” so we may know the immeasurable greatness of his power– power that can change us, and bless others.

We are all capable of asking God for the willingness, the strength and the courage to pray for those who have wronged us, and to treat them as we so wish they would treat us.

We are all capable of bringing a can of soup or a box of cereal with us to church each week for the food pantry, or of visiting someone who is lonely or ill.

We’re all capable, precisely because we’re all saints already: you, me, the person sitting next to you in the pew… our familial ancestors, our ancestors in the faith…the men and women who built this church, these two little ones we’re about to baptize. All of us are saints, intimately connected by God, bound together in Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to love one another– if we but ask for the will to do so.

So let’s ask. Let’s honor those who came before us by being a blessing to those who follow. For this is the hope to which God has called us–all of us–as his saints. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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