Just for today I will not worry
Good morning you saints of St. Paul’s Cathedral! It’s so wonderful to be here with you on this very special day, because we are not only celebrating one of the great and joyful church feasts, All Saints’ Day—giving thanks for all the saints, past, present, and future—but also celebrating that two new saints are about to be welcomed not just into this most blessed community but indeed the whole communion of saints.
Arlo Theodore and Mary Anne Stender-Custer most of us here have waited a very long time to set our eyes upon your sweet faces and meet you in person (and John and Tom, it’s good to see you too).
So Arlo and Mary, with your baptism which will take place shortly, we at St. Paul’s formally welcome you and bid you to take your places among the communion of saints.
When you think about it, the timing for this service couldn’t be better because God only knows, we can use all the saints we can get right now. Next Tuesday, life in this country, this state, this county, this city is going to change dramatically. And obviously depending on who’s elected, or what propositions pass, some of us will be happy, and some of us won’t.
But what I’ve experienced this election season, and this certainly isn’t original with me, is we are clearly seeing heightened levels of anger, anxiety, and distrust. Greater polarization, and a growing inability to simply listen to one another. Ironically, in many respects, the election is the least of it. It’s going to happen: people will get elected, propositions will pass, or not.
The real questions I think, regardless of the outcomes, are what happens next and what are we going to do about it?
How are we, as the body of Christ, followers of Jesus, going to be instruments of healing, hope, and reconciliation, regardless of how we may feel about the outcomes?
And how in the world are we going to be able to do this, when the situation seems so intransient?
Well to begin with, perhaps we need to rethink or expand what it means to be a saint.
There as many definitions of what a saint is, as there are saints themselves, but The Oxford Companion to the Bible, a good traditional source, puts it well, “In the Bible, therefore, the word, ‘saints’ refers to ‘holy people’—holy, however, not primarily in the moral sense, but in the sense of being specifically marked out as God’s people.”
Which is lovely. But once again, what does it really mean to be marked as God’s people in real life terms?
Today’s Gospel helps shed some light on just that. A similar, and probably more often read account of these teachings of Jesus is found in Matthew’s Gospel, and is known as the Beatitudes or Sermon on the Mount. The account we just heard from Luke’s Gospel, while very similar, however is known as the Sermon on the Plain and that points to a significant difference.
In both accounts Jesus go up the mountain to pray and but in Luke’s, he comes down from the mountain and teaches in and among the people. And this placement of Jesus is significant as the Rev. Dr. David Lose notes in a commentary on this passage:
What strikes me as interesting in both the narrative and description of the listening crowds is the profound act of sheer accommodation we see
taking place here. The crowds come to listen; they also come to have their illnesses cured, and demons cast out, and needs met from his abundant power. These people are vulnerable in the extreme, and Jesus knows that. So rather than invite them on a spiritual pilgrimage up the
mountain, or beckon his disciples up the mountain to about
about the people, Jesus comes down in their midst to talk to
them and to meet them in their vulnerability and need.
And it is there on the plain with the people, in their midst, Jesus gives them words of comfort and understanding. First blessings. And I think it is worth noting here that some believe a better translation of “Blessed are you,” is “Honored are you.” Think for a moment how powerful it would be to hear God honors you. You, with all your vulnerabilities and needs.
And yet at the same time Jesus also tells of woes. They’re if not necessarily warnings, certainly they are proscriptive in nature—don’t rest on your laurels, your comforts, or even your faith, if your faith does not lead you to a gracious and compassionate heart and way of being.
And with these in mind, Jesus tells the people, and by extension us, how we are to be in the world, which includes we love our enemies, bless those who curse us. Do good to those who hate us. Give to everyone who begs from us. Do to others as we would have them do to us.
Now, most of us certainly give lip service to these things but if we are very honest, there are times we don’t want to do them. We want to feel in control. We want to feel smart. We want to feel right and righteous.
We want to strike back and belittle, especially if our core values and beliefs are under siege and we are being belittled.
Now, I am not saying we should not speak up in the face of injustice, cruelty, or inequality. Far from it. We absolutely need to. But at the same time, we should seek to be aware of when we are speaking when we don’t feel in control, we don’t feel smart, we don’t feel right or righteous. When we feel vulnerable and it scares us.
We do need to speak out for righteousness sake, but not in such a way as harms another.
It is humbling to think how we are so capable of doing both. But we can show a different way, a better way.
For here is one of the great paradoxes of our faith, of following Jesus. It is just our vulnerability that allows us to be saints. To be a saint, Dr. Lose writes, means “not to be perfect, or to be different, or to be particularly pious, or to be zealous, but to be vulnerable and out of that vulnerability to turn to God in need.”
To turn to God in need.
Indeed to take our vulnerabilities and realize being vulnerable is part of the human condition, something we all share. It’s when we forget this, we are not able to truly speak and live out the truth in love.
Arlo and Mary, those of us here are about to make vows that we will uphold you in your life in Christ.
And then with God’s help, all of us, including you, will time and time again turn to God in our need in order to bring about a world that is just, compassionate, brave and based in love. Even when it is hard. Especially when it is hard.
It is the life-giving and sacred work we have been given to do. It can also feel overwhelming. But perhaps here is a way we can start, a simple step.
The words I opened this sermon with, some of you are familiar with, are called the Five Pillars of Reiki, which is a form of energy healing that originated in Japan. If we can set an intention each day to live out these five things, God will use our intentions to help us, with all our vulnerabilities to be the saints we are created to be.
So on this All Saints Sunday, let us pray asking for God’s help, not just for Arlo and Mary’s sake, but indeed for the whole of God’s creation:
The Rev Canon Allisyn Thomas
St. Paul’s Cathedral
6 November 2016
Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible, “Saint(s)” (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 668
David Lose, “All Saints’ Sunday C: Saintly Vulnerability, . . . in the Meantime (accessed 1 November 2016 at http://www.davidlose.net/2016/11/all-saints-c-saintly-vulnerability).