All the Saints
They See the World Just as It Is
Reverend Teri Daily
Saints are those people in whose lives we recognize something of the shape of Jesus’ own life; we see, in their lives, the shape of the gospel. They are those who place themselves with the hurting, hungry, poor, and oppressed. They are those who see the world just as it is—the injustices, the divisions, the poverty and hunger, the consumption, the forgotten beauty, our individualism and isolation. They are those who see all this, and yet they still remember the goodness of God and, as Paul says, the hope to which we are all called....There are as many ways to live a Christ-shaped life as there are people in this world.
-- Rev. Teri Daily
Images above (and on front page masthead) by Corinne Vonaesch. Top (and front-page mastheads): Deuxieme Jour (The Second Day of Creation); Middle: Enseignement a la Foule (Teaching the Crowd); Bottom: Femme et Enfant (Woman and Child). Source: The Episcopal Art Blog, Posted by C. Robin Janning on October 14, 2013 7:59 PM
These fragile leaves, twigs, old letters, prescriptions, Bible pages and calendar sections speak of life’s mutability and preciousness. I stitch their vanishing beauty onto layers of salvaged and handmade papers in an effort to hold on to that which is essentially departing. Yet, I needn’t fear all the change and brokenness surrounding me, for God’s Spirit is always there in its midst. And, His word reminds me of His enduring love.
Image above: Book of Job 3 by Karen Crandall Simpson(as seen in ECVA Exhibition: Of The Heart). Words above by Karen Crandall Simpson. Source:The Episcopal Art Blog. Posted by C. Robin Janning on September 10, 2013 4:40 PM
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were 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.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
From early in its history the Church has celebrated the communion between the living and the dead that exists in Christ. The Church has celebrated that we are part of something much larger than what we can see or know, something that spreads across time and even bridges eternity. We have many Lesser Feasts in the Episcopal Church—days when we remember particular saints. But on this day we step back and look at all the saints—that glorious cloud of witnesses that has come before us, will come after us, and surrounds us now on every side. And we remember the saints in our own lives, very ordinary people who have shown us what a Christ-shaped life looks like in our own day and who have encouraged us in our Christian journey.
Now encouragement can take different forms, and some of those forms can be easier to swallow than others. Case in point—Ms. Katherine, who sat in the second row of our Baptist church in North Carolina. During Wednesday night prayer services, people would pour out the concerns of their hearts and a long prayer list would be compiled—deaths, illnesses, those without jobs, about to have babies, or who were moving. Somewhere in the midst of all this, Ms. Katherine would inevitably raise her hand high in the air and say in an especially pious tone: “I just want to praise the Lord.” To be honest, I had grown pretty irritated with Ms. Katherine by the time we moved. Every Wednesday night it took all I had in me not to blurt out: “Did you hear what these people are struggling with?” It was like she was in full-blown denial. Her focus on only the upbeat part of life seemed insensitive at the very least, if not blatantly self-righteous.
I bet when Ms. Katherine read the beatitudes, she read them from Matthew, not Luke. Matthew’s version consists of nine verses, all of which begin with “Blessed are…” There are no curses in Matthew, which makes it easier to read. And the hardships through which we find blessings are less physical and more spiritual in nature. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “Blessed are those who mourn…,” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” The bottom line—the suffering gets somewhat spiritualized in Matthew, which makes it easier to hear, easier to imagine ourselves among those who are blessed, easier to live with a little denial about what the gospel demands from us.
But then there’s Luke’s version of the beatitudes, which we have as our gospel reading for today. First of all, Luke doesn’t make the suffering easier by spiritualizing it. “Blessed are you who are poor”—no “in spirit” here; Luke is talking about real poverty. “Blessed are you who are hungry now”—not “for righteousness,” but with aching stomachs and no idea where your next meal will come from. “Blessed are you who weep now”—broken hearted at this very moment. By this point, it’s already hard for those of us in middle-class America to feel like we’re blessed in this version of the beatitudes, but then Luke piles it on with four curses that are the inverse of the blessings: “Woe to you who are rich,” “Woe to you who are full now,” “Woe to you who are laughing now,” and “Woe to you when all speak well of you.”
Given the fact that making $34,000 a year puts someone in the top 1% of the world’s richest people, not many of us reach the global poverty level. There’s plenty of food right out in the lobby, so no one here is going hungry this morning. It is perfectly fine to cry in church, but I’m not seeing an abundance of Kleenexes coming out of purses and pockets. And you’re here among friends who care about you and are unlikely to speak ill of you. So, according to Luke, although we may be in at least the top 5% of the world’s richest people, we’re not in the top 5% when it comes to blessedness. Maybe if we could add just a few words to Luke’s beatitudes, like “Blessed are you who pray for those who are hungry now” or “Blessed are you who give to those who are poor.”
But the difference between these two versions makes sense when we look at the narrative of Luke’s gospel. The beatitudes in Luke are about what it means to follow Jesus, and Luke’s Jesus shows special care and concern for the weak, the poor, the blind, the hungry, and the oppressed. It’s been said that, if you ask Jesus into your heart, he’s going to want to bring his friends. Another way to put that is that, if you want to follow Jesus, you have to go where Jesus goes—among the poor, the hungry, the broken hearted, and the outcast. I think this is what the saints know.
Saints are those people in whose lives we recognize something of the shape of Jesus’ own life; we see, in their lives, the shape of the gospel. They are those who place themselves with the hurting, hungry, poor, and oppressed. They are those who see the world just as it is—the injustices, the divisions, the poverty and hunger, the consumption, the forgotten beauty, our individualism and isolation. They are those who see all this, and yet they still remember the goodness of God and, as Paul says, the hope to which we are all called.
Now hope, for Paul, is not some passive, waiting game—like when we’re waiting to find out if we got a job, or to find out if our bid on a home was accepted. One of my favorite discussions about what hope is and is not comes from a sermon by Father John Jenkins, a Catholic priest and the president of the University of Notre Dame. He says that his most fervent prayer is that God “will afflict us with hope”—not “gift us with hope,” but “afflict us with hope.” We often confuse hope with optimism, but Father Jenkins is quick to draw a distinction between the two. “Optimism” he says “is simply the conviction that whatever the challenges, the situation is not really deeply problematic or grave. No matter how bad the situation, a solution, the optimist is convinced, is just around the corner.” But hope is something entirely different.
Hope doesn’t dismiss or downplay the evil, pain, and suffering in the world. Instead, when God “afflicts us with hope,” we become people who look at the world with what Jenkins calls “a steady, honest, unflinching gaze.” We see the world just as it is and yet, because we trust in God’s goodness, we still believe good triumphs over evil. In fact, we believe it so much that we bring all of our knowledge, energy, and skills to bear in seeking solutions to the world’s problems—be they environmental, political, social, spiritual, or economic. When we become people of hope, we become people with the courage to act. That’s what hope really is. That is what makes a saint a saint—not the optimism of rose-colored glasses, but hope that demands action.
Sister Constance, along with other Sisters of St. Mary’s, remained in Memphis during the yellow-fever outbreak of 1878 to take care of the sick and dying. Constance, three other Episcopal nuns, and two Episcopal priests died in the epidemic. As the Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero spoke out against the Salvadoran government’s injustices toward the poor, and against its use of torture, terror, and assassination. In 1980, he was shot and killed while celebrating the Eucharist. Jonathan Daniels was an Episcopal seminarian in Massachusetts who couldn’t ignore the discrimination against his African-American brothers and sisters in the Deep South, and so chose to stand with them in their struggle. He was killed in Fort Deposit, Alabama in 1965. None of these saints were blindly optimistic; they saw the world just as it was and is. But they also saw the unity we have in Christ and the hope to which we are called, and they saw those things with such clarity that they were compelled to act.
Now not all of us will nurse those with contagious, deadly diseases, or preach sermons during a civil war asking soldiers to disobey orders that violate human rights, or stand against racism in ways that put our very lives at risk. But we are called to live lives marked by generosity, perseverance, a thirst for righteousness, a willingness to move toward reconciliation and peace, solidarity with those who are considered the least in our society, and a desire to know God. And each of our lives will manifest that call in unique ways. There are as many ways to live a Christ-shaped life as there are people in this world.
So, if all of us are called to be saints, then where do we find our courage to act? Of course, we find it in the knowledge that we are children of God and held in God’s hand from the beginning of our lives, to the day of our death, and even beyond. And we find it in our own experience of God’s goodness. But on this Feast of All Saints, I want to recognize that part of our courage to act comes from knowing that we are part of a larger community—a cloud of witnesses, a host of saints, a very real group of people with whom we share our dreams, our fears, our risks, and our hopes. I certainly find courage in the knowledge that I am walking this journey of faith and figuring out what it means to follow Jesus with all of you.
And so on this day when there is such a tangible reminder in this church of the fact that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, especially these saints that we have known and loved and with whom we have journeyed, my prayer is that God will afflict us with hope. And I also pray that when God does, we will find strength and courage in the community of saints in this place and in the great communion of saints that reaches across space and time.
 Transcript from 30 Good Minutes, accessed online at http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/jenkins_5211.htm.