The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector
We gather this morning to celebrate the confluence of three significant occasions: All Saints Sunday, the in-gathering of our stewardship pledges for 2020, and our 150th anniversary of being established as a parish. So Happy All Saints, Happy successful stewardship campaign, and Happy Anniversary!
A few weeks ago, as we were discussing the jam-packed plans for this weekend, Anthony said to me, “Gee, why not schedule a baptism for Sunday as well, so you cover all the bases?” I did detect a touch of sarcasm in his voice, when he said it. That would have made for a very full service. Anyway, no baptisms today. But very soon!
All Saints is one of the seven major feast days of the Church. Initially it was a feast to honor and lift up the lives of the great saints: Peter, Paul, Mary, (I know, I know, but not them!) John the Baptist, Francis, Martin Luther King. These were the Christian exemplars; role models of holy living and of how God desired us to live our lives.
Later a day of observance was added to honor the lives of the rest of us. We poor folks who fell short of the mark of the great saints. This day was All Souls Day, which occurred the day after All Saints. In the past few decades this observance of two separate days – one for the great saints and one for the rest of us souls – has been pretty much left behind in favor of honoring all people as saints of God, or at least having the potential for a saintly life, on All Saints Day.
Our Gradual Hymn, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” captures this theology perfectly:
“I sing a song of the saints of God . . . and one was a doctor, one was a queen, one was a shepherdess , one was a soldier, one was a priest . . . they were, all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.” These lyrics recognize the universality of the sainthood of all people, as long, as the lyrics say, they “love to do Jesus will.”
Just what is Jesus’ will that those saints loved to do? Well, certainly it was following the distillation of the Mosaic Law that Jesus offered us: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. I would add to that the New Commandment Jesus gave us the night before he died, which was to “love one another as I have loved you.” As Our Presiding Bishop states, “Love is the way!”
Today’s Gospel lesson from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, lists those ways of loving to do Jesus will that lead to our being saints of God. We begin with the litany of the Beatitudes and Woes, which describe who are blessed, and those who better look out in the world of God’s Reign. They conclude with this summary:
“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.”
What we have in this passage are commands about love, nonretaliation and forgiveness. Commands about how we can live lives loving to do Jesus’s will.
Dr. Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. writes this about the passage.
“[Jesus] brings satisfaction and belonging to those who suffer from poverty—which includes more than the people who lack money but also the powerless and the disenfranchised. His ministry feeds the hungry . . . and [he has] a penchant for eating with others [whom society rejects.] It also lays a foundation for the hospitality and meal-sharing that are hallmarks of the community he creates. The people who cry, who live in perpetual loss and grief and who have lost hope, will not be forgotten but will experience joy. Exclusion and persecution prove to be no match for those who share in Jesus’ prophetic, liberative ministry.”
A quick word about those “woe” statements and who they apply to: those people who are now rich, well-fed, laughing, and have people speaking well of them. Woe in this case is not some curse of damnation, but rather means look out! It’s a forewarning to those people who have wealth, health, and happiness and who take the good things of life for granted, and even worse, do not share those good things with, or comfort those who do not have those things. When Jesus says woe/look out, it is to induce an amendment of life from ways that are not of God, and to turn to the ways of saintly living that are of God. The woe statements remind us that God intends us all to be members of that great communion of saints, and that in God’s reign saints look out for the well-being of each other . . . not just for themselves. They do so by loving to do the will of Jesus: which is to tend the sick, comfort the afflicted, be companions to the lonely, the imprisoned and bereaved, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, to not judge, to not seek retribution, to be generous with the giving of themselves and what they have, to others.
For 150 years – in four different edifices, under the spiritual leadership of thirteen different rectors and numerous assisting priests, in times of plenty and in times of scarcity, the people of Christ Episcopal Church have striven to love to do Jesus’ will.
We have not always done so perfectly, and at times we have failed miserably. But after-all we are human, and the really good news of the Christian faith is that God is in the forgiveness business. Yet each time we did not live up to our saintly potential we heard that loving warning of, look out! And we took that warning to heart and amended our ways of life to be in line with the ways of God’s reign. One has only to look through our lovely commemorative booklet produced for this celebration to see the numerous ways we have done Jesus’ will and loved it! And that booklet is far from exhaustive in listing all the ways we have done so. It is why we are still here after 150 years, and why I believe God has another 150 years planned for our doing Jesus’ will.
In a few minutes we will gather-in our pledge commitments of our treasure so that we may determine how we can financially secure our future into the year 2020 and beyond. It is by the generous commitment of those gifts of time, talent and treasure to this parish that we will continue to love to do Jesus’ will. It is by the giving of those gifts that we will emulate all those saints of God – saints like Byrdie Lee, Charlie Buss, Mattie Jackson, John Sanders, Lollie Bailey-Nilson, Molly Vander Hoof, Mo Maloney, Jim Lightbody, Patricia Burgess, Al Corrado, John Sims, Jim Schiller, Ted Ray, and thousands more -who have gone before us in this parish these past 150 years; and who are a part of that great communion of saints. It is by the giving of our gifts in our pledge commitments that we honor those saints, and all saints, and recall that the saints of God are just like us, and we mean to be one too.
 Dr. Matt Skinner, Working Preacher web page: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4256 November 3, 2019.