All Saints’ Sunday
November 2, 2014
I always experience a cognitive dissonance on All Saints’ Day. On one hand, we are told in the passage from Revelation that the saints of God are those who “who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That is, the saints are those who were persecuted and martyred for their commitment to Jesus Christ.
Yet, we have also just sung a hymn that tells us you can meet the saints in shops or at tea and that the saints of God are “folk just like me.”
So which is it–martyrs or shoppers, super heroes or average Joes?
Although the Greek word for saints in the New Testament is applied to all followers of Jesus Christ, we have been trained to think of saints as the men and women in the Bible and in history who have given away their lives for Christ—either literally like the martyrs or figuratively like Mother Theresa and Saint Francis.
One reason I love having a Wednesday Eucharist at noon is because it allows us to celebrate such superheroes, ancient and modern.
A couple of weeks ago we celebrated one of my favorites, whom I’ve mentioned before. His name is Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky. Born a Jew in Lithuania in 1831 he converts to Christ during graduate school in Germany and is ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1859.
He goes to China as a missionary, learning Chinese on the boat ride over. He begins translating the Bible and parts of the Prayer Book into Mandarin. He becomes bishop of Shanghai in 1877 and begins translating the Bible into the Wenli dialect. But then at age 52 he is stricken with paralysis—yet he continues his translating work. It is said Schereschewsky “completed his translation of the Bible, typing some 2,000 pages with the middle finger of his partially crippled hand. Four years before his death, he said, “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.” Lesser Feasts and Fasts
He could have spent the remainder of his life until he died at the age of 75 fighting that wheelchair instead of the translating. He could have said when he reached 65—enough, I’ve done all I can for Christ, time to spend my golden years on me.
Such heroes teach us a crucial truth: when you resist your life you lose it. When you surrender to Christ the life you have at any moment you find it.
Notice “surrender” here does not mean to give up and fall into despair. By surrendering Schereschewsky offers himself, paralyzed and old, to whatever work God has for him to do.
But there is also a danger here if we take the wrong message from the story of the superstars. If we think of these people as being so much stronger, smarter, and braver than we are, then it is easy to excuse ourselves from following the path of discipleship God has created for us.
In other words, if we think they are so different from us, we give ourselves permission to lead uninspired and uninspiring lives. When we create a category called “Super Christian” we have at the same time created a category called “Average Christian”. Therefore we can claim the title “God’s frozen chosen” as a badge of honor instead of as a critique, because we’re convinced that’s all we’re capable of being.
When we celebrate saints we put our attention on the person and say Wow!
What we are called to do, however, is to put our attention on Christ working through them and say, “Wow!”
If the Spirit of God can use an old man in a wheelchair, then the Spirit of God can also use us when we say “Yes” to God.
The ground is level at the foot of the cross. When we take this in, we can finally relax into the grace that accepts us as we are, no matter our sins, failures, and disabilities. We can thank God we don’t have to “climb every mountain” to get to God!
But this is only the first half of the good news.
The other half is found when we reflect on the fact that Mother Theresa and Saint Francis are standing next to us at the cross. This is so odd, so unexpected, so unbelievable until it finally dawns on us that the God who uses them also has plans for us.
C. S. Lewis captures these two sides of the Good News when he says that God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.
Parents watching their one year old, like Baby Scarlett being baptized today, take her first steps are easy to please—she stumbles and falls, but all the parents can talk about are the three steps she took between the coffee table and the couch. You’d think she’d just climbed Mt Washington. They are so easy to please!
But when that child is 21 years old those parents aren’t satisfied with those first steps, because now their daughter is running marathons.
–Easy to please, but hard to satisfy because God keeps calling us onward.
And we know that sometimes even marathon runners fall down or get blown up and lose a leg and then God is easy to please as they take that first step with an artificial leg and hard to satisfy as they learn to run again.
God knows what we are created to be and to do—and God gives us the power to pay attention to where Christ is working in our lives.
It is a universal fact that what we pay attention to in life increases. Keep focusing on that toothache and before long that pain is all you can feel. Focus on what you lack and you will lack more. Focus on your fears and one day you will never leave the house. Focus on your regrets and they will overwhelm you.
But focus on what is going well in your life and your wellness will grow. Focus on your strengths and you become stronger. Focus on the beauty in others and you will see less ugliness. Focus on the light and you will see as Christ sees.
We are inundated with darkness—Ebola, Isis, and fear.
But today we focus on the light—the light made visible in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the light that shines through our lives when we say, like the Virgin Mary, “let it be done to me according to your word.”
Like St Paul who says, “When I am weak then I am strong” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Like Saint Irenaeus who said, “The Glory of God is people fully alive.”
In today’s gospel Jesus says pay attention to what God blesses and you’ll see what the qualifications to be a saint are.
Have you ever felt depressed and overwhelmed—that is, poor in spirit? If so, look out for the blessing of God.
Have you ever grieved your losses, have your ever mourned? If so, look out for the blessing of God.
Have you ever hungered for justice and healing for the billions who live in disease-ridden poverty?
If so, look out, look out—for God means to make you a saint, for that is what you are: one of those broken down, water-baptized, Spirit-filled people who shop, drink tea, raise families, do good work, and serve their neighbors, because they trust more in God’s power than in their weakness.