Patient and Brave and True…

November 3, 2019

21st Sunday after Pentecost

(All Saints Sunday)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Daniel 7:1–3, 15–18

Psalm 149

Luke 6:20–31

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 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. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “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. 26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:20-31, NRSV)

Let us pray: God of unfailing light, in your kingdom the poor are blessed, the hungry filled, and every tear is wiped away. So, we pray that your kingdom will come and until it does may we be strengthened by this vision, to follow in the way of your Son who made it known in his life and death. Amen.

Today is a day set aside in the church year to remember the saints.  But not just the famous ones who have days devoted to them.  Technically this is All Saints Sunday and not just Some Saints Sunday.  To be clear, this isn’t like a cult of saints or anything…we don’t need special saints to intercede for us because God listens to them more since they were just basically better Christians than we are.  What we celebrate when we celebrate All Saints is not the superhuman faith and power of a select few but instead is God’s ability to use flawed people to do divine things.[1] 

There are certain times of the year where the differences in Protestant beliefs and ways of worshipping God is starkly different from our Catholic brothers and sisters.  All Saints Day is one of those days.  In the Catholic tradition the Saints are a big deal.  In order to be declared a saint, there is an organized, methodical list of things that must occur.

Number one the person to be considered for sainthood must be dead, for at least 5 years.

Number two the person needs to have demonstrated a life of service.  An investigation is opened into the life of the individual to see whether they lived their life with enough holiness and virtue to be considered for sainthood.

Step three is showing proof of their heroic virtue and how their life has drawn others to the faith.

Step four the person considered for sainthood must have at least one verifiable miracle attributed to them.  This final step illustrates that God has used this person to make the world a better place. Then and only then is the person elevated to sainthood.

Apparently, in the earliest days of the church each saint was assigned a day on the calendar.  Well, as you can deduce as the number of saints grew in number, the church ran out of days on the calendar!  Within the first several hundred years because there were more saints than days on the calendar.  Soon there-after the church decided to remember the many martyrs who had given their lives for the faith and other saintly people who lived and died and never received any notice, so the church designated one day a year as “Martyrs’ Day.”  It was celebrated on the Friday after Easter each year.  But by the middle of the Ninth Century the name was changed to “All Saints.”  It has been observed on the first day of November or the First Sunday of November ever since. And this, by the way is where we got Halloween.   It is celebrated on the eve of All Saints.  Halloween is a kind of party at which all the ghosts and goblins and devils have the last fling before the celebration of the saints who have conquered them.)[2]There are some traditions where people dressed up as the saints of old.  St. Francis and St. Cecilia and St. Christopher. 

Now in the protestant church, our Presbyterian way of faith, we consider this day “All Saints day.”  We celebrate all on whom God has acted in baptism, sealing them, as Ephesians says, with the mark of the promised Holy Spirit. We celebrate the fact that God creates faith in God’s people, and those people through ordinary acts of love, help to bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer to Earth.  We celebrate that we have, in all who’ve gone before us, what the Apostle Paul calls such a great cloud of witnesses and that the faithful departed are as much the body of Christ as we are.

It is quite a thing, really.   That we are connected to so many.  Connected to so much faith.

As Protestants our forefathers chose not to follow the Roman and Byzantine tradition of assigning days of the year to various saints.  So, instead we follow the lead of the Apostle Paul who chose to see all followers of Jesus Christ as saints.  Indirectly that is what he calls us in his letters. No less than thirty-nine times he refers to the members of the churches he wrote to as “saints.”[3] 

We don’t often think of everyday people as saints.  Like people we all know, saints like the man who spends every day for 15 years tenderly taking care of his wife of more than 60 years, visiting her in the care facility, feeding her loving her.  Or the woman after her husband left her with four small children.  She worked three jobs, raised her four children as a single mom and they all graduated from college.  These people are saints.

Saints are people who sacrifice, who give of themselves to make life better for others, they are people who exemplify God in their lives.  While, I am all too aware of my own shortcomings and sinfulness.  I feel like the little boy that I heard about at Halloween.  A woman opened her door on Halloween and their stood a little boy wearing a Superman costume.  As he reached out his hand he said, “Trick or treat.”  The woman couldn’t resist teasing him a bit. “Where’s your bag?” she asked.  The little boy replied, “My Mom’s carrying it. It’s too heavy for me.”  The woman sneakered and said, “But you’re Superman!”  He looked down at the S on his chest and looked back at her and replied, “Not really, these are just pajamas.”[4]

Even though the Bible tells us that because we are claimed by God, we’re also saints, most of us don’t believe it.  We look down at the S on our chest and then plead with God, “Not really. I’m only human.”

          As many of you know my wife, Monnie, is a Hospice chaplain and she spends everyday with dying people and their families. She talks about how hard and emotional her work is, but she also sees so much beauty in it.  There is something beautiful about all the pretenses of life being stripped away.  When someone is lying in a hospital or a hospice bed, it really doesn’t matter whether they are rich or poor, CEO or homeless, young or old, fat or thin, black or white.  All those pretenses and ways we judge each other fall away.  And what is left is what really matters.  What is left is a person in their core.  She says what she finds amazing time and time again is seeing how God works on someone’s heart and soul.  She has seen people on their death beds saying things like “I hope I have been good enough.  I made mistakes but I hope God doesn’t hold that against me.”  And over the course of hours or days or weeks, she has witnessed those fears of not measuring up fade away.  And it is almost like she can hear Jesus talking to their hearts and saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for your is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you are hungry now, for you shall be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh

The fears pass and the need to prove oneself as worthy fades replaced with a peace, a peace which surpasses all our understanding come fills their hearts.

So, this is the great disconnect with All Saints Day.  We are of course only human, but we are also, as the Apostle Paul put it “the saints who gather” in our case at the Indian Hill Church.  We are, as the great reformer Martin Luther said, saint and sinner at the same time.  We might not go around dressed in Christian Costumes with a big haloed S on our chest, but we do have a mark.  We have been marked with an invisible cross on our foreheads put there at our baptism when the words were uttered: “Stephen Rhoads Caine, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” And Your full name, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”

Each of us has that mark on our lives, a mark that calls us to live as saints.  We are called into living into our name as “child of God,” a baptized saint.  Of course, we never quite make it.  We are aware that we always fall short, of not measuring up.

So the next time you can’t sleep at night for fear of the future, or struggle to make through the day with a pit in your stomach that comes from deep-seated insecurity, or look around at the world as it is and recognize with the pang of insight that it could and should be better.  At those moments, may our pretense fall away, and may we be aware of our need to be utterly dependent on the compassion of those around us and utterly in need of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  It is in those moments, where we are finally grateful that Jesus seeks out the lost, that he eats with sinners, and blesses the sinners and the saints of this world, you and me.

Let us pray:

[1] Reverend Nadia Bolz Weber, A sermon on Luke 6_20-31 for All Saints Sunday: Small Acts of Love,

November 4, 2013.

[2] Reverend Dr. KC Ptomey, Homily for All Saints Sunday, Year A 1999. Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton Luke 6:20-31, “For all the saints”, October 31, 2016