The Sunday Sermon
SERMON: All Saints A 11 5 17
I read this week that getting dressed up in Halloween costumes is actually a very old and a quite religious endeavor. In the past costumes were intended to represent the eternal battle between good and evil. These days the Halloween costumes--and much of our common life-- seem weighted toward the latter.
But since Halloween precedes All Saints Day and since this is All Saints Sunday I thought I'd bring five Halloween riddles to the pulpit.
Q: What do ghosts eat for supper?
Q: What do you do when 50 zombies surround your house?
A: Hope it's Halloween!!
Q: What is the most important subject a witch learns in school?
Q: Why didn't the skeleton want to go to school?
A: His heart wasn't in it.
Q: Why are ghosts so bad at lying?
A: Because you can see right through them!
Molly and I visited Salem Massachusetts this summer and visited the historic home of one of her relatives from the 1700s. We were astonished to find in refined and historic Salem, Massachusetts that the entire town seemed to be devoted to the local industry: witchcraft. There were shops and books stores and restaurants and bars and all manner of establishment you'd find anywhere except in Salem they were all oriented toward witchcraft.
Knowing a little about the Salem witch trials and the sad chapter in our history when fear of supernatural forces led folks to lose their minds in their persecution of those who were different, having seen the play the Crucible on Broadway this year, we were horrified. It was like Midsummer Halloween.
When I thought about it, though, I think the costumes and antics of Halloween, whether for one night most places or 365 days a year in Salem, serve a real purpose. All the jokes and frights and weird costumes and gore aside, Halloween reminds us that evil exists, that we need to confront and resist it, and this draws us right back to the origins of this strange day and the eternal battle between good and evil. It reminds us that good exists, too.
Good and evil have been at odds since the beginning of time. Personally I prefer to look a little closer in than all the way back, though. I found a really intriguing opportunity this week in The New York Times. A full page article with a photo spread was in Monday's paper. It dealt with a political science class at Middle Tennessee State University at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The class was given access to the papers of U.S. Senator Albert Gore, Sr., father of our recent vice president Al Gore. The class was exploring the operation of a congressional field office, something in which I have interest and experience since I worked for a US senator in field offices in Alaska in the 1970s.
The students found evidence that the big issues then are still the big issues today. They included civil rights, immigration, gun control and health care. But the big surprise was that the language that people used to express their concerns and their grievances was the same as the language used today. People worried about justice and race bias and socialism and foreigners in much the same way they do today. I found that fascinating.
If you would like to look at the language people used in their letters to Senator Gore, I have posted the article on the parish bulletin board outside the parlor.
But the point I would make on this All Saints Sunday is that there are views expressed there that I would consider the views of the saints and other views that I consider, frankly, the words of the devil. And I am wrong. Because it is entirely possible, probable, I suspect, that the people I agree with were not saints and the people I disagree with were not evil. They could well have been saints, at least to someone.
Today as we celebrate All Saints Sunday let us remember that we are not trying to identify the official saints recognized by church hierarchy and miracle inquiries. We are instead naming people who drew us closer to God, people who helped us feel loved by Jesus, people who showed us how to live a faithful life. If any among you can cite someone who taught you how to be perfect (other than Jesus), let me know. This is someone we'd all like to meet. Otherwise, let's be generous with our appreciation and leave it at that.
Because God and especially Jesus and definitely the church know that we aren't going to rise to perfection any time soon. We are in spiritual kindergarten, as a friend used to tell me, and we are growing, but we have a lot father to go than we've come. No matter how good we get, and I admit some of you are pretty far along, we'll never attain perfection. That's not only okay. That's a blessing. We're human.
When we look at the readings appointed for today we realize that the white-robed multitude described in the reading from Revelation sounds a tad over the top for us. When we explore the psalm we recognize our own dependence and reliance on the Almighty and we start to breathe a little more freely. We are satisfied with the epistle's assurance that we are children of God.
Any struggle we might be putting up resisting our own saintliness is ended when we read what the lectionary editors picked for our Gospel. Jesus' recitation of the Beatitudes indicating they constitute the characteristics of saints help us to appreciate we are candidates ourselves. None of us attains perfection in any of the areas listed in this most remarkable of talks given by Jesus. Yet we know we sometimes manage to get one or two right and find ourselves planning to do more.
Looking at Jesus in his holiness is a piece of cake compared to trying to see ourselves in anything resembling a holy light. We are so awed by Jesus and so appalled by our own miscues and misadventures that we miss the point that matters most of all: we are trying; we are giving it a shot; we manage to get it together now and again.
It is as easy to imagine others achieving some saintliness as it is hard to imagine ourselves doing so. Isn't that odd? Aren't we humble?
No, actually, but we are hard headed. And a little reluctant.
Today at the Prayers of the People you are going to be invited to name and give a few--a very few--words to explain why you picked the saints you chose to name. Think of the beatitudes. Think about how you felt when you received spiritual guidance and comfort from your saints.
And think that someday you might be on the list of someone else's saints. Fancy that. Amen
An All Saints Sunday sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church Poughkeepsie NY Nov. 5, 2017 by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector