Sunday, November 3, 2013

For All the Saints' Life Songs

Today is All Saints Day when we remember and give thanks for all of those saints in God's church and in our lives who have blessed the world with their faith witness. We'll sing "For all the Saints" but we could just as easily sing a song by the contemporary Christian group Casting Crowns-entitled “Life Song” with a refrain- “let my lifesong sing to you.”  In the purest sense, this is what a truly saintly life looks life- a life song sung to God by a person who loves God and loves people the way God loves. Some saints are martyrs for their faith-Most are not. Some are held up as examples for the whole church. Most are not. Most are ordinary, anonymous men and women. Today we give thanks for them all.  The people depicted in these stained glass windows, people for whom we will ring a bell, and people whose name doesn’t ring a bell. Those whose earthly journey is completed and are now called “the saints triumphant.” Today we remember them all. And hopefully sharing their life songs guides us in ours.

I give thanks for my grandmothers- for Margaret who always made sure to freeze strawberries from the garden for me to eat since I would not be there "in season" and for Marie who shared her love for art with me as we took in a Chagall exhibit in Philadelphia. Neither of them was much for the church, and both struggled mightily in life. But they loved as they could and still are a part of God's saints. And I remember people I met in church-Pat whose sharp tongue was matched by her fierce devotion to God and family. She once told me cancer was a gift because it brought her closer to God. Her last earthly communion was just a bit on the end of a spoon as she told me she knew she was bald but she was beautiful. And she knew God thought so. Virginia encouraged me to be a person of faith. Henri showed me true sacrificial servanthood. And Ray. Ray told me when he first met me he didn't think I got what it was all about, but later what a great pastor I would be. But then he quickly added- "It has nothing to do with your own doing of course. Only the Holy Spirit could make it so." Yes- and I have not forgotten. All Saints now triumphant.

In this life we are saints too- saints militant. When I mentioned this at Table Church I watched faces crinkle up at that word "militant." Why such a war like term? Well, I think if we are honest, we know that the tension between living as faithful Christians and succumbing to other influences can be fierce. We are sinners and life is a struggle. Each of the saints I named and many others I did not, knew this challenge. Sometimes we have to fight to remain in the path of discipleship. The presence of sin in the world means we are often more sinner than saint. It takes being militant. Across our lives as Christians there are times when we will knowingly or not bless the world with our witness and will love people the way God loves. And other times we will not. But thank God we are not responsible to “saint” ourselves. We don't "saint" ourselves. God's love and promises do.  It starts in what we celebrated again last week- baptism. Where we receive the gift of faith, and that Holy Spirit working in us. And we receive something else as well-each other in communion here. Intended to be just a glimpse of a more perfect communion with the saints triumphant. So then what to make of the gospel this day? One scholar notes that some might try to translate Jesus’ teaching into a set of guidelines, as if they amount to a “to-do” list for potential saints. But to do so suggests we just follow the blessings and curses as “how-to” instructions. But since we do not “saint” ourselves, the blessings and curses create something different- a set of values that shapes how we are to understand God, ourselves and the world. It doesn’t make sense to hear, “Blessed are you who weep now,” and then find ways to make ourselves sad. It does make sense to ask, “In what kind of world does God’s blessing seek out those who are hurting?” And make our lifesong be about bringing that glimpse of kingdom. And Jesus’ teaching invites us to stretch our imaginations concerning the saints regarding who are blessed by God. The “saints” include not only spiritual superstars who attain exceptional virtue and the average. The saints include people who are vulnerable, those society routinely forgets about – or worse, takes advantage of.

The neglected, the isolated, those in poverty. Those who crave simply the gift of connection with others, and life with meaning. Who have no one to sing with, no communion to share. How are we connected to these saints? Now hear-Woe to those who keep their riches and enjoyment to themselves! Then the glimpse of God’s feast to come eludes us all. Jesus reminds us not only of how we are to respond but where God’s blessing shows up. Shaine Claiborne shares how he encountered a woman as she struggled through a crowd to get a meal from a late-night food van. Asked if the meal was worth the effort, she replied, “Oh yes, but I don’t eat them myself. I get them for a homeless lady, an elderly woman around the corner who can’t fight for a meal.” Saints militant.

Jesus’ words don’t create a set of policies for looking after others, nor do they amount to a list of demands that his followers must obey. Instead, Jesus’ words and our storytelling shape our values and our imaginations. Where we may see poverty, infirmity, or loneliness, Jesus pronounces God’s blessing and presence. Where we keep accounts regarding who deserves assistance, Jesus seeks disciples who would do for others what we desire done for us. Working for a world in which God is present everywhere, building communities of care and support. It’s a joyful, blessed world. We’re invited to inhabit it and to make our life’s song sing to our God who blesses like that. This is why God gives us a church. Communion with fellow saints in this life. In all its glory and frailty. Together we share love, and celebration, and pain and hurt and challenge. We hug, we laugh and sometimes we tell the necessary word of correction.  And we remember that in all of our glory and frailty God claimed those gone before and claims us- honoring promises, and saint-ing us, empowering us for blessing. So let’s celebrate God's work in those we miss and in those God is placing before us now. And sing a song for all these saints.


No comments: