Sermons That Work

To Each One of Us…, All Saints’ Day (B) – 2006

November 01, 2006

“To each one of us Christ is saying, ‘If you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do like me. Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried. … Do not be afraid. Those who shun suffering will remain alone. No one is more alone than the selfish. But if you give your life out of love for others, as I give mine for all, you will reap a great harvest. You will have the deepest satisfactions. Do not fear death or threats. The Lord goes with you.’”

That’s what All Saints’ Day is all about — and Archbishop Oscar Romero, who spoke those words, is one of our great saints. A saint, not because he’s been officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, but because he lived those words. He truly lived the gospel — the “good news” in a time and in a country, El Salvador, where good news, especially for the poor, was almost non-existent. When Romero says, “Do not fear death or threats,” it wasn’t a figure of speech. His living out the gospel resulted in his martyrdom.

Archbishop Romero is a wonderful example when we’re considering saints, because he actually was very much like each of us. He ended up being a great saint, but he didn’t start out being one; his sainthood came from conversion, just like ours can. It came from knowing Scripture — particularly from his study as a priest — just like many of ours can. His conversion came from reflecting on his life — what he believed, how he worked with people, how he reacted to situations, — and realizing that even though he was a good priest, a kind, pastoral man serious and sincere in his vocation, there was a part of his life that needed conversion. What made him a saint — what would make each one of us a saint — is that he opened himself to being converted, to changing his direction, to accepting the fact that he could change his mind and his attitude. In his case, that change was from supporting the status quo to putting his reputation, and finally his life, on the line for the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the poor.

That’s what Jesus means by saying, “blessed are you…” Blessed are you who live a “kingdom of God kind of life.” Blessed are you who see a “kingdom of God kind of life” as a life of service — of unconditional loving service — to all God’s people. Yes, being one of those who tries to live a “blessed” life sometimes means giving your life as martyrs today still do. But for most of us, it means taking the Gospel seriously and taking our Baptismal promises seriously.

It helps to remember that this particular section of Matthew’s Gospel that we read for All Saints’ Day is part of a larger context. In Chapter 4 we read about Jesus’ time in the desert before the beginning of his ministry. We read about the arrest of John the Baptist and the call of Peter and Andrew, James and John. Jesus’ ministry was growing, his “fame,” Matthew tells us, was spreading because of his preaching, teaching, and healing.

These first 12 verses of Chapter 5 are only the beginning of a longer sermon. Jesus continues by offering his listeners the images of being the salt of the earth or the light of the world. In a way, we’d be reminded of Jesus’ saying about himself in John’s gospel that he is the way, the truth, and the life. Here he’s pointing out to his listeners that they, too, must be the same. In John, of course, Jesus isn’t saying that only he is the way to salvation. He’s saying that his life shows us what our lives should be like. In this chapter of Matthew, Jesus uses different images to say the same thing.

The way for us to be salt of the earth or light to the world is to live the beatitudes deliberately, to take them seriously as a model for that “kingdom of God kind of life,” not as some nice pious clichés. We also can’t pick and choose which we want to live, which we think best fits us. They are all of one piece, and they’re all important. The beatitudes in Matthew are both poetry and prose, sermon and meditation. The words are reflective, yet challenging. Blessed are all those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who hunger for righteousness, who are merciful, and who are peacemakers.

The beatitudes are an invitation. They’re an invitation to examine our lives and see how we’re doing in this life we promised to live at our baptism. That’s one of the great things about being a part of the people of God: we have lots of help. We have the commandments, the beatitudes, the example of Jesus’ life, his constant reminder that he is showing us what God is like and how much God loves us. We have the words and symbols of our liturgy. We have our sacraments and our prayers. All these things surround us and offer us the support we need to become saints ourselves, to join the blessed ones.

We won’t all be Romero’s. But in our reading from Ecclesiasticus, we heard, “there are some of them who have left a name and there are some who have no memorial, but these were people of mercy, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten.” Every one of us is called to this kind of blessedness — to be people of mercy.

All Saints’ Day is a wonderful day to remember both kinds of people — the official saints and those who have been saints to us. And it’s a good day to think about our own lives and to remind ourselves that each one of us is called to be a light to the world. Remember, most of our official saints were folks just like us, but folks who were open to conversion, open to allowing themselves to go in a different direction because they knew it was the right way to go in spite of the consequences.

But we don’t have to fear the consequences, because all through the Gospels we’re reminded that God is with us. Archbishop Romero puts it well: “You are prophets in the world — you have to announce like the prophets — like a prophetic people anointed by the Spirit that anointed Christ –the wonders of God in the world, to encourage the good that is done in the world and to energetically denounce evil.”

That’s our calling, each one of us, and we can accomplish this good work by opening ourselves to conversion together.

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Christopher Sikkema


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