Sermons That Work

Today Is a Day to Feast…, All Saints’ Day (A) – 2005

November 01, 2005

Today is a day to feast on thanksgivings of memory, to recall people who have gone before us, patriarchs, prophets, and pilgrims, who were disciples in their own times. Some we know by name, others remain known only to God. Even so, as the author of Ecclesiasticus reminds us, “Their posterity will continue for ever, and their glory will not be blotted out”.

Recently we saw daring and heroic deeds as people were rescued from hurricanes and earthquakes. What we didn’t see were the “off camera” deeds of people who quietly gave of what they had to others, who offered cool water to strangers and even opened their homes to them, whose gracious deeds will never be recorded, but who followed in the steps of the saints in their giving, suffering, and solidarity.

These are women and men of mercy. These are the folk who are often the poor in spirit, who hunger for righteousness, who amidst the storm keep an inner peace as they go about their tasks. One has closed his contracting business so he can use his equipment to help re-build a city. He pays his workers but refuses to take a salary himself. Another opens the church doors every morning and cooks simple meals for people in the ravaged neighborhood. Yet another is ready at any time to volunteer to unload the trucks laden with relief supplies that come at all hours.

The Litany of Saints is a long list of people. They come from every possible status, class, and ethnicity. They are gifts from God to us, beacons that light the way. Their dispositions may be cranky or caring, and they may have been celibate or people with large families. They may have been Christians or lived long before Christ was born. But their gifts in some way have nurtured us all. They brought us to Church, took care of us and watched over us. They waited patiently while we learned to live as pilgrims like them. And they continue, in their place of light and joy, to praise the living God, while connecting with us in a Communion that is too vast to imagine.

Saints are people who know something profound about love, that suffering is connected with it. They learned the path of sainthood is not one of accolades but accusations. They were charged with demanding change because they wanted people to know more about God than others could stand to have revealed. They challenged governments and leaders who were exploiting others. They worked to bring justice to those who were ground down by unjust systems. And in their dedicated work, they were jailed, beaten, maligned, and sometimes murdered.

We are pilgrims of the saints. We should read about them because they are models who challenge us to use our assets as part of God’s redemptive plan. We pray with them because they bring us a sense of connectedness between our world and the next. We hallow their days on liturgical calendars because they have each given us unique insights into what it means to live a life to God.

On this day we celebrate them all, knowing that God adds to their number all the time. We find ourselves amidst a cloud of witnesses, perhaps singing a favorite hymn that honors them. If we don’t have music we should at least read the words of those hymns today, because they capture the deep resonance of their lives.

Every now and then someone whom we think is special comes into our lives. It may be a new friend who is with us for a time, then moves on. It may be a special teacher, a doctor, an anonymous helper on the road, a beloved, a priest or a deacon or a bishop. These are people who stand out in our memories as ones who were there when we needed them. Some people think these are saints as well, and perhaps they are. Saints are everywhere, quietly working for the Kingdom of God, employed in their chosen vocations.

So today, join in the celebration of the saints. Give thanks to God who calls them throughout the world. Rejoice in naming them and honoring those whom we know not by name. Most of all, pray that God will instill in each of us a measure of their glory and goodness and ask that, God helping, we might be one too.

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Christopher Sikkema