All Saints Day

All Saint’s Day At HCSM with Dr. Rod Dugliss

November 6, 2011: Year A- All Saint’s Sunday

Holy Child and St. Martin’s Daly City, CA

Revelation 7:9-17

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5: 1—12

IN THE NAME OF THE HOLY ONE WE KNOW AS ABBA, WORD, AND SPIRIT: AMEN

Some of you here may know St. Patrick’s Church on Mission Street just across from
Yerba Buena Park and the Moscone Center. I think it is the only church left in
the financial district. One year when I worked downtown I went by on a Good
Friday to have a bit of church on my lunch hour. When I first stepped into the
building, I was overwhelmed by the huge stained glass windows. From front to
back on both sides of the nave Irish saint after Irish saint all a full story
high and all dressed like medieval bishops. Even the one female figure was
dressed like a bishop—I mean they had to include Bridget somehow. To be in that
space was to be surrounded by the holy history of Ireland. Some years later, on
another lunch hour escape, I went to St. Patrick’s. What a change! The widows
are still there but now up and down the aisles, at every pillar and post and
in-between are statutes of saints: all sorts of saints—from Francis of Assisi
to Mother Elizabeth Seton to Santo Niño de Cebu. To step into St. Patrick’s
today is to be overwhelmingly surrounded by saints. Every day at St. Patrick’s
is All Saints Day. It is truly an experience of a cloud of witnesses.

People we think of as holy—whatever that might mean for you or me—have been part of
the Christian story from the announcement of Jesus’ birth to this moment. And
we want more than the story. We want to see them, so we honor holy lives
through picture, and statute, and window. It is how we get some sense of a
communion of saints. For many years The Episcopal Church held that the only
persons we could regard as saints were figures named in the Bible. All Saints
Day covered the rest. Forty years ago, we created a small volume called Lesser
Feasts and Fasts that put into our calendar of remembrance a number of mostly
men we wanted to honor in our story. At our last General Convention we approved
for trial use a thick volume called Holy Women Holy Men that proposes hundreds
of more persons. For us, the company of holy companions is getting bigger and
bigger. One of the main reasons for the new names is to make it easier for us
to see that holiness can be found in people like you and me. Maybe easier, but
my experience at St. Patrick’s points to an underlying problem. When we try to
depict any of these holy ones we put them “up there.” Up in the stained glass
window, up on a pedestal surrounded by candles. When we add to that our
fascination with the ones I call the super saints—Mother Teresa of Calcutta,
Archbishop Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr—we admire, perhaps in awe, but
then say to ourselves, “Oh, I couldn’t do that.” The whole point of having
saints—to inspire us all to do that—is lost. When Dorothy Day, the amazing
woman who began the Catholic Worker movement, heard people talking about her as
“a saint.’ She bristled. “Don’t call me a saint,” she said, “ I don’t want to
be dismissed that easily.” She understood that we make saints objects of
reverence, not as real role models for life and ministry. If she was to be
thought of as a saint, I think she would have much preferred to be seen in the
way today’s [All Saints] lays it out.

Instead of stories of heroic action or intense piety we are given Jesus’ teaching we
know as the Beatitudes. These statements naming blessed ones give us a very
different sense of sainthood. These saints are as unexpected, even puzzling,
for us as they were for those listening to Jesus. What an odd collection to be
the great cloud of witnesses we are to learn from and become!

The poor, especially poor in spirit.

The grieving.

The meek.

Those who are so consumed with a desire for a right relationship with God that
they are said to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Those who show mercy.

The pure in heart—in a world of divided hearts.

Peacemakers.

The persecuted, the put down, the bullied, those dismissed because of their
faith.

No warriors here. No fine robed bishops. No spiritual superheroes. It is
basically a list of those that a vocal segment of our society today scorns as
weak, whiners, unproductive, burdens. Losers—every one of them!.

Yet Jesus holds them up as the blessed, our role models for life. The
Franciscan Richard Rohr (OFM) sees even greater implications for us. It is in
the title of his book, The Beatitudes: Jesus’ Plan for a New World. Jesus
preached and taught about a kingdom—a way of being with God and with each other
that realizes how things could be if we lived into to love that we are offered
without condition. As Rohr says, the Beatitudes are downright revolutionary.
This is not just an casual observation. It means that whether we know it or
not, we have already signed up to be revolutionaries. You might well ask, “When
did we do that?” Every time we renew the vows of our Baptismal Covenant. A
every Baptism, at Easter, and Pentecost, and sometimes even on All Saints
Sunday, we promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in
Christ, to seek and serve the Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self,
to strive for justice and peace, to respect the dignity of every human being.
That is how God’s kingdom comes to be. In the Beatitudes, Jesus names the
qualities we are to honor and try to live that will make the revolutionary work
of building the kingdom possible. And it is all possible. It is not easy and
certainly not acceptable to those who currently wield power and influence in
our very broken and deeply hurting world.

When we celebrate all the saints in this way, those named blessed do not urge
us to pursue our own singular spiritual path. We are not to try to be and act
holy on our own. The beatitudes are not a charter for super saints to be
admired and imitated from afar. Instead, those the world calls losers, place
our understanding and our celebration of All Saints in the heart of this
community where we live, and pray, and do ministry, together in sharp contrast
to the values and behavior of the world around us: a world driven by isolating
individualism, fear, greed, and anger.

Each blessing raises questions for us. Who are the meek, the poor in spirit,
and how shall we first learn from them and then act in their spirit to make a
better world? Where are the peacemakers? How will grief strengthen us? Where
will we find the capacity to be merciful? Big questions, but our lives and
those of our children who will inherit this earth, in whatever condition we
leave it, lie in the answers we find. We must pay attention to the questions
and try to wrestle with them, not just for ourselves but to do our part,
however small, to bring the promised kingdom near.

This may sound overwhelming. I can add a bit of Good News. The church in her
wisdom gives us people to help us do that wrestling and to work with us to
bring God’s Holy Reign closer and closer. They are our deacons. No, they don’t
have all the answers. No, they are not miracle workers who go “out there” and
do the work for us. Rather, they can help us see and understand what God’s
reign might look like right here in this small corner of the complex world and
help us do the work for it that we promise at Baptism.

Blessed are you, each and everyone here. Claim your blessing and all that the
beatitudes promise will be yours. AMEN

Dr. Rod Dugliss is the Dean of The School for Deacons, Berkeley California

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