Summary: An All Saints' Day sermon about celebrating the people in our lives who have followed Christ's command of love and our call to do the same.
Dorothea Hertzberg served a term as a Peace Corps volunteer in the tiny, impoverished African country of Burkina Faso. One swelteringly hot day she was riding her bicycle along a cattle trail, when she felt something in the machinery snap. The wheels of the bike still turned, as did the pedals, but pumping the pedals accomplished nothing.
Dorothea resigned herself to pushing her bike the seven miles she had yet to go. The temperature was 115 degrees, and she had only half a bottle of water. It wasn’t long before an elderly man came toward her on his own bike. He asked what was wrong, and when she told him, he stopped and rummaged in his belongings until he found a long rubber strap, the sort of thing that could be used to tie packages onto the back of a bike. He attached one end of the strap to his bike, and the other to Dorothea’s handlebars. Turning around to go back the way he’d come, he began to pull the Peace Corps worker on her bike, toward her destination.
Dorothea described it this way, “It turned out to be one of the most hysterical yet touching moments of my life. What a scene we must have been. This poor man vigorously pedaling and dripping with sweat as he towed the American princess through the barren desert. Every villager we saw along the way shrieked in surprise and called out, ‘Good morning!’ After a while, I began to feel terribly guilty, posed on my bike, waving like a Rose Parade float queen…
An hour later we arrived at my destination. He was exhausted, I was giddy and in awe of his generosity. I took a long look at his face and those kind eyes, and I told myself never to forget it, because this man is the heart of Burkina Faso. This man is not an exception to his culture. He is the very essence of it. Burkina Faso means ‘the land of the upright and courageous people.’ It is one of the poorest countries in the world, but a place where I learned what giving truly means.”
We have heard this morning the stories of saints, stories like Dorothea’s, stories of people who have gone out of their way to teach us, to help us, to change our lives. Just as that elderly man on his bike captured the essence of Burkina Faso, so do the saints in the life of faith capture the essence of Jesus’ words found here in Luke. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” You see, I think we would all agree that one of the admirable qualities of these saints who have meant so much in our lives is not so much that they refrain from doing bad things (at least most of the time), but rather that they go out of their way to do good for others. That’s what “do to others as you would have them do to you” means. It means that no matter what that person does to us we will never allow ourselves to desire anything but his highest good; and that we will deliberately go out of our way to be good and kind to him.
As you think of the saints in your life, is that not the kind of people they are? People who want the best for everyone and deliberately go out of their way to see that it is so! These are the saints we celebrate today! We celebrate martyrs because they die for the faith, we celebrate saints because they live for the faith. Now and then some figure rises on the human scene who does approximate the incredible ideals of Jesus—a Francis of Assisi, going with radiant joy upon God’s way when he left all the cluttering things of this earth behind; a Mahatma Gandhi attaining a peace and power of soul beyond all common measurement, because he had cleansed his heart from hate and from every thought of violence and had committed himself completely to the persuasive power of love. But I’m not just talking about St. John or St. Mary or St. Francis or St. Augustine. I’m talking about Mom and Dad, and Joyce, and Ben; Aunt Sue, and Charles, and Myrtle, and Charlene, and ______. The celebration of All Saints’ Day is not just a celebration of the lives of people who are now gone, it is a celebration of all those people who have walked faithfully with Christ! It is a celebration of all who have experienced poverty, hunger, grief, and hatred because of the gospel. It is a celebration of all who love their enemies in that profound way that Jesus calls us to; modeling the extravagant generosity that we are all to be about as followers of Christ.