Summary: An All Saints' Day sermon about celebrating the people in our lives who have followed Christ's unexpected and extravagantly generous ways, and our call to do the same.
This week I read a status update on Facebook. The post was put there by my mentor, a pastor in Virginia. He said, “It is very telling who stops when you have run your car into the ditch on the side of the road. It wasn’t what would be termed the cream of society, that’s for sure.” The responses to Tony’s status were interesting, to say the least. People wanted to know if my mentor was okay. Others were asking what happened and if the person who stopped was hoping for a handout in return. Others told stories of how the most unexpected people had helped them out in a time of need. It turns out Tony had very gently backed his car into a ditch trying to execute a Y-turn in a rural area near where he lived. Thankfully, he was okay, as was the car, but it was a most unlikely person, Barry, who stopped to check on my friend. As Tony described Barry, he was not the cream of society. We can imagine what Barry was like; perhaps tattooed, worn clothing, run-down car, rough language. But Barry didn’t ask for any handouts. Tony said the questions he asked were in order, “Are you okay? Do you have a phone? Is someone coming or can I help?” Tony had what he needed, and someone was on the way to help, but Barry was a saint, however unlikely, who took a moment to offer help, just when Tony needed it. And how many such people do we know? The unlikeliest of folks who would go out of their way to help another.
We recall this morning the stories of saints, stories like Tony’s, stories of people who have gone out of their way to teach us, to help us, to change our lives; people who have blessed us in just the right ways at just the right times. These saints that we lift up are often unexpected, and act in unexpected ways, but in doing so they capture the essence of Jesus’ words found here in Matthew. Like these Beatitudes, the lives of saints show the works and ways of a God who is full of surprises.
Jesus' words in the opening of the Sermon on the Mount describe those who find their being in the eternal God. The message of the Beatitudes is that it's what we are that really counts, not what we possess or have done. And all these characteristics Jesus describes are a result of our being in Christ. When we really take a look at these promises of the kingdom of God, and also the descriptions of those who receive the promises, we find that we get a sneak peek into God’s kingdom. You see, the Beatitudes are primarily about the character of God and God’s kingdom, but they are also about the character of Christians. Because God behaves in the way God does, a person would be foolish not to act in the way the Beatitudes recommend. And to live the Beatitudes is to live in faith. We have faith that God really does bless the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. And when people have such faith in God, they begin to live into that faith in a way that they not only see the blessings of God happening all around them, but they become a part of those blessings, experiencing them themselves, even as they share them with others. And these are the people we come to know and celebrate as saints!
As you think of the saints in your life, is that not the kind of people they are? People who are sharing God’s blessings in this world and even go out of their way to do 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 Martin Luther King, Jr., 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. Teresa. I’m talking about Mom and Dad, and Chris, and Ben; Aunt Jane, and Betty Lou, and Red, and Norma, and Dollie Sue, 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.