Summary: A sermon for All Saints' Sunday.
Imagine with me for a moment what it would look like if we were to come up with a set of Beatitudes for the 21st century. What if we made a list of the kinds of people who seem to be well-off; who seem to have it made by today’s standards? It might go something like this:
Blessed are the rich and famous, because they can always get a seat at the best restaurants.
Blessed are the good-looking, for they shall be on the cover of People magazine.
Blessed are those who party, for they know how to have fun.
Blessed are those who take first place in the division, for they shall have momentum going into the playoffs.
Blessed are the movers and shakers, for they shall make a name for themselves.
Blessed are the healthy and fit, because they don’t mind being seen in a bathing suit.
Blessed are those who make it to the top, because they get to look down on everyone else.
This morning, we observe what is called “All Saints’ Sunday.” This is the day the church sets aside each year to remember and celebrate all the saints who have gone before us. Now, often when we hear the word “saint,” what comes to mind are those few great church fathers and mothers who are world-renowned for their exemplary faith and contributions to the church. We think of people like St. John, and St. Augustine, and Mother Theresa. But the qualities of saints have nothing to do with whether or not you’ve written a great book or led a great movement. Yet, by the same token, I think we would all agree that we don’t lift up the rich and powerful, movies stars, or pro athletes as Christian saints any more than we do ordinary, everyday folks. So what is it, exactly, that makes a saint? The answer to that question is what we want to draw out of our scripture reading this morning.
One of the problems with modern American society is the fact that we worship celebrities and stars as if they are saints. That’s why a list of 21st century Beatitudes sounds the way it does. We consider the rich and the powerful, the good-looking, the athletic, and we think that they have the best lives of all, that it can’t get any better. And yet, when we consider the words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, it tells us a different story, doesn’t it? In fact, when we compare our 21st century Beatitudes to the list of “woes” in the first Beatitudes. Well, they’re pretty similar, aren’t they?
We say, “blessed are the rich and famous because they always get the best.” But Jesus says, “Woe to the rich for they have received their comfort.” We say, “blessed are those who make it to the top, because they get to look down on everyone else.” But Jesus says, “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” We have fooled ourselves into believing a false truth that the good life is something that we can build for ourselves in this life with money and fame. But when we think of the “saints” in our lives, how many of us name Brittney Spears, or Tiger Woods, or Lindsey Lohan?
You see, our problem is that we look for “saints” in the high and lofty places; whether that’s the crème-de-la-crème of modern society, or within the ranks of the church itself. And what we miss is the fact that the real saints are standing right in front of us. They are the people we interact with everyday, they are the ones who are slugging it out in the trenches and barely getting by most of the time. They are the ones who are generous to a fault, yet are just scraping by themselves. Sometimes, they are the ones whose lives we look at and think, “Man, they’ve really got a raw deal.” Yet they are the ones who continue to extol God’s greatness, even in the midst of the worst tragedies. In many cases, they are the people we have loved and lost, but there are also still many saints among us.
Shane Claiborne, the founder of a massive homeless ministry in Philadelphia called “The Simple Way,” tells the story of an encounter he had with a young homeless girl. Claiborne recalls one day when he and his colleagues were building relationships with the homeless in a particularly bad part of Philadelphia. He says, “We met a little 7-year-old girl who was homeless, and we asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up. She paused pensively and then replied, ‘I want to own a grocery store.’” Now, when my sister and I were younger, I remember my sister announcing that she wanted to be a cash register when she grew up because the cash registers get to take all the money! But this little girl had something else in mind. When Claiborne and his colleagues asked the girl why she wanted to work in a grocery story, she said, “So I can give out food to all the hungry people.” That little girl is a saint; she isn’t concerned about gain for herself, she just wants to give of herself for others.