This gospel reading is also known as the Beatitudes – or the Blessings. These first eleven verses are from the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel that’s often called the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes teach that God’s children are people who act with purity of heart toward God and the world around them and put a high level of emphasis on Christian righteousness.
The following is the best description of the Beatitudes I’ve ever read. It is also the best description of a “S”aint that I’ve ever read…
“The Beatitudes, from the start of Jesus’ sermon on the mount would have to rank as one of the best loved and most universally ignored passages in all of scripture. We love them because we instinctively recognize them to be true and even strangely attractive. We ignore them, because actually living by them is unpopular and extremely costly. And when people do live by them, we dismiss them as fanatics. Once they have died and are no longer inconveniently proving us wrong about the impossibility of living by the beatitudes, then we dismiss them as Saints.”1 And so we have, St. Francis, St. Clare, and St. Teresa.
The best description of a “s”aint is this from the American Heritage dictionary.“In Christianity, a holy person, living or dead; a person who has been saved.” 2
To me, while I love the first definition, it’s this second one that really matters. We’re all saints as soon as we believe. To be baptized means to be made holy or sacred. It’s as simple as that…and it is as difficult as that.
A quirk of the English language is, that as it’s evolved, it’s lost the ability to distinguish between the second person singular and the second person plural. That is, the word “you” sounds exactly the same as the word “you” even though they mean two different things. “You” singular means you are on speaker view while worshiping this morning, and “you” plural means all of you when my screen is on gallery view.
A tangible example of this was when Judy got back from Florida a few years ago and started knitting prayer shawls. She could have knit from morning until night every day and only made so many shawls. But, when Judy said, “who wants to knit?” enough people joined in so that over 150 prayer shawls & lapghans have been made and sent all over the country and the world. That’s the difference between you and you.
That’s a bit of an odd way to talk about All Saints’ Day. But we are so used to living & thinking in a way that assumes Judy should just knit more if we ask her to, that we forget that all of us together can do and be so much more. And that we are in fact, all the saints of God.
I say all this because the Church has done a disservice to people by saying that we are to become and live as saints as individuals, and not as a group of holy people.
We read (or hear) the beatitudes as individuals. Blessed am I when I am poor in Spirit. Blessed am I when I am a peacemaker. And so on, as if they are a prescription for the right way to live. They are! But they are not to be lived out as if we were only on Speaker View.
We are not alone in this; if we were, we’d never make it. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. We are baptized into the body of Christ, and it is in the body of Christ that we are made blessed and saved and holy and sainted. We can’t do this alone because alone we separate ourselves from the body or the community that holds us together.
If we live as “you” plural, then the meek might actually inherit the earth someday and the mourners would be comforted by such a vast number of people that would care for them so deeply that their tears would indeed be wiped away.
That is all of us being All Saints. On this day, and actually every Sunday, we see us as living and praying and thriving as a whole community of people. It hasn’t been easy – but we are finding ways to support each other and support people in our community who need us – and need to know they are blessed as well.
We hold each other accountable and support each other. We gather together read scripture and worship and pray in the company of Matthew, Luke, Francis & Clare, and your 4th grade Sunday School teacher and the person on the little Zoom box next to you this morning. We do it when we knit together on Zoom or hand out sundries at the food bank and food in our parking lot.
If we’re going to accept this gift of sainthood and live the life that Jesus calls us to live, we’re going to have to be totally dependent not only on God, and all the saints who have managed to follow Jesus so faithfully down through the ages, but on the saints in the little boxes around each one of us here today. We are part of the Communion of Saints and I’ve seen it drawn out as a great river of people throughout the ages. We stepped into the river the moment we said yes to God at baptism.
None of us alone have the courage or strength to live the life of the Beatitudes all by ourselves. We seldom even try to live them as a community because they really are pretty costly. You cannot live a life of faith alone. And in these last few months, it has been a challenge to be anything but alone. It hasn’t been easy, and it isn’t going to be much easier in the days and weeks to come. So I would offer us a chance this morning to renew our vows and while I cannot physically invite you around this bowl I would invite you to remember that we are all together holy and sacred, and therefore the blessed saints of God.
The Reverend Patty Baker, Vicar
St. Clare Episcopal Church