Celebrating All the Saints (All Saints' Day C)

November 3, 2019

“Celebrating All the Saints”

All Saints Day (tr.) - November 3, 2019

 

Luke 6:20-31

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."

"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

"Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

"Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 

 

You may have noticed that our worship service was different today than normal. We began with a Litany of the Saints, in which we asked many different saints from all times and places to pray with us and for us.* Some of these names were quite familiar, like Mary and Joseph, Abraham, Moses, and even Stephen, Matthew, and Augustine of Hippo (for this congregation). But many others were less familiar. Each of them has a fascinating and inspiring story of faithfulness to God in the face of great adversity, trust in God's goodness when they saw they weren't good enough. That's the mark of a true saint.

 

Throughout the 2018-2019 program year, we studied the lives of many saints during our parish Sunday School for both children and adults. We used a Forward Movement curriculum called Celebrating the Saints that brought many interesting saints' stories to the forefront (see link for more info). But we didn’t always get to emphasize the things that all those saints shared in common. What are the things that knit them together in the Body of Christ? 

 

Saints aren’t perfect people. Saints are imperfect people who rely on God to make them more perfect. They seek God’s grace and know they can’t do it alone. Saints are people who know that only God can save them. They put their hope in the crucified and risen Savior. They trust in Jesus to heal their brokenness and make them into holy women and holy men. So saints aren’t people who brag about how great they are; they brag about how great God is and how good God has been to them. 

 

In Luke 6, Jesus teaches his disciples what saints will look like. This teaching from the Sermon on the Plain gives us a vision for what it looks like to fall in love with Jesus and put your whole trust in God’s goodness. I want to talk about a few saints who modeled godly living for us based on what Jesus teaches in this passage.

 

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”

 

 

Francis and Clare came from wealthy families. But they used their money and privilege to support their local churches and care for the poor and destitute in their communities. They became traveling preachers and teachers and they spread the good news of God’s love and care for even the least of these our sisters and brothers. They didn’t think they were holier or better than others because they had more stuff. They believed that God loves the poor just as much as anyone and maybe even more. So they practiced giving away their money and food until they became poor themselves. They started a whole movement within the church to honor and uplift the poor while also preaching the joyful message of Jesus. Together they started the Order of Friars Minor, commonly known as the Franciscan order of monks and nuns, for men and women respectively. Out of their simple love for Jesus and for all God’s children, they began a revival and a revolution within the church that continues to make an impact almost 800 years after they died. 

 

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

 

 

Perpetua, Felicitas (a.k.a. Felicity), and their Companions were North African Christians who lived at the turn of the 3rd century AD, which is the 200s (over 1800 years ago). They lived during a time of persecution for the church. Christians were arrested, tortured, and scared into giving up the faith, or else they were put to death. This was a time of great weeping for the Church. Perpetua was the daughter of a Christian nobleman and a young bride who was arrested in this wave of persecutions. She was thrown into prison with her infant child along with Felicitas, a pregnant slave, and many others. They were told that they could either worship the gods of the Roman emperor or face execution. They refused to publicly or privately reject Jesus. They stood firm in their conviction that Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings and God of gods. As sad as it was, as many tears as they spilled, these faithful young ladies trusted in Jesus and they laughed as they were put to death by the sword. 

 

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."

 

Janani Luwum and Oscar Romero are two 20th century saints and martyrs who were killed in 1977 and 1980 respectively. Luwum was the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda and Romero was the Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador. They both lived in dangerous and conflicted times in the homelands. 

 

 

Shortly after Uganda gained independence from Britain, there was a military coup led by General Idi Amin, who became a violent, brutal dictator during his 8 years as president. Luwum and many other church leaders protested against Amin’s repression and even massacres of political opponents and ethnic minorities. After a particularly brutal incident in 1977, Luwum and his fellow bishops brought their opposition to the regime into the pulpit. For that, Janani Luwum was mysteriously arrested and quickly killed in a “car accident.” When he was buried, they discovered (to no one’s surprise) that his body was riddled with bullet holes.

 

 

Óscar Romero was appointed Archbishop of El Salvador because he was considered a political conservative who would not rock the boat with the Salvadorian government. But once Romero entered the office, he could not look away from the government’s abuse of power and oppression of the people. They murdered his friend, a priest named Rutillo Grande, for his advocacy for human rights. And Romero was incensed. He began to preach openly and boldly in defense of the people, seeking their liberation from oppression, their human rights, and their rights to life. Romero broadcast the mass from the Cathedral over the radio so that hundreds of thousands could listen to his sermons and their recitation of the names of the “disappeared.” He begged the military and political leaders to stop their violence, preaching shortly before his death, “The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the voice of the man commanding you to kill, remember instead the voice of God. Thou Shalt Not Kill.” A few days later, an assassin entered a convent chapel where he was celebrating the mass and killed Archbishop Romero behind the altar.

 

Archbishops Luwum and Romero found the strength to persevere in the face of hate, violence, and resistance because they knew their own weakness. They both repented of their complacency. They saw Jesus’ face in the suffering of their people. They went from being quietly neutral to vocal opponents of oppressive regimes because they knew God’s tender love and grace. Like prophets, Luwum and Romero would not keep silent in the face of systematic sin and violence. They were hated, reviled, and eventually killed for it.

 

"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

 

 

We learned about Enmegahbowh, the first Native American Episcopal priest, who served as a missionary to the Ojibwe tribes in what we now call Minnesota in the 1800s. Enmegahbowh was an agent of peace and reconciliation between his people and the U.S. Army, especially during the First Dakota War of 1862. He prevented his tribe from carrying out a retaliatory raid against an Army fort. He advocated against resisting evil with evil. Instead, he encouraged diplomatic solutions, doing good to those who hated them, for the sake of preserving the lives of his people. He was hated and reviled for these actions for a time, but he continued to love and minister to the Ojibwe peoples until he died at the ripe old age of 95 years. 

 

 

We know the story of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He stood up against the systematic oppression and racism of this nation at a time when Jim Crow was the law of the land in the South. At first, he used nonviolent resistance as a tool to get what he wanted. But after learning at the feet of Howard Thurman, Dr. King became convinced that loving our enemies was not only politically expedient but also morally right. So he led a movement of people who were willing to resist hate with good, resist curses with songs of blessings, resist abuse with prayers from jail cells. And like many prophets before him, Dr. King was killed by hard-hearted people, among them many Christians, who would not hear the message of God’s and grace for people of all colors, kins, and kinds.

 

These saints did extraordinary things and for that, we remember their stories generations later. But they were no superheroes. They simply knew their own sinfulness and trusted in the grace and mercy of God to save them. They followed Jesus in the way of the cross because they knew it to be the way of life and peace. They listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and showed love even when they weren’t supposed to. Just like these saints, we can follow the simple yet difficult path of our Lord Jesus; and if we do, we’ll discover the love, joy, and peace of God in the midst of the world’s trouble. What wonders does God have in store for us when, like all the saints, we trust and obey?

 

 

Author's Note: I adapted the litany we prayed from: The Order of the Holy Cross, Saint Augustine's Prayer Book, edited by David Cobb and Derek Olsen (Cincinnati: Forward Movement, 2014), pp. 430-434.

 

 

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