Blessed are the Spat Upon

a sermon for All Saints Sunday

In the original Greek language of the Gospels, “the poor” are called ptochoi. Ptochoi is word that literally means just what it sounds like – “the ones who are spat upon.”

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “blessed are the spat-upon.”

When I was a boy, I used to watch cartoons on Saturday morning. Cartoons in those days weren’t like the ones they have today. We would watch the old fashioned kind like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and Daffy Duck. I remember especially that whenever Daffy Duck didn’t like something, he’d say “ptooey!” Ptooey is a cartoon word, but it’s actually in the dictionary. It is a word that means just what it sounds like – spitting something distasteful out of your mouth.

Try it for yourself.  PTOOEY!

Today is All Saints Sunday, a day when we remember all who were baptised into the body of Christ. And so it’s especially appropriate that we do baptisms on this day. Now baptism is one of the things that every branch of Christianity does. And one of the interesting things about baptism in the Eastern Orthodox church is that they have a custom that some of us might find a little unusual. At the beginning of the ceremony the candidates and their parents and godparents come forward, just as we do here. And at the place where they renounce Satan and all his evil works, the godparents spit on the ground three times: Ptooey, Ptooey, Ptooey. The idea is that by spitting on Satan, they were renouncing all of the worldly things that might get in the way of the child following Jesus Christ.

Ptooey, Ptooey, Ptooey.

In just a few minutes, we’ll be welcoming 4 new members into the body of Christ: Rowan Drake, Cadence Stewart, Kate Schelling, and Ryan Goff. These four people will have water poured over them, and they will be marked in oil with the sign of the cross.
And guess what? They will become saints. Think about that: St. Rowan, St. Cadence, St. Kate, and St. Ryan, my future son-in-law.

Ptooey, Ptooey, Ptooey.

Today’s Gospel reading has a lot to say about who God sees as saints: the poor, the hungry, the weak, the people who are hated, despised and rejected. They are the people that are so often forgotten whenever we talk about living in the richest country in the world. The people who slip through the safety net. In other words, according to Jesus, the saints are the people who are at the very bottom of our society.

In the original Greek language of the Gospels, “the poor” are called ptochoi. Ptochoi is another word that means just what it sounds like. Literally, it means “the ones who are spat upon.” As a group, poor people were the ones who were spat upon. And in Luke’s Gospel, they are the ones Jesus calls saints. Jesus is saying, “blessed are the spat-upon.”

On the flip side, Jesus has a message for those of us who are more fortunate. Woe to us who are rich, he says, because our wealth just might keep us from receiving our blessings from God. If you’re like me, this feels a little uncomfortable, and that’s okay – it’s meant to. After all, we live in the richest society on earth, and no matter how we slice it, most of us in this room are way more fortunate than the the spat-upon ones, the poorest people in society. And no matter how way we look at it, Jesus has always been on their side.

In fact, he has tells us as much. He cautions us who are rich, to be careful, because our worldly riches are not the same as blessings from God: Ptooey on our fancy houses. Ptooey on our cars. Ptooey on our bank accounts and all the trappings and stuff that gets between our hearts and God. Ptooey on anything that prevents us from helping the saints who are spat upon.

Does that mean that God curses rich people simply because we are rich? Of course not. The love and blessings of God are freely bestowed on poor and rich alike. And as we heard in today’s lesson from Ephesians, we who are “marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit” receive a pledge our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people. And when does that happen? It happens at our baptisms. At our baptisms, we are “marked as Christ’s own forever.” We are set apart. We are made part of the holy people of God. By our baptisms, all of us are saints, regardless of our bank accounts.

At the same time, Jesus reminds us that our worldly riches are not blessings, at least not blessings from God. Instead, they are signs of our greater responsibility and obligation to help those who need it the most. As saints, it is our job to proclaim the Gospel by sharing our good fortunes with those who need it the most. When we feed the hungry, or give clothes and money to the poor, we are blessing the spat-upon, the ones that Christ himself would have us bless. In other words, as saints, we are blessed by blessing others.

In just a few minutes, Rowan, Cadence, Kate, and Ryan will come forward, along with their parents, godparents, and sponsors. And they will renounce Satan and all of the worldly things that get in the way of us living in the love of God. And they will accept Christ and follow his example for the rest of their lives. Then they will be marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit as Christ’s own forever. They will become full members of the church – not just members of St. Simon & St. Jude, even though they are that – but members of the body of Christ in the world. As members of that body, they too will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the work God has given them to do. They become part of those countless saints who came before us, and who, even now, stand with us. And they will be a blessing day in and day out to everyone they meet, especially for the spat-upon ones in our society, until they one day meet the Lord face to face.

Thanks be to God.

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