a sermon for All Saints Sunday, Year C
Who are saints in your life? Who washed your feet, showed you God’s love? Going back further, who formed them? Whether or not you know their names or stories, give thanks for your spiritual ancestors today. They surround us in the great cloud of witnesses and keep pointing us to Jesus.
-Br. Luke Ditewig
Society of Saint John the Evangelist
When I was a boy, my saints were my parents, grandparents and godparents. They were Sts. Nassif and Elizabeth, Tannous and Della, George and Hilwi, Louise and Fred. They taught me my prayers, my role in the life of our family and in the church, and that God was present in every detail of my life.
When I went to college, my saints were Dr. Running and Dr. Lowe, Karen and Calvin, Bill and Marcia. They were musicians, chemists, teachers, and friends. All of them at different times pulled me through the knothole between being a confused teenager and being a confused adult. And a few of them even suggested that one day I might become a priest.
When I was in my late thirties and early forties, my saints Anne, Carolyn, Peggy, Laura, Bob, Frank, Charles, Philip and Calvin. Each of them in ways small and large opened my eyes to the ways God works in the world, and the beauty of scripture, liturgy and prayer. They helped me understand my calling to leave my job and enter seminary.
And when I was in my fifties I came here to all of you, the saints of St. Simon & Jude. And you have taught me again and again that God loves me, even when I screw up, even when I least deserve it. You have filled me when I was empty.
Who are saints in your life? Who washed your feet, who showed you God’s love? Going back further, who formed them? Whether or not you know their names or stories, we give thanks for our spiritual ancestors today. They surround us in the great cloud of witnesses and keep pointing us to Jesus Christ.
A saint is someone who points us to Christ. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us about those he sees as saints: the poor, the hungry, the weak, the people who are hated, despised and rejected. They are the countless, nameless people that are so easily forgotten by those of us living in the richest country in the world. They are the people who have slipped through our social and economic safety net. They are anonymous people who have little to no access to power, to influence, or to money – the people at the very bottom of our society.
In the original language of the Gospels, “the poor” are called ptochoi. It is word that literally means just what it sounds like, “the ones who are spat-upon.” Jesus says that it is these people – the ones whom we look down upon, the spat-upon, the ones who have no name – that point us toward God. “You are the holy ones,” he says. “Because God is walking by your side now and in the time to come, just as he did with those who came before you.”
At the same time, Jesus has a message for those of us who are more fortunate: Beware or watch out! Because we have already received our reward. “Woe” is a funny word here because Jesus does not condemn our wealth, exactly. But he certainly believes that it can cause us to stumble if we’re not careful. “Beware all of you who have it easy – the rich, the well fed, the popular and the joyful. Be careful that you don’t confuse your easy life with God’s favor. Because your friends who are with you today when times are good will just as quickly abandon you with things get rough. Only God will stay with you always.”
The saints are our spiritual ancestors, the ones who came before us, whose lives proclaimed Jesus to us before we were even aware of it; the ones who taught us what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ. These are the ones who washed our feet, who demonstrated God’s love, who taught us how to be a blessing to others. We remember them and those who came before them, and the ones who came still farther back before. These are the ones who surround us as “a great cloud of witnesses,” all pointing us to Jesus.
In just a few minutes, we will baptize Isla Mae Petruzzi and John Rucker Ramsey. They were born into a long line of saints – Sts. Sara, Bob and Melinda, Sts. Michael, Rynn, Donna and Marty, and others And like us, they will take their place among the great cloud of witnesses to the life of Jesus Christ. And they will join us in our calling to a radically different way of living. A way of living that honors each and every human being simply because they are human. A way of living in which those who have most are expected to share those who have the least. A way of living that demands we set aside our differences and unite under our common Lord Jesus Christ.
At the same time, we will take our place by their side, modeling the life of Jesus Christ, teaching them the faith through our words and actions, pointing them to Christ by our love for each other and the world.
Jesus Christ calls us to be a blessing to the world. He calls us to embrace the poor, the hungry, the exiled, and the refugee. He calls us to proclaim the Gospel by word and example. He calls us to seek and serve him in all people and respect the human dignity of every human being. Jesus calls us not to shun the nameless and the spat-upon, but to honor them by our life and love and work. Because ultimately, they are the ones who point us all to God.
Thanks be to God.