November 1, 2020

Feast of All Saints A

A Call to Holiness

GOSPEL

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:1-12

 

SERMON

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.   We celebrate the experience of lived holiness.   We honor with gratitude the powerful reflection of the Divine in those whose lives have borne witness to the priorities of the Kingdom God – justice, love, peace, humility, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, magnanimity of spirit and generosity of heart – all those who have been lights in their generation – all those whose lives have been contoured by the Word of God, the spirit of the Beatitudes and the admonitions of the Sermon on the Mount.  

We honor both those whose memory survives the passing of many generations, the Saints with a capital “S”, and those whose human memory will linger no longer than the span of the few generations in which they lived, the saints with a small “s”.   For even these have an eternal memory within the mystery of God. Those whom God remembers never die. What God remembers remains eternally present.

We can feel lonely at times, but, in faith, we are never alone. Much of our family may have passed and our communities of friends and neighbors are ever dwindling. But the blessed communion of all those who have been bound together in the love of Christ Jesus – this great fellowship of prayer and praise – the communion of Saints – ever surrounds us, stands with us and, if we allow it, enfolds and holds us as we continue our earthly pilgrimage.      

Being human is about being in relationship.   Being Christian is about being in an intentional Christ-centered relationship with each other.  An intentional Christ-centered relationship is one that always strives to put the ego, its needs and its demands aside.  It is not about me.  It is not about my, maybe all too easily, bruised feelings.  It is not about the small thoughts, assumptions and even convictions that serve to hold my little world in balance.   

Rather, it is always about us and about the God who is ever inviting us to love more deeply, forgive more generously, and serve more faithfully.  The self-giving love that we are urged, by the love of God, to bear for one another has the power to knit us together as a garment that cannot be torn. 

We are flawed and broken human beings and we live in a flawed and broken world – a perfect creation damaged and compromised by our inclination toward narcissism – unhealthy self-love.  But it is this flawed, compromised, damaged and broken stuff that by God’s love and grace, has been made the very stuff from which God chooses to draw and extract holiness.   Wonder of wonder.  Miracle of miracles. 

And it is important to understand that the narcissism of which I speak knows both individual and societal expressions.   I can be selfish and self-serving, and we can be selfish and self-serving.   You know, me first or America first.

Yes, God can take the likes of me, even in my marginal life circumstances, and bring forth a loving, a deeply loving, a generously loving, a wantonly loving heart.  A heart that makes a choice, at every turn, to live life larger rather than smaller – when your coat is asked for, give your shirt as well; when justice challenges law, choose justice; include those whom the world would exclude; if you are angry at your brother or sister, take the first step toward making peace; if someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other as well; love even those who would make themselves your enemies; if someone asks for a loan, give them a gift; be slow to judgment and quick to mercy.   

The Sermon on the Mount, from which the above wisdom has been gleaned, is God’s blueprint for living a larger life.  It is one of the most awesome and revolutionary documents of all time.   The Sermon on the Mount excites the imaginations, thrills the hearts, and strengthens the resolve of those who seek holiness and do holiness, in a world and among lives that, too often, settle for so much less.  

Imagine an alternative economic universe – one infused with the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.   No one would be hungry, no one would be thirsty, no one would be homeless, no one would be caste out.  All would be provided with life’s necessities, with opportunities for free education and with affordable heath care.  Those who occupy servant roles, teachers, nurses, farm workers and housekeepers would share the bonuses given exclusively to hedge fund managers and their ilk.  All would be paid a living wage rather than a minimum wage.

The words of the Sermon on the Mount are always lived in the face of opposing rhetoric.   A rhetoric that many have, do now and will always find more compelling.  That rhetoric can go something like this.   

Blessed are the rich.  The fact that you have a lot of stuff and live only to acquire more means that you have made the right choices and your bounty is obviously a testament of divine favor. Why dwell in the Kingdom of God when you can live in Jared Kushner’s Never -Never Land?  

Blessed are they who have no need to grieve or mourn. and who live with no sense of their own emptiness and no heart for the losses that others suffer.  Why shed a tear when Covid didn’t kill me or anyone close to me?   Who needs comfort?  You, 230,000 grieving families, just get over it and go shopping.

Blessed are those who proudly take delight in their own achievements, even if none really exist and all are totally fabricated.   I have lived off my ill-gotten inheritance, I am making sure my children have the same leg up, and really have no interest in securing anyone else’s future.  Let’s go play 18 holes of golf. 

Blessed are those who have no appetite for righteousness, for they find contentment in being satisfied with themselves and really have no need for God.  Fairness and justice are poor substitutes for privilege and power and the abuse and control that these make possible.  We will celebrate the making of  a Supreme Court Justice, even if that appointment was the bastard child of an unjust process.

Blessed are the cruel and the hard hearted who see mercy as weakness and as the diet of losers, for only fools waste their time in acts of kindness when great fun and an adoring fan club can be had in publicly ridiculing others.

Blessed are those who have no interest in purity of any kind. How can beholding the face of God compete with the satisfaction that can result from whoring on behalf of my every selfish impulse.

Blessed are the warmongers, those who make great profit from arming the world, the civilian militias that champion racist causes, the advocates of their unregulated second amendment rights, the judicial systems that find no fault with law enforcement officers, who don’t need to wait to see the whites of their eyes, but can fire at will at the blackness of their skin.  Better to threaten and even kill the different other than engage the difficult work a transformation into a fuller expression of being a human being.  

Blessed are they who persecute others rather than be persecuted.  Better to protest at every opportunity that I am being treated unfairly than to confess my own unfair and even criminal treatment of anyone who would hold me accountable for anything I do.  To hell with turning the other cheek. 

While most of us have not been the beneficiaries of an inheritance that fuels the hubris of the spoiled children of privilege, my sisters and brother, we have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and have been made God’s children.  At our baptism we were given our inheritance.  Our inheritance is nothing less than the Kingdom of God.  

The Kingdom is that awesome intimate relationship we can enjoy with God.  It is this inheritance that gives us the most powerful leg up on life and on a genuinely abundant life before which all the world’s supposed bounty is revealed for the junk that it is.  Do we want the gold or are we content with settling for the dross?

If we seek the Kingdom, then we are the saints that God has called us to be.  If we settle for what is perishable, then we can only be counted as fools – no matter how impressed we may be with ourselves or how impressed others might be with us.

Yes, each of us is called to live our larger than life possibilities and lives.  Yes, each of us has been called to holiness.  By taking possession of our inheritance, the space within is filled with the kingdom of God.  It is for us to live and share kingdom charged lives – lives lived to the beat of a different drummer, to the rhythm of the Beatitudes, and the cadence of the Sermon on the Mount.  Yes, let us strive to be Holy as God is Holy.  Others have done this, some are doing this right now. Holiness is certainly within our reach.

 

Rev. Frank J. Alagna
November 1, 2020