Today we have the remembrance of those who loved and followed God and Christ before us--family, friends and neighbors-in the celebration of All Saints. Protestant churches generally refer to all Christians as saints, and if they observe All Saints Day, they use it to remember all Christians both past and present. Our revised common lectionary, shared by many denominations, celebrates it on this Sunday--the one closest to November 1st--each year. There are many variations in the wider church: memorial plaques listing the names, the necrology list sent to the diocese each year, and lighting a candle for each person like we do here each year.
In Isaiah 25, which is read on November 1st, there is a description of a place or state of being for the saints to go after their physical death. “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.”
And we all recognize these lines from Ruth. “Where you go, I go, and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god, where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God--not even death itself is going to come between us.” The one reading promises the end of death and the other promises that death will not separate us from those we love.
The idea of calling all Christians saints gives us hope, I think, of being living saints for God. We speak of entertaining angels unaware and perhaps we should consider that many of the people we meet are living saints. Jesus told us that when we give a sip of cool water to someone who is thirsty that it is as if we are ministering to him. So, seeing those in need as Christ is a good picture.
Perhaps considering that a person in need is a living saint could shift our perspective. When we give to the marginalized, there is still a power imbalance--even if we feel in those actions that we are serving Christ. Perhaps if we consider that the marginalized are living saints, we can shift that power to a shared power. Like Sarah has taught us to listen to those we want to serve and learn from them rather than deciding what they need without that conversation. If a saint is a person who has experienced great hardship, our marginalized friends would certainly fit that description. And, the folks served by Chaplains on the Harbor see Sarah as a saint.
Last Sunday, Mary and I went into the jail and had a midday service for I think 11 women (I forgot to count them when we were there) who squeezed into the small space sitting on the floor and the two shelves and standing against the walls. Near the end of our time with the women, Summer looked up at me from the floor beside my chair and said, “You don’t know how much we appreciate that you come here and treat us on the same level. You see us as human beings.” That is how we listen to folks in need--this is a deep desire of each of us to be seen for who we are and to be treated with respect and love. That is the work of one of Christ’s saints. If I weren’t so old, I would sit on the floor with them.
One of the women said something about knowing I was one of the people there last week and it was the reason more people wanted to come. They know I work with Sister Sarah, as they call her--Saint Sarah. They were drawn in by the love and respect they knew they would receive.
Ruth loved and respected Naomi and she went along with Naomi to Bethlehem and became Naomi’s salvation. Ruth produced children Naomi could love but she first made sure that Naomi had food to eat that she might survive. Ruth followed Naomi and became the leader for their survival as two widows. They became equals in their struggle to survive.
So as saints of God, we remember those who have gone before us and the good works that they accomplished and that we build upon here at St. Mark. I have a quote from The Right Reverend Steven Charleston that was a comment about Hurricane Sandy: “It all begins with small numbers. A few drops of precipitation, a little more wind, a slight rise in the sea level, a couple of degrees difference in the elevation of the moon. Great forces are born in small numbers, in the increments of existence, the mathematics of our physical being. And as with the natural, so the spiritual. A tiny bit more kindness, a single hope, a small increase in giving, a few more prayers, another moment of patience. Great souls are not instant in being, but being made up of instants. Life without and life within, lived in the small things that count.”
Steven is speaking of building upon small actions. With all our actions together through a lifetime and by our working together, we can accomplish great things, build up great souls. Become saints for Christ.