We had a wonderful time here on Halloween. We must have given candy to hundreds of kids and many of them thanked us for being open. We’re the only church in town giving candy and scaring little kids with our huge blow-up spider, pumpkin, ghost, and a very creepy cat. Since Halloween is the night before All Saints here’s an appropriate joke:
A priest told the little kids they could come trick-or-treating at church, but they had to dress up as one of the Saints. So, the kids arrive - here's a little boy dressed up as St. Francis, St. Joseph, a little girl is St. Clare - and then there's this kid in a dog costume. So, Father asks "Where's your saint costume?” The little boy replies: "I'm SAINT BERNARD!"
Today we remember both the great saints of the past and the quiet saints of our lives. We smile through our tears, because we believe that those who have gone before us are held in God’s loving hands and so never really leave us. We remember them with sorrow and with joy. Khalil Gibran writes about this:
“Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
I’m betting that most of us here today have known ‘sorrow carving into our being’. From 1984 when my mother, Catherine died to 1994 when I lost my late husband Gary, I also lost 10 beloved friends and relatives. To say it was a dark decade would be a profound understatement. But in my immense, endless grief, I knew I wouldn’t be so sad if I hadn’t loved so much. My sadness was in direct proportion to my love. I have to say, during this dark decade, when it seemed that all I did was cry, these words; “blessed are you who weep now for you shall laugh,” gave me incredible solace.
In Luke, this gospel comes when Jesus had just chosen his followers. Before sending them out in the world he said these shocking words to them as they sat amidst a crowd. We often hear of how Jesus threw conventional wisdom out the window but that is nowhere so clear as in this gospel. Surely the new disciples of Christ sat there dumbfounded by this teaching.
After all, He told them that the poor are blessed while the rich are cursed. The hungry are blessed while the full are cursed. Blessed are those who weep and woe to those who laugh.
Right now, I am not poor, hungry or weeping. My life is pretty good. So, by Jesus‘ reckoning, woe to me, I am cursed. But like most of us, I’ve lived through very dark times when these words did apply to me. If, at times, we find ourselves cursed with wealth, full tummys and laughter, what do we do? Jesus gives us very clear instructions on how to make it from the cursed column to the blessed column:
He says (as though it is easy): “Listen, all of you. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for the happiness of those who curse you; implore God’s blessing on those who hurt you.
If someone slaps you on one cheek, let him slap the other too! If someone demands your coat, give him your shirt also. Give what you have, to anyone who asks you for it; and when things are taken away from you, don’t worry about getting them back. Treat others as you want them to treat you.
I have a hard time getting past truly loving my enemies. But if you can do all of these things, I believe that you are a saint. Jesus sets very high, almost impossible standards for us. Our task is to reach for those standards, to stretch ourselves to be the very best person we can be. We will fail every day, but it is the stretching, reaching that Jesus wants.
The apostle Paul shows great humility in declaring himself to be “less than the least of all saints”. I think that most of us feel like less than the least of all saints. We can only do small things, small things done with great love, to better ourselves.
Today we remember those who have gone before us, and they are not all perfect. Saints are not superhuman. Their lives are evidence of God’s ability to use flawed people (even flawed people like us) to do divine things. Through ordinary acts of love, they bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer to earth, closer to us.
Now picture this: We are standing in a long line, a procession of our loved ones which starts in the past and moves on into the future. We are each part of the Communion of saints here on earth, working in our small ways for the Kingdom of God while being cheered on by those who have gone before us.
In our last hymn today, we’ll sing, “We Shall Go Out with Hope of Resurrection”. Listen to the words as you sing of how ‘We’ll share our joy with those who still are weeping, raise hymns of strength for hearts that break in grief, we’ll leap and dance the resurrection story, including all in circles of our love.”