Sunday, November 05, 2006

Homily, Feast of All Saints

I preached this morning at St. Aidan's.

Matthew 5:1-12

Wow. It’s All Saints Day. It’s fall in California!
This is the day when we remember all who came before us.
We praise famous, and not-so-famous, people.
We think about what it means to honor them,
with our lips and in our lives.
People jump into our minds at odd moments,
and we wish them happiness and love.
We send out a quick thank-you for the ones we love,
as we go back to studying or washing the dishes.
We might notice a grandparent in a child’s smile.
We remember, in turn, who we are,
whose we are,
and how we are called to live.

The first record of a feast set aside to commemorate all the saints
dates from before the year 270,
in a work by Gregory the Wonder-Worker, a bishop in Greece.
The date was fixed to November 1 in the eighth century.
This is our way of honoring our ancestors.
We’ve been doing it for a very long time.

What is a saint?
Is it someone who lived a legendarily perfect life,
and died centuries ago in the service of the faith?
Is it someone about whom we tell miracle stories?
Is it the statue under the birdbath in the yard?

The catechism in the Book of Common Prayer says this about sainthood:
“The communion of saints is the whole family of God,
the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt,
bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.”

Saints are the faces on the icons,
and the names forgotten centuries ago.
Theirs are the stories we tell once a year on their feast days,
and the stories remembered only by their children.
We are the babies of the family.
Ours is an ancient line of love and faith,
seeking and finding,
wrestling with and celebrating God.

This is a time to honor our own pantheons,
as well as those individuals specifically mentioned by the church.
Not only Aidan, monk, missionary bishop, and generous soul,
but Dymphna—patron of madness and also, for us, of creative chaos,
amazing organizational skills, drag-queen nuns, and children.
Not only Francis, who loved peace, practiced radical poverty,
and kissed a leper on the street—
but all who have lived and died and worked and played
and loved in this city.

I honor friends right here, who have welcomed me, laughed with me,
taught me a new skill, and helped me through a difficult time.
I honor a woman I never knew in the town I came from,
who roused her friends to create a flock of doves out of paper mache,
old sheets, glitter, paint, and glue.
They marched in an annual street fair celebrating life,
the year before she died on Palestinian soil.
I honor her parents, who carry on Rachel’s work
and who have become good friends to me.
I honor a child I cared for when I was just out of college.
She’s a self-conscious thirteen-year-old now;
she no longer jumps into my arms when she sees me.
But she taught me more about joyful assertiveness than anyone has,
before she even turned two.

I honor Mary, the bearer of God, saying yes to wild possibility.
I honor Mary Magdalene, first, vocal, witness to the resurrected Christ.
I honor Thomas, who honored his own need to see and touch the resurrected Christ for himself.
I honor all those who serve the San Francisco Night Ministry,
and who give their time by volunteering anywhere
in the service of God’s people and creation.
I honor those, too numerous to mention, following their faith
with thoughtful abandon,
stepping out bravely and joyfully into new ministries,
serving the God who calls us all to be our true selves.

Who do you honor today? How do they help you hear the call of God?
How do they encourage you to shine your light for others?

Saints are the holy ones, and saints are all of us. What is holiness?

Jesus said,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Blessed are the ones who are not attached to material things,
or financial security,
for they will find freedom in the generosity of God.
These are the ones who can share what they have,
with others who need even more than they.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Blessed are those who can feel their true feelings,
who can grieve and cry without shame.
They have the courage to ask for the comfort that they need.
When others need to be held, or rocked, or listened to,
these are the ones who have the strength to give that.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Blessed are the ones who meet anger not with posturing and threats,
but with openhearted, unreserved love.
These are the ones who can heal the ruptures in this world.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Blessed are those who seek God through working for justice on this earth.
The power of God will be with them
like a mighty stream.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
Blessed are the ones who can reach out with love and offers of forgiveness,
for they too will be loved and forgiven.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Blessed are the ones who are not complicated by greed,
hunger for power,
or any wrong attachments.
These are the ones who can pray in silence.
These are the ones who can be still, in their bodies and souls,
and make space for the love of God to fill them.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Blessed are the ones who work to heal divisions
between all peoples of the earth.
This is the work of shalom to which God calls us;
when we do it, we live into our call to be co-creators of the Kindom.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
God is with us in our hurt and fear and pain,
as much as God is with us in our joy.
God knows our deepest intentions, and God loves us immeasurably.
God “gets” who we are.
In a time when it was physically dangerous
to practice a countercultural faith,
Jesus was assuring his listeners that God was present with them,
even in their suffering.

“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.”
The work we do here matters.
Our lives matter.
The love of God, shining through us, matters.

Shalom is a Hebrew word that means more than peace;
it means wholeness, completeness, union with one another and with God.
Our new Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori,
preached yesterday on what it means to embody the concept of shalom.
She said,

“The ability of any of us to enjoy shalom depends on the health of our neighbors. If some do not have the opportunity for health or wholeness, then none of us can enjoy true and perfect holiness. The writer of Ephesians implores us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – to be at one in God's shalom. That is our baptismal task and hope, and unless each of the members of the body enjoys shalom we shall not live as one. That dream of God, that word of God spoken in each one of us at baptism also speaks hope of its realization.”

We are given the work of holiness at baptism,
the very moment at which we enter the communion of saints.
When we do this work,
we affirm the love, the creativity, and the reconciling power of God.

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints.
Our cloud of witnesses is right here with us.
Let us do the work that God has created us to do.
Let us be who God has called us to be.
We are the family of God.