Our celebration today is actually a mash-up of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
All Saints was originally celebrated to remember all those exemplary Christians who did not have their own day in the church calendar, but who were holy people. All Souls—also known as the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed—was the day to remember people who have died but may not have risen to the level of “exemplary.”
Later in our liturgy, we remember both, exemplary and not so famous people, naming and remembering members of this parish and others who have died since last All Saints Day.
It is also true that in the New Testament—particularly in Paul’s letters, all the baptized were called saints. And we don’t have to read far in Paul’s letters to know that many were far from exemplary!
Besides baptism, what makes a saint a saint? Why are people like Paul, Francis and Claire, Patrick and Bridget, Mother Teresa, and MLK remembered? Singled out for recognition and honor in the church and beyond? Why have we remembered them and celebrated them over the years and centuries?
I will offer a pretty simple explanation: They listened to Jesus. They knew the Sermon on the Mount was a description of the Kingdom of God. They knew Jesus embodied that sermon every day of his life.
And they tried to live that Kingdom life in their times and circumstances. Like Francis—using words only when necessary.
So what did we hear today in the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount?
- first, Jesus was sitting down—that’s how teachers taught back in the day.
- The disciples stood.
- The crowd was behind the disciples—basically eavesdropping.
- Jesus speaks in the present tense. Blessed are…
- Those who are poor, in mourning, meek, hungry, merciful, peacemakers, pure-hearted, and persecuted are blessed NOW.
- And notice—these blessings are not conditional—there is no “if they do…”. No—they are blessed—period.
- This sermon is descriptive. Jesus is describing is God’s normal. God’s kingdom.
Does this sound like “normal” to you? If I look around, I’m afraid I see the wealthy, the loudmouths, the greedy, the privileged as those who seem “blessed.”
The same was true in Jesus’ time. So he adds a, they “will be…“ God’s kingdom is present and future. The blessing is here, the fulfillment lies ahead.
It’s a continuum—not separate phases. Jesus’ time includes past, present and future—the already and not yet.
What Jesus is describing is a world turned upside down from the world he knew and the one we know. It’s the world of Mary’s Magnificat—where the hungry are fed and the rich sent away empty, where the mighty are cast down and the lowly lifted up.
Do we, can we believe such a reversal is possible?
Most of the people who heard Jesus speak these words could identify with them in one way or another. They were poor. They were persecuted. They were hungry and thirsty. People like them, through the centuries, have heard these words and found in them peace, strength, even joy.
But what about us? Jesus' words today do not describe most of us most of the time. We are not poor. We are not persecuted. We are not hungry—in fact many of us are probably on a diet.
Would it be possible for us to trust God enough to hold on to our privilege, our plenty, our power more lightly? Is it possible that the poor and hungry and persecuted have something to teach us about being a disciple of Jesus?
What would it take to develop that trust? What would our lives look like?
There are a couple of things I might suggest.
- First, make your prayer life a priority every day. Read some scripture, be quiet and listen for a short time, remember the saints who have gone before and those in our midst.
- And today, listen with new ears and an open heart when we renew our baptismal promises in a few minutes.
I streamed to Fr. Tom’s workshop on the Baptismal Covenant in preparation for today. If you haven’t watched it, please do when you get home. It is one of the best teachings on baptism that I’ve heard.
(It's on the St. Paul website, SaintPaulsNaples.org ).
He called his workshop five questions that should change your life. What if we spent the next few weeks, concentrating on one of the promises at a time?
- Thinking about how we continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship
- Truly repenting and returning, when we sin
- Proclaiming by word and example
- Seeking and serving Christ in all people—what does it actually mean to love our neighbors?
- Striving for justice and peace, really respecting the dignity of every person
You don’t even have to do them in order. You could start with the one that seems the hardest or the one that will be easiest.
The baptismal covenant puts into concrete terms what a life of discipleship looks like. I believe that if we all live what we promise—really, really live it—God’s kingdom would be a whole lot more visible than it is today.
Maybe not the complete reversal that Jesus describes, but we’d be tipping the balance. We’d be rocking the boat. Wouldn’t that be fun! Paul surely rocked the boat. Francis and Claire taught us about radical poverty. Patrick and Bridget proclaimed by word and example. Mother Teresa—another proclaimer who knew what it meant to love her neighbors. MLK, convinced of the truth of the Beatitudes, caused a reversal which is still in process. We can do it too. We have everything we need—if we trust God and pray and act.