5 NOV 2017
One of the joys of preparing for All Saints is being able to remember all those people I knew who lived and died in the faith. As Christians we believe that all who keep faith in their lives are Saints, not just those who died as martyrs or performed acts of Christian heroics. I look at my own family; no one made the news for some great deed of heroism but they quietly persevered, giving away what they could when they could. I cannot say I have gone extra miles or done extraordinary things for the faith, but I believe that God will set me and you and all of us free. The people described in Revelations had gone more than the extra mile; they had not only died in the faith but died for the faith. Ironic that we used that particular book of the Bible to scare people and make some kind of litmus test about true belief and correct standards of behavior. Those robed in white are from every nation and tribe and corner of the earth and they have been tested sorely. Most of us will never face the kind of tribulation they faced, but they still have a lot to say to us today. They persevered. Maybe we need to hand out T shirts that say "Keep calm and follow Jesus."
I look up and see all of the folks I knew standing with those white robed martyrs. I never had a chance to meet either of my grandmothers, but I am told my maternal grandmother could control the wildest and most willful child with no more than a look. She never was able to attend church much but had a Bible she read every day. My paternal grandmother had to deal with my father and his older brother and that alone should qualify her for sainthood. I have her Bible now with all the little markers she put there when a passage really struck her. Keep calm and follow Jesus.
I find it very hard to put myself in the place to those who listened to the words of Revelation and the words of the beatitudes. Both were written in times and places that seem far removed from my life. Those who heard the Gospel and Revelations were under political persecution and I suspect most knew someone who had died for their faith. It is a book that is frightening in its imagery with scenes that are violent and frightening and talk of the end of the world. Alas hearers today so often take those horrific visions of the end of time quite literally whereas the first hearers of Revelations would have known it was symbolic and designed to reassure. It is art and not the rendering of fact nor predictions of the future. However, it does call us, as it did our parents and grandparents and all the saints, to follow the way of God. There is warning in the book, no doubt about it, but not the kind of warning that makes good Left Behind novels. What it has always said, I believe, is that we are never to turn to a nation or a leader or any human being as the source of peace and prosperity. Salvation has its root in the word for health and our salvation comes from God and not from any government. Has any empire ever brought universal peace and prosperity? Those saints who came before us believed salvation came from God and the Lamb, not to Caesar or any earthly ruler or nation
The book opens us to the hope of a better world. Not in the hereafter, but now. Those of us who live lives of privilege may think that this earth of ours is a different place than the Kingdom of God and so we justify our failure to be responsible for what is entrusted to us and justify that millions of marginalized people can stay that way because they will have their reward in the next life. No va (no go). Our sainthood is conferred by how we promote the kingdom in this world. Look at what Revelations says about the "good times". When the saints worship God there is no more hunger and no more tears. We are a community!! We are a community of every race and nation and gender and age. It matters not from where your ancestors came or from where you came; you are all washed in the blood and all stand together. Perhaps some of you can recall saints you knew who were victims. Maybe they were abused, maybe they were held captive by the demons of drugs or alcohol. Maybe they suffered from physical ailments. Maybe they were the ones that fought against abuse or disease. Do we win saint points based on how many worship services we attend, or is it because of genuine thanks and praise and pleas for help? I am not sure the word saint should ever be preceded by the word perfect.
The world John envisioned is in stark contrast to the world in which he lived. Maybe that is true for all the saints we remember today. What did our family and friends believe about the Kingdom? Would they have dared all themselves saints?
Who are the saints? How can I be one too? We are saints when we understand the very nature of God and do the will of God. Our God takes care of those least able to take care of themselves and we are called to do likewise. Jesus does not demand we be meek or merciful, but he reveals that this is what God is like. Do you really believe in a god who prefers the meek and merciful and who extolls the peacemaker and the persecuted?
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."