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Sainthood is For Everyone

All Saints

5 Nov 2023

Last December I became quite ill. It was one of those gastrointestinal ailments where you became intimately acquainted with your toilet. It lasted long enough and was severe enough I asked my spouse to take me to the ER. If you know me well you would know that the ER, a place in which I have spent many hours professionally, is a place I have never been as a patient and never wanted to go. In short, I was sick. I told the ER doctor, who happened to know me from my days at Mercy, I was sure I had norovirus. Since testing for Covid and influenza were negative and other GI infections don’t act quite like what I was experiencing, I still believe that is what it was. After fluids and ondansetron, I recovered. The episode gave me time to ponder my own vulnerability and, yes, even mortality. I know that an illness like I had, in someone my age, can lead to severe complications and death. I have seen it. At the height of the vomiting, I may have had some fleeting thoughts that death might be preferable, but I was not ready to leave this mortal life. Yet what if I did depart this world? Would I have achieved sainthood?

I wondered, and wonder still, if I am blessed by God. Certainly I have had many good things in my life; things we call blessings, or at least I call them that. Good health, friends, and family; no food insecurity or financial insecurity; living in places that are generally considered “safe.” Indeed, most cultures would consider these things blessings and many religions would consider these gifts from God. I believe God does provide, but it is not a sign of the blessing of the God in which we place out trust. A blessing, but not one from God.

What is it that God bestows upon us that makes us blessed? While this may come as news for some, Jesus says that those who are blessed are the poor, the persecuted, and physically and emotionally other abled, those who mourn, those who strive for peace, those who hunger and thirst, both in the literal sense and in the metaphorical sense, and those who strive for justice and peace. And Jesus does not say “will be blessed”; he says “are blessed”. This is the here and now, it is ongoing; it is not the future. Saints are living. That would have made of sense to Jesus’s listeners, for only a portion of Jews believed in a life after death. What would have been shocking was the premise that it was not the rich who were blessed by God. It was to his hearers as counter cultural as someone saying to Americans that land could not be owned.

Some heard and understood, and many heard and did not understand, or they simply did not hear rightly. In Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, Brian, his mother, and a few others are listening to the Sermon on the Mount. The camera first focuses on Jesus as he starts to pronounce who is blessed then pans out to focus on Brian, but Brian and his group are too far back to hear clearly. One person hears that the cheesemakers are blessed and then tries to figure out what that means and if all cheesemakers, or only those that make certain kinds of cheese are blessed. The group conversation degenerates into insults and even a fist fight. They did not hear nor understand. Whatever your feelings about the movie, the point is that from the beginning sainthood was misunderstood, for the entire message of Jesus, that the kingdom was here and is now (not will be coming) has been spun in a thousand different directions.

Those folks who created the lectionary were wise in their choice of readings for this day. Revelations is the only book of its kind in the New Testament. It is NOT a prediction of future events, but a book of hope. John is writing when Rome is in ascendancy and Christians are being sorely persecuted, when martyrdom was a distinct possibility for anyone calling themselves Christian. Christians refused to worship the emperor and practiced the communal life laid out in the Gospels. We are countercultural. We acknowledge God as god.

The author of first John speaks of the love that God has for us and that those who are God’s children and that we must walk in that same way as we await the fulfillment of the Kingdom. We are countercultural. We walk in love with one another.

And then there is Matthew. Jesus is just getting started. He has gathered people from all over, Jews and Gentiles, rural and urban, educated and uneducated, wealthy and poor. He goes up on the mountain, just as Moses did, and teaches. I wonder what the people were expecting. Was it someone who would lead them out from under the yoke of Rome? Was it someone who would teach them how to obtain the blessing of wealth, a sort of Joel Osteen approach? Would it be something else? I sense in the Gospels that few were ready for what Jesus actually said, just as today few of us are ready. But there it is: if you want to be blessed, if you want to be a saint, practice love, justice, and mercy.

I call it fumbling towards sainthood. We honor today those in our family, in our church family, and in our circle of friends, who practiced a Gospel life the best way they new how. I think that a desire to please God is the first, and longest, step towards sainthood. Then do the right thing, as best as you can, knowing that you will fall short. I fall short, my parents fell short, my friends fall short; you fall short. But the desire to please God pleases God. This makes saints of so many of us.

It is also the day when we honor those who did give their all for the faith, whether it was ancient Rome or a modern oppressive regime. From Agnes of Rome to Oscar Romero, people have kept the faith even in the threat of death. Those people give me faith and courage.

Then there are those whose life, whether well known or obscure, was fully dedicated to God and living out the Beatitudes. I have the joy of knowing some of these saints!

And then there is you. You are saints. Jesus began his public ministry with a blessing.“Blessed ARE the poor…..”We are blessed right now, not in some future state. God does not want our sacrifices and offerings, or rather does not need them. The best offering is a humble heart and a willingness to act out the beatitudes in real time. It takes courage, for the fear of leaving the boat and drowning is real. Yet you can leave the boat and not only walk on the water, but dance on the water.

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