The Rev. Peter M. Carey
All Saints Day, 2010 Sermon
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
In the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
Very often on All Saints Day a person in the pew may hear stories of saints from years past – of St. Francis who stripped off all the clothes his earthly father gave him and said he would turn to his heavenly father to robe him and care for him – of St. Martin who tore his cloak and gave half of it to a beggar in need – of St. Mary who was the God-bearer and the mother of our Lord. We might also hear of contemporary people who exhibit saintly behavior, Mother Teresa who cared for the dying in Calcutta, of Jonathan Daniels, gunned down for his work for Civil Rights – of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was killed for standing up to the NAZI regime.
So, where does this leave us. We who are weighed down by the daily tasks of caring for loved ones, of feeding ourselves, of rousing up the family to get on to work and school, to weekend activities, to church, to family obligations. We who are weighed down by the changes and chances of our lives. Where does this leave us?
The monk and writer, Thomas Merton had this to say about being a saint:
“We can only become saints by facing ourselves, by assuming full responsibility for our lives just as they are, with all their limitations and handicaps, and submitting ourselves to the purifying and transforming action of the Savior.”
You see, our job is not to become St. Francis, St. Martin, St. Mary or even to live the life of Mother Teresa, Jonathan Daniels or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Our job is to face ourselves, to assume full responsibilities for our lives just as they are. In short, we need to step up, and grow up. Recently, a friend of mind heard a line that stuck with her: “Americans have become consumers, rather than citizens.” We have, in many ways lost our deep commitments to one another. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one. We are meant to be one – not to bounce from brand to brand, not to always be looking for where the grass is greener, where the fashion is hipper, to where the school has better test scores, or even where the church (!) is healthier, more welcoming, or “better”. To step up, and to grow up, might be, in fact to commit to who we are, where we are, and what we are as a citizen of this place in this time.
Being a citizen is fine, and good, and worthy. But God wants more. Here we are drawn into a whole multitude of saints who have gone before, and we are one with one another in the Body of Christ. “Citizens yes,..but also Saints! But what might this mean. Well, it certainly means not being ever-cynical, ever the critic! As Teddy Roosevelt reminded us:
It's not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or when the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worth cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.
And it certainly means living a life as a grown up, as Paul reminds us:
4 Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (King James version with "charity" rendered as "love")
So we are to grow up, to put away the childish things of being ever the critic, ever the fickle consumer, ever the cynic. We are to step up into the arena, and what do we bring with us there? Faith, hope, love. And this love is a love that is tough love. It is love that stands on the side of justice. It is love that stands on the side of the whole Body of Christ. It is a love that stands on the side of those who are in need. It is a love that stands on the side of the oppressed. It is a love that does not tolerate childishness and a culture of cynicism, fear and hate. It is a love that abides. Out of many, one. E pluribus unum. And the one to which we belong is God, in Christ. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, bound to one another in love. So step up! And grow up into the love of God.
Come visit us at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Greenwood, VA!