Sermon: Feast of All Saints

all-saints-graphic

[Given on Sunday, November 2, 2014 – Feast of All Saints – by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO]

Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Revelation 7:14b

 

In the name of our Great and Glorious God, who is Creating, Liberating, and Sustaining. Amen. +

“Before the hammers of creation / fell upon the anvils of Time and hammered out the ribs of the earth / before He made ropes / by the breath of fire / and set the boundaries of the ocean by gravity of His power / when God said, ha! / Let us make man / And the elders upon the altar cried, ha! / If you make man, ha! / He will sin.”[1]

These opening lines of a sermon delivered by a man named C.C. Lovelace in 1929, and transcribed by renowned novelist Zora Neale Hurston, make clear that a nameless Evil has been around since “before the hammers of creation fell upon the anvils to Time…” It was a force powerful enough to distort God’s creation by introducing sin into the equation.

Through the course of history, communities of faith have personified this evil in various and sundry ways, the Christian Church calling it Satan, the tempter of the brethren, going to and fro on the earth opposing the coming Reign of God.

Whatever we call it, we are caught in a struggle that is bigger than we are. In the book Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer and Christian Life, Will Willimon (dean of the Chapel and professor of Christian ministry at Duke University) and Stanley Hauerwas (professor of theological Ethics at Duke University), describe the reality of evil in this way. “What you [you and I] are up against, in being saved, is not simply your personal faults and foibles, your petty temptations and peccadilloes. You are up against what we call ‘principalities and powers.’ Evil is large, cosmic, organized, subtle, pervasive, and real.”[2]

Some rest seemingly secure under the false-pretense that they are in full control of their lives, that they are not wrestling against anything out of their grasp, that if they just try hard enough they can overcome anything by sheer grit and determination.

But the Christian Church disavowed that heresy long ago. Paul tells the Church of Ephesus “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”[3] Jesus himself, in teaching us the Lord’s Prayer, concedes that there is a nameless Evil that we must continually be on our guard against.

That is, after all, what it means to be saved. Contrary to the personal piety, and moralistic purity posited by some, as far as Jesus is concerned “being saved,” calling oneself a “Christian,” only means that one has seen the evil that is present and has cried out to God “save us, for we are perishing!”

In following the way of Christ, in the waters of baptism, in becoming Christian, we willingly enter the larger narrative of salvation that is playing out across Creation. Willimon and Hauerwas suggest that we “join all those saints throughout the ages who have had their lives transformed, commandeered, turned over, and detoxified by the love of God in Christ.”[4]

Tranformed. Commandeered. Turned Over. Detoxified.

That’s what it means to be a saint in God’s divine community. Not perfection. Not moral superiority. Not super-human spirituality. Not high-fallooting “holiness.” But a life that has been “transformed, commandeered, turned over, and detoxified by the love of God in Christ.”

We Celebrate this Mass of Thanksgiving, thankful to Almighty God for the lives of His saints – St. Mary the Virgin, St. Luke the Physician, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Andrew the “First Called”, St. Hildegarde of Bingen, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Martin Luther King, but not just the big named saints, but our own saints – St. Jay Olander, St. Richard Gregory, St. Connie Smart, St. Magnolia Armstead – and we say thank you to God not because they were perfect, not because they never made mistakes, not because they lived blameless lives, but because in their lives we can see an example of what it means to live a life that has been “transformed, commandeered, turned over, and detoxified by the love of God in Christ.”

We say thank you to God because in this Great Cloud of Witnesses we have examples of what it means to run this race with patience, with determination, with faith, and with grace. We say thank you to God because we are not running by ourselves.

“These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

These are they who can utter the words of Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son”:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor —
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now —
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

These are they who have been tried in the fire, who have gone through the flood, who have weathered the storm, who have been up and sometimes down, sometimes leveled to the ground, but who can testify that from the rocking of their cradles until their dying day, God has been good to them.

“These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

They have fought a good fight.

They have finished their course.

They have kept the faith.

Henceforth there is laid up form a crown of righteousness…

So keep fighting, beloved.

Keep running.

Keep the faith.

Because you have an example that no matter how hard it gets, you can win this race.

And for that, and for All the Saints who from their labors rest, we give God thanks.

[1] C.C. Lovelace. “The Sermon” in Keeping the Faith: African American Sermons of Liberation, 30.

[2] William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas. Lord Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & Christian Life, 89.

[3] Ephesians 6:12

[4] Willimon and Hauerwas. Lord Teach Us, 88.

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