The Feast of All Saints
Blessings and Woes (The Beatitudes).
So today is All Saints Day,
The day when the Church historically rejoices in and commemorates all the Saints who have gone before us.
Saints: it’s a word that literally means ‘holy’ or ‘set apart.’
And I wonder which of those many men and women throughout history stand out for you?
Perhaps it is Saint Francis, who devoted his life to service and caring for creation.
Or Saint Paul, who following that conversion on the road to Demascus devoted his life to bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Or maybe it is the newest Saint, Saint Teresa, who devoted her life to serving the poor on the streets of Calcutta.
What is it about these and the other Saints that is so compelling?
For me, it is because in all of them we see a life that has been utterly dedicated to God,
There is a renouncement,
A giving up of things in the world that distract.
And because of that, they are, as Jesus says in our Gospel reading today, ‘blessed.’
Blessed is a word we encounter a fair bit in today’s reading which is Luke’s form of the Beatitudes.
The beatitudes in Luke are different from those in Matthew,
For starters, there are 8 in Matthew, whereas there are 4 in Luke.
In Matthew there is the sense that they can be read in a sort of spiritualised way:
“blessed are the poor in spirit.”
But in Luke there is a real sense of concreteness,
Blessed are the physical poor,
The physical hungry,
Those who weep physical tears.
It follows in Luke’s portrayal of Jesus as a man who has a special affinity for the poor and the destitute.
And yet Jesus uses the word ‘blessed.’
Some translations use the word ‘happy’
The Greek word, makarios, can be translated as a state of inner happiness.
What does it mean then for someone who is poor,
To be ‘happy’?
It is Jesus speaking of the world to come,
The Kingdom of God where the values and the wealth of this world will be turned upside down,
Where those who have nothing now will have plenty.
The Saints in history renounced the things of the world,
St. Francis renounced his family’s wealth.
St. Paul renounced his heritage and his status.
On a surface level, there is nothing easy about the Saint’s lives.
And yet they were able to say they were ‘happy’, they were ‘blessed’
Because their focus was above all on God,
In the midst of their own difficulties and strifes, their focus was above all on God and his future,
A future where the rewards far out weighed the world now.
Their focus was on God to the extent that they said no to those things of the world,
And to glory.
In saying yes to God, they were saying no to themselves.
It didn’t mean they suddenly stopped suffering,
But in meant in the midst of their suffering they were sustained.
Are we able to do the same?
In the Gospel, Jesus is scathing:
He says ‘woe to those who are rich,
Woe to those who are rich,
Who are laughing.’
I suggest his criticism is on those who continue to place their attention,
Who contninue to be defined by the things of the world.
And in a world of so many distractions,
It is all too easy to be defined by the things of the world,
By money, or success, or personal gain.
When we fall into that trap of being designed by what values of the world,
Then we have drifted from God.
When we try and take control of our own life,
That is the moment we have stopped letting God be in control.
Here, on All Saints’ Day then, the saints are inspirational in their devotion to God.
But: as we remember and praise the saints recognised by the church,
We must also remember that there is a wider sainthood,
A sainthood that includes us all.
We are all Saints.
As Saint Paul constantly reminds us, we have all been set apart,
We are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s elected Saints.
Now I don’t know about you, but I often don’t really feel very saintly.
Y’know I can look at the Saints gone to glory and feel this real sense of unworthiness.
I really like my gadgets and I know how easy it is to become obsessed with wanting to buy the next best thing,
And then I look at St. Francis and sometimes want to metaphorically bash myself over the head with a Bible!
But of course the historical saints didn’t suddenly live this life of holiness,
They grew into it, throughout the whole of their lives.
And the same is true for us,
As God’s saints, called by him, we are to grow into that sacred calling,
Into that holiness.
The theological word is ‘sanctification’
The act of being made holy.
Well, it is here, after the woes of the beatitudes that Jesus tells us.
Verse 27 following: “love your enemies,
Do good to those who hate you.
Bless those who curse you
Turn the other cheek.”
We participate in the acts of Jesus,
We actively seek and do those things which He himself did.
Acting like Christ, means we become more Christ like,
Which is the ultimate purpose of being made holy.
Think of learning a musical instrument:
The more we practice, the more skilled we become,
So that eventually it becomes second nature.
The more habitual something is, the more apart of us it becomes.
And that works for negatives as well as positives:
The more we practice hate, the more hateful we become,
The more we become consumed about saving to buy that exciting thing, the mire we become consumed by money,
The longer we hold that grudge against a neighbour, the more resentful we become.
The more we practice rudeness, the ruder we become.
But equally, the more we practice love, the more loving we become,
The more we practice charity, the more charitable we become,
The more we follow Christ’s commandments, the more we grow into His likeness.
It’s an idea Bishop Tom Wrught in hus book Virtue Reborn raises when he discusses the Miracle on the Hudson.
If you’re not familiar with it: on 15 January 2009, Us Airways Flight 1549 recently departed from Newark airport in New York hit a flight of birds, causing its engines to fail.
The pilot Chelsey Sullenberger – known affectionately as Sully, however was able to save all souls on board by landing jis plane in the middle of New York: on the Hudson River.
As Tom Wright points out, Captain Sully was able to land the plane and save all 155 souls on board as a direct result of his years of training,
That his understanding of his plane and what to do was so ingrained within him that he instinctively knew what to do.
For us, as God’s own saints, Christ likewise calls us to allow him to be so engrained within us that we grow ever more into his likeness.
How practically do we do that?
I would suggest four things:
1. Firstly, be aware of what it is that distracts you. What is it that you find takes your attention away from God? It might be money, it might be material things.
2. Worship: in worship we come together, in worship we are strengthened by one another, in the reminder that we do not do this in isolation.
3. Read scripture: create space and time for God’s Word to penetrate us and to transform us.
And fourthly and for me the most important of all: pray.
Prayer is the most radical thing we can do:
Prayer is that time and space when we re dedicate ourselves to God.
When we return to Him.
When we say to God: Here I Am, shape me and mould me as you would have me be.
Prayer is when we say ‘not my will, but yours be done.’
It was prayer that was at the basis of the life of all the Saints.
So this week, as God’s saints here in Hucknall, think about when you pray.
Think about creating a time and a space to pray
It might be 5 minutes while you’re ironing,
while you’re walking to Tesco,
perhaps while you’re walking to church,
Someone wise said it doesn’t matter how we pray, the important thing is that we do pray.
And if prayer is difficult, or you aren’t sure how: talk to someone.
Talk to Kathryn,
To Jane, Ann, Malcolm or Graham,
Today, on this All Saints Day, when we look to the example of all the Saints departed,
Let us be inspired by them, and grow in the assurance that we too are set apart by God,
As we continue to rededicate our lives and our witness as we grow into Christ’s glorious likeness.
Rev. James Pacey