Sermon for All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2020 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Revelation 7:9-17+Psalm 34:1-10, 22+1 John 3:1-3+Matthew 5:1-12

What does it mean to be blessed? A lot of people will share photos of a new home or a new car or a vacation destination with the hashtag blessed. New job? Financial windfall? Day on the golf course? #blessed.

Do you ever wonder about all those people who don’t have the new home or car or vacation or job or anything else on that list? Are they somehow less blessed than we are?

If we use the phrase, “there but for the grace of God go I,” is not the corollary that the other person is outside of God’s grace?

No, all of these things may be matters of luck or good fortune, but chances are these things we call blessings are the consequence of the circumstances of who we are, where we are born, the color of our skin, and the opportunities afforded to us through no inherent goodness of our own. Yes, many of us work hard for what we have, but there are an awful lot of people who work equally hard and have a lot less through no fault of their own.

Are they not #blessed?

Jesus tells us what it means to be blessed, and chances are, we want no part of it. Poor in spirit? Mourning? Meek? Persecuted? Reviled? That doesn’t sound like blessedness; it sounds like cursedness. Which just goes to show how little we understand what it means to be the people of God, of what God’s reign actually is.

On this All Saints Day, we pause to consider those in whom God’s grace has been undeniably evident, who did things great and small that caused them to be remembered, set apart, as examples of faithful living in the face of challenge and adversity. These are the ones who found true blessedness in doing the will of God no matter the cost. No matter the disdain or opposition from family, friends, community, and the powerful. True blessedness is to be called “children of God,” as the First Letter of John says.

In these unsettled times when the world seems turned upside down, it might be a comfort to know that these beatitudes from the sermon on the mount are exactly that – an upside-down view of the world as we know it. A world where blessedness isn’t measured by wealth or privilege but by how our faith perseveres even though by all outward evidence we are not blessed at all.

The pandemic has laid bare the illusions of success that made us feel so secure. What is a fat retirement account if you can’t hold your loved one’s hand as she dies? Where is #blessed when your job is gone and you rely on the food bank to make it through the month? When your children wonder why they can’t go to a friend’s house or you frantically try to work from home while every other member of your household is using up bandwidth with their own online work and classes?

And I recognize that for all almost everyone who will hear these words, the pandemic is not nearly so challenging as it is for the poor, the meek, the mourning, and the hungry.

And it is in that difference that the distance to God’s reign on earth is manifest. Because God’s reign remains an elusive dream until we truly understand that we cannot be rich while people are hungry; we cannot be secure in our homes while others have no home; we cannot feast at a full table while our neighbors are hungry; that we cannot be truly blessed until all are blessed.

Now, I know we all like to think that Jesus is talking about us and calling us blessed, but this one really isn’t about us. It’s about all those live on the periphery of our existence, on the margins, the ones that Jesus sought out to be his companions, the ones who followed him because they had nowhere else to go.

The saints of God must have had a glimpse of this, enough so to give up wealth and privilege, to stand up to power, to suffer persecution and hardship for the sake of God’s blessedness. But here’s the thing. They didn’t set out to be saints. They didn’t set out to check off each of those beatitudes as something to be achieved. No, they simply loved God and followed where that led them. And we can do the same.         

The children’s hymn for All Saints Day sums it up nicely:

They lived not only in ages past; 
there are hundreds of thousands still. 
The world is bright with the joyous saints 
who love to do Jesus’ will. 
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, 
in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; 
for the saints of God are just folk like me, 
and I mean to be one too. 

Hymnal 1982, #293

As we welcome the newest saints into the household of faith through the sacrament of baptism this morning, we promise to help them grow in their life of faith, into the full stature of Christ. This is true blessedness. May God grant us the grace to fulfill these promises that we, too, might be called saints of God.

ASEPSermon for All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2020 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas