All Saints' Day

November 1, 2019

Introduction and Call to Worship
On this All Saints’ Day we give thanks for all those who have served God faithfully in the name of Jesus Christ – a great crowd of witness to the glory of God – and we are invited to follow their example of faith.

Today’s Readings
First Reading
Daniel 7:1-3. 15-18
Daniel’s vision is revealed as foretelling a troubled future for a world ruled by violence but promising an everlasting kingdom for God’s “holy ones”.

Second Reading Ephesians 1:11-end
Christians, the body of Christ in this world, need the Spirit’s gifts of wisdom and revelation to recognise God’s power and inherit eternal glory.

Gospel Luke 6:20-31
Jesus urges us to treat others as we would want to be treated – loving, forgiving. Those who are underprivileged may recognise God in this; the comfortable may need help.

HOMILY        “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)

A judge died and arrived at the pearly gates. St Peter greets him and asks, "What have you done to merit entrance into Heaven? Are you a saint?" The Judge quickly replied, "A week ago, I gave some money to a homeless person sat outside the county court." Peter asked the angel Gabriel to check the records, and after a moment Gabriel confirmed the Judge had given a homeless man 50p. Peter said, "That’s not really quite enough to get you into Heaven. To be part of God’s Kingdom you must show mercy, love and faithfulness, confess your sins and strive for justice at every opportunity. Have you done that?" The Judge responded quickly, "There's more! Three years ago, I also gave a homeless person something." Peter nodded to Gabriel, who after a moment nodded back, affirming this action was verified. Then Peter whispered to Gabriel, "Well, what do you suggest we do with this man?" Gabriel gave the Judge a sideways glance, then said to Peter, "Let's give him back his £1 and tell him to go to Hell."

It is such a joy to share with you this evening the great festival of All Saints, which dates back to the fourth century when the Greek Christians kept a festival on the first Sunday after Pentecost (in late May or early June) in honour of all martyrs and saints. Some have suggested a form of celebration for All Saints and Martyrs began to be celebrated as early as AD 270, but there is no specific month or date recorded. By AD 837, Pope Gregory IV made All Saints' Day November 1st, probably an attempt to replace the pagan Festival of the Dead! That day is now known as Halloween, a shortened version of All Hallows’ Eve (the Eve of All Saints). Christian leaders ever since Christ have used this technique, known as inculturation; taking something which already existed and applying the faith to it to translate its meaning into contemporary culture.

And this great feast day is not simply about those first Saints of the bible because we have 2000 years of Christian history filled with holy men and women whom we honour today, not least among them the newly canonised John Henry Newman. Newman, like many of the great saints was serious in his scholarly work, prayerful devotion and acts of charity. Hopefully, our catholic Anglican forbear had a good sense of humour, too! And the Saints often seem to have recognised the funny side of life, perhaps because humour requires a special insight – wisdom. Often, those with a great sense of humour have much more than a simple knack with witty words, although John Chrysostom, the fourth-century bishop and Doctor of the Church, gave this warning: “Laughter does not seem to be a sin, but it can lead to sin…”  Often people with a sense of humour see the contrast between what is said and what is actually done. They poke fun at hypocrisy and of course themselves. St Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) was not simply brilliant with people and animals but he had a sense of humour, too. He said of himself that he was a “fool for Christ”! Before he was able to challenge others, he first recognised his own failings. We should do the same. In the Eucharist we have such an opportunity with a time of confession, allowing us to bring before God our failings, recognising that we are not all saints yet, and seeking reconciliation. Confession brings us closer to God and one another.

The Saints are those who walk a life close to God, following the example of Christ and recognising the foolishness of human pride. They see the funny side of life while keeping in prayer the serious matters of day to day living, for they perceive more than the superficial; they look to that which is eternal and God given. At the heart of this wisdom is an ability to perceive need in others and treat others with respect. Concluding today’s Gospel reading, Jesus reminds his listeners of the golden rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” The first half of the reading reflects the harsh reality of life, and the truth is that life has been tough for many people throughout human history. Some people are rich, happy, living comfortable lives, while others are poor and hungry, hated and excluded. Some are physically rich but spiritually poor, which is probably the worst place to be in relation to God, and a common disposition here in leafy Surrey in the 21st century. Jesus offers comfort to those who are poor, calling them blessed. Is this because they are more likely to recognise their need for God? Is that why the kingdom of God is theirs and their reward great in heaven?

As for those who are comfortable in this life, however, it seems Jesus is condemning them outright: “Woe to you!” That is, until we reach the single, simple word on which this whole passage hinges: “but” – thank heavens for that, I am sure a few of us are thinking… BUT! Those who are comfortable now, who are rich, respectable and popular, are thrown a lifeline by our Lord of all life and love, for he recognises that being rich is not itself a crime. Friends, it is what you do with your wealth and power that really matters, not how much of it you have. Jesus makes clear “to you that listen” – which is to all of us today – that we need to order our priorities according to those of his Kingdom. Indeed, here at St Mary’s we are today entering a four week season in the run up to Advent when we will reflect upon the Kingdom and its priorities of love, blessing, giving and forgiving, sharing and mutual support – the very virtues by which we hope to be treated. And we need look no further than the Saints to find examples of such virtuous and Godly living, a willingness to sacrifice of the little they had in order that others may be raised up, in faith. To follow the example of the Saints means living by the values of God’s Kingdom as taught by Jesus, recognising that we are called to be saints today – and be joyful about it and yes, that does require wisdom. The early Christians were addressed as “saints” in Paul’s letters and we, too, today are called to be saints, to walk close to the Lord and remain faithful in prayer, confessing our failings and striving for God’s Kingdom while having a sense of humour. We know we’re not perfect; we know we get things wrong. Just like St Francis, we can be fools, yet we also know that our baptism has cleansed us and Jesus our Lord has saved us, and we now continue his ministry here on earth – living his kingdom values out daily.

SUMMARY
1.    Jesus urges us to do to others as we would have them do to us – loving and forgiving. We need to have a good sense of humour like the Saints and recognise our own failings first.
2.    Those who are poor know their need of God’s help, while those who are comfortable may need a helping hand, offered by the teaching and example of Jesus. In Surrey this is a pertinent challenge!
3.    As followers of Jesus, as his “saints”, all of us are called to apply his teaching to the world we live in as we seek his Kingdom to come.

 

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