All Saints’ Sunday. 6 November 2016. Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31.
Game 7 of the World Series was tied after the 9th inning. It started to rain. The teams went to their respective club houses to wait it out. Jason Heyward spoke to the Cubs. He later explained to ESPN, “I just wanted to remind these guys of how good they are and how special they are.” It worked. The Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908.
Before the win, you heard a lot about a curse hanging over the Cubs. An angry fan is said to have cursed the team when he was not allowed to bring his goat to the Cubs’ last World Series game in 1945. Some said the baseball gods were offended because the Cubs cheated when they won in 1908. A black cat walked past the Cubs dugout during a crucial game in 1969, ending their pennant race that year. Over and over, hopes were dashed. The joke was, “What did Jesus say to the Cubs? Don’t do anything till I get back.”
But in the clubhouse in Game 7, while waiting for the extra innings to begin, they didn’t talk about any of that. They didn’t talk about a century of hardship and humiliation. Instead, Jason Heyward reminded these guys of how good they are and how special they are.
That’s what Jesus was doing for his followers. They felt like they were cursed. The world in which they lived valued people who were rich and full and laughing and admired. The people who flocked to Jesus were poor and hungry and weeping and hated and excluded and reviled and defamed. They were living under Roman occupation and had not ruled themselves for way more than 108 years. Life was very hard for them. But Jesus reminded them how good they are and how special they are.
Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are hungry now. Blessed are you who weep now. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you.
Blessed are you.
You may have seen Pope Francis’s list of beatitudes for the modern Christian this week. His list is more like the version in Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew, Jesus spoke in the third person, not second. Blessed are those who . . . Here is what Pope Francis said.
— Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart.
— Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.
— Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.
— Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.
— Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.
— Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.
These are all good things. Like Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, Pope Francis spoke to people in power and told them how to be more of a blessing in this world. But in Luke, Jesus had a different goal in mind. Jesus looked straight in the eyes of his beaten down, struggling, barely getting by followers and said Blessed are you. You who have every reason to think you are not blessed, blessed are you. If he were speaking today, Jesus would say blessed are you who are immigrants, blessed are you who are in prison, blessed are you native Americans and all victims of racism, blessed are you who are unemployed, blessed are you foster children, blessed are you who are sick, blessed are you when you just can’t get a break, blessed are you.
And blessed are you who mourn. Today we remember the capital S saints – the heroes of the faith who showed us how to be a blessing to others. But we also remember the small S saints – people beloved to us who have risen with Christ in glory. Though we celebrate their victory, we mourn their absence. And Jesus says to all who mourn, blessed are you.
The beatitudes are for everyone. Sometimes we need them because we so easily forget we are blessed. And sometimes we need them so we can be more of a blessing to others.
The Saints heard both messages. They were ordinary people who realized they were blessed and everyone was blessed. So they loved their enemies, did good to those who hated them, blessed those who cursed them, prayed for those who abused them, turned the other cheek, and lived by the Golden Rule. And we are made of the same stuff as they. By the grace of God working in us through baptism, we can be like them. Blessed are you.
Every week, we confess in the creeds we believe in the communion of saints. When we do this, an image often comes to my mind. For some reason, I see a huge crowd in the stands at a sports arena. The writer probably had running races in mind, but it might as well be baseball. The Saints of God gather around us like the crowd at Wrigley for Game 5. They are all cheering us on. The capital S saints like Saint Francis and Saint Margaret and Lottie Moon. And the small S saints like Stan and Carolyn Carnaru. They have finished the game. We are still playing. They support us in keeping the promises of baptism. They remind us who we are and how special we are. Their encouragement leads us to victory, in this life and in the life to come.
Let us pray
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. Amen.
©The Rev. Dr. Grace Burton-Edwards
Image: All Saints Window from Chester Cathedral, by Hystfield – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23331951