Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34
1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
All Saints is not about just ONE saint. It’s about all of them, all around us, the communion of saints.
All Saints is not just about the fancy ones, the ones with the BIG LETTER names. It’s about the ordinary ones, the ones who wiped brows, who cooked meals, who built houses, who fished and farmed, who followed Jesus, who prayed out loud, who prayed in silence.
All Saints is not just about those who died glorious deaths. It’s about people who died in terrible pain, and people who died in their sleep. It’s about people who died not knowing what hit them, about people we miss terribly, terribly, because they were such a part of our lives. It’s about people who died without thinking about themselves, because they were so focused on who they had to save, people who walked in front of bullets, people who ran into burning buildings to rescue others.
All Saints is not just about people who lived comfortable lives. It’s is about the people who were generous to a fault. It’s about people who gave money to feed the poor, to build homes for people who would otherwise have nowhere to live, to care for people with shattered lives and broken hearts. It’s about the people who gave money to every bum who asked for a handout, and it’s about the people who lived their whole lives disguised as bums, but underneath their messy exteriors, no one but God knew they were saints.
All Saints is not just about people who never took risks, who walked the straight and narrow. It’s about people who dared to climb mountains and sail seas, people who would never take no for an answer when it came to something they knew God was calling them to do. It’s about people who dared to tell the world that God loved them, and who went to far away places to do that.
All Saints is not just about those who were brave. It’s about those who endured terrible pain and loss, who had everything taken away from them by war or famine or flood or fire. It’s about those whose parents abandoned them, and whose children left them, but who came to know that God was with them through it all, until in the end, God welcomed them home.
All Saints is not just about them, the famous ones, the people we have heard about who did extraordinary things. All Saints is about people we know, who have been saints to us in our lives, who have shown us what it means when we say, “God loves us,” who have shown us what it means to love one’s neighbor, because we have been the neighbors who have been loved.
For these, and all the saints, we give thanks.
Proper 26-A October 30, 2011
Joshua 3:7-17; Psalm 107:1-7,33-37
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12
I imagine that within this congregation there are many different understandings of the authority that would be granted to someone who would sit in this seat, ranging from at least grudging obedience to outright skepticism. Like other Americans, we would demand that our authorities, religious and civic, are as good as their words – that they practice what they preach. Aren’t we furious when we find out someone has been saying one thing, but doing another? Do we not find something hollow in the phrase, “Do what I say; not what I do?”
There are times, however, when even the words of these authorities are out of joint, when our outrage is directed not at their two-faced hypocrisy, but at the very words they utter – when the injustice is in the words as well as the deeds.
This is the case with Jesus, and the charges he levels against the Pharisees in today’s gospel. Moses’s seat indeed contains all the authority God gave Moses, but the ones Jesus saw sitting in it had twisted that law so that it was impossible for the ordinary, faithful Jew to fulfill. Biblical scholars tell us that
… the Pharisees imposed on the people, "a myriad of rules, standards, and directives, and the whole process easily degenerated into moral bean counting. The procedures were so cumbersome that no human being could possibly accomplish them; no one could ever hope to keep the full weight of all these laws and carry the heavy freight of this ethical load, not even the scribes and the Pharisees themselves."[i]
Jesus is furious at the religious “fashion statements” these people wear, so obviously more concerned with their outward appearance than their inward righteousness. The garments and fringes and little torah scrolls attached to their heads were to remind them of the duty and joy of obedience to the law, to be aids to prayer and devotion. Jesus was outraged that these emblems of status and privilege were paid for by taxes which crippled the poor people who lived in the cities and in the countryside.
Where you sit, of course, determines where you stand. Other scholars remind us that the Pharisees viewed their special garments and special seat as “the focal point for the community. … Pharisees were visible for the faithful and the Roman rulers who needed a contact with their subjects.”[ii] That was an argument, I think, which would have carried no weight with Jesus. For Jesus, the measure was their following of the law, not their twisted pronouncing of it. Did they put God above all other rulers – above other gods, fashionable gods, even Roman rulers? Did they love their neighbors – especially the poor, the vulnerable, the hungry, the displaced – as much as they loved themselves?
Measuring the legitimacy of authorities is an age-old challenge, and, once again, where you sit determines where you stand. There are rulers we can hold accountable, who will remember, when prodded, the just law that put them in that seat in the first place. Think of the triumphs of the civil rights movement, the voting rights act, the laws guaranteeing fair housing and employment, equal protection under the law. Today we would all agree that is the law, but it took many years of prodding those who, from where they sat, “separate but equal” was doing them just fine.
[iii] Another protester, more of a “man on the street” than a lofty theologian, said he and other protesters “would like to see a little more economic justice or social justice–Jesus stuff–as far as feeding the poor, health care for the sick.”[iv]
Where we sit determines where we stand. We are a parish church without a cathedra. Do we see the breaches which need repairing, and can we imagine some solutions to these larger social problems that are driving everyone mad? Do we do the “Jesus stuff,” the feeding, the caring, the housing, the welcoming? Surely we don’t need someone in a fancy chair just to tell us that.
[i] Thomas Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion, quoted in Kathryn Matthews Huey, http://www.ucc.org/worship/samuel/October-30-2011-thirty-first.html
[ii] Larry Broding, http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/a/31-a/A-31-a.html
[iii] Katharine Henderson, president of Auburn Theological Seminary, quoted in http://global.christianpost.com/news/religion-joins-occupy-wall-street-movement-59101/
[iv] Bold Faith Type, the blog for the advocacy group “Faith in Public Life,” http://blog.faithinpubliclife.org/2011/10/occupywallstreet_and_jesus_stu.html