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November 1, 2020 is All Saints A
Revelation 7:9-17 – John’s apocalyptic vision of white-robed martyrs standing before the throne and the Lamb, along with the angels, the elders and the four creatures. They hunger no more, nor thirst (Isaiah 49:10). The sun does not strike them nor heat (Psalm 121:6). God wipes away every tear (Isaiah 25:8). ELW 422, 423,
Psalm 34:1-10, 22 – I will bless the Lord at all times… I sought the Lord and he answered me… Taste and see that the Lord is good. ELW 493
1 John 3:1-3 – See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God…
Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. ELW 728
We also had the Beatitudes Epiphany 4A. The Beatitudes “placemat” can be found here: 01-24-11 Beatitudes Study Placemat
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Alleluia. They are before the | throne of God,
and the one who is seated on the throne will | shelter them. Alleluia. (Rev. 7:15)
Note: Daylight Savings Time ends on this Sunday, November 1, 2020.
All Saints A
This is the first time in a long time that I recall All Saints Day falling on a Sunday. All Saints Day is November 1, but usually gets celebrated on the first Sunday in November.
It is traditional to remember the saints of the congregation who have passed away in the last year, often with a pillar candle on a retable, or on the altar, with a bell rung as their names are read. It is a way to remember those we lost in the past year. Many congregations also invite members to come forward and light a smaller votive candle in remembrance of other loved ones.
This may be particularly poignant this year for those who have lost loved ones in the pandemic. It seems like this can easily be done with appropriate social distancing if you are holding in-person worship. Be sure to have a way to space people out and provide a hand sanitizing station before and/or after the table. This could also be done in the parking lot that morning. It might be powerful as a vigil, the night before, in the dark.
While many use the white votive candles in glass cups, as in the picture here from Grace, Conroe, even in the best of circumstances, paraffin wax finds its way on the table, floors and pews, as during Christmas. There is another option. A St. Gregory Palamas Greek Orthodox Monastery in Perrysville, Ohio makes beeswax candles. You can purchase a pack of 50 for $16.50. They can be lit and places in small boxes or jars of sand. The link is here: http://sgpm.goarch.org/Monastery/?p=389
If you’d prefer the former, Sacco’s in Houston sells ten-hour disposable votive candles in plastic cups $35 for a carton of 100. Beat the rush. http://saccoscom.x-shops.com/product.php?productid=19317&cat=508&page=1.
The texts for All Saints change each year in the Revised Common Lectionary. .
All Saints A
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
All Saints B
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 OR Isaiah 25:6-9
All Saints C
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
This year (A), we have the Beatitudes from Matthew’s gospel, the introduction to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For those who would like to do a teaching-style sermon on the Beatitudes, I created a Beatitudes Study Placemat about ten years ago, that still provides a fun visual. You can find extensive treatment of the Beatitudes in my Epiphany 4A post.
A few years ago, I wrote a sermon for All Saints that consisted entirely of questions. No answers, just questions for people to ponder. It was a different, inductive way to preach. Feel free to beg, borrow and steal. Feel free to adapt this sermon to your purposes, without attribution: Who Are Your Saints?
Blessed are those who mourn
This year I’ve been pondering the way we hear the gospel and proclaim the gospel. What is the content of our gospel message to the world? For some, it is a turn-or-burn message. Others, proponents of the Prosperity Gospel tell us God wants to make us rich if we will only believe it. If you had faith you would not be poor. This is a seductive gospel if one happens to be rich. “See? I believed and it worked for me.” The Beatitudes cast a different vision.
This has led some liberation theologians to say a doctrine or message can’t be true if it doesn’t work in the most marginalized communities. If a message sounds ridiculous in a Central African Republic village living by laborious and time-consuming vocation of subsistence farming, it’s probably a gospel distorted by wealth. Even our more innocuous theological pronouncements, notable only for their virtual irrelevance to someone trying to survive on $2/day, like half the world, need to be jettisoned.
This means the gospel must be put through the pragmatic criteria of everyday life, lo cotidiano as Latin American theologians call it. If the gospel does not make sense to the groups of people mentioned in Jesus’ Beatitudes, it is not Gospel. It’s just our warped perspective, domesticated for a lifestyle devoid of the real problems of the world.
Those who are poor, poor in spirit, grieving, meek, humble, humiliated, those who are hungry, thirsty, hungry and thirsty for justice, they must teach us the gospel. They will help us discern what is missing from our gospel due our to cultural blindness. As mujerista theologian Ada Maria Asisi-Diaz says,
The point of view of the poor, . . . pierced by suffering and attracted by hope, allows them, in their struggles, to conceive another reality. Because the poor suffer the weight of alienation, they can conceive a different project of hope and provide dynamism to a new way of organizing human life for all.
Liberation theologians remind us that we all, all of us, rich and poor alike, read the Bible through our cultural lenses. We cannot help but interpret what we hear from our social location. This is why the Bible must be read together, not just privately, but in community, a very diverse community. If not, it will be distorted. This requires humility when interpreting Scripture. None of our interpretations are the last word.
When women read the Bible, they hear things men don’t. They notice the treatment of women. They notice the constant male imagery. They notice the paucity female role models. In 1983 Rosemary Radford Ruether came out with her book, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. My 1983 copy from a former millennium has a pencil mark next to this statement on page 19: “Theologically speaking, whatever diminishes or denies the full humanity of women must be presumed not to reflect the divine or an authentic relation to the divine, or to reflect the authentic nature of things, or to be the message or a work of an authentic redeemer or a community of redemption.” Anything that diminishes women can’t be gospel, since gospel has as its focus “the flourishing of the human person.” (p. 19) If women had been part of theological deliberation all along, we would not have the level of women’s subordination that we have seen in the church historically, and still see today, often justified by religious doctrines and institutions.
When day laborers read stories about day laborers, they hear different things than their wealthy counterparts. An example can be drawn from the parable of the Prodigal Son. In a Bible study with middle class participants we read the story and I asked, “Why did the prodigal son go broke?” They all responded because of his immoral living, as if I had asked a stupid question. A Bible study group in Africa responded differently, “Because there was a famine in the land.” (Luke 15:14) The first group had missed this completely. In fact, the interpretation not only fell along lines of wealth, but also attitudes of wealth. Many upper income people believe the poor are poor because they are lazy or immoral. Those living in poverty see the many external forces outside their control (war, corruption, disaster, famine) that contribute to poverty among some of the hardest working people in the world.
A great resource is Robert McAfee Brown’s Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (1984). “Third World” is now passe. It should be called the “the two-thirds world” as Roman Catholic priest, Father Daniel Pilario, (2018) says.
Father Pilario describes (Pilario, 2018) discussions with his congregation that scour a garbage dump in Payatas, Philippines. Quezon City is the biggest garbage dump in Manila, where 45,000 live, scavenging food and items to sell for $5/day. The church’s insistence on obscure practices or abstract beliefs have little traction here. What aspects of our religious universe that we feel are so important, would melt away under scrutiny of the poor? You can watch Father Pilario’s lecture on YouTube.
But you don’t need to read these books. We need to interact with real people. There are plenty of people in need right here. How can we go to them and engage them in ways that don’t serve our membership needs, but rather bring us into their reality and illuminate us with their perspective? How can we gather with them, study with them and pray with them? All too often social ministry in our churches is sanitized charity, like dropping off canned beans at the church. We need a relationship that is mutually beneficial, not a faceless donation that salves our consciences and overlooks our blind spots. In my last parish, the game-changer was being in relationship the homeless. Once that happened, attitudes changed, myths dissolved and generosity increased.
Christianity at its heart is not a religious philosophy to be debated abstractly in the halls of academia. Christianity is a Way, as Pastor Don Carlson constantly reminds us. It was and is a way of life. Christian theology must constantly be in conversation with real life on the ground. They inform each other. Our theology is not truth. It is faith seeking understanding. As such, it is always emerging. Our way of understanding the truth, and speaking the truth is constantly growing. Theory, then practice, then theory, then practice, back and forth, over and over again. Anything else is scholastic theology. Pie in the sky. As Luther said in the 1518 Heidelberg Dissertation, “One deserves to be called a theologian… who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” (LW 31:52)
If we want to understand the Scriptures, if we want to understand the fullness of the Christian faith, if we want to understand the world, we will need to ponder both faith and life in diverse communities, of men and women, rich and poor, European, Asian, African, and American descent. This will take work. We will have to move beyond our homogeneous communities, building bridges, not for some top-down attempt to convert the other to our way of thinking, but to seek together a truth that holds true across in the real world of humanity. Often, the poor will not have access to the rich. The gates are too high. Those with wealth will have to move out of their comfort zone.
Now read the Beatitudes.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
For Jesus, the poor really are blessed, and a blessing, not because it is good to be poor. It’s not. It’s an affront to the gospel. Jesus teaches his followers to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Jesus is not elevating poverty as something to be desired. He’s recognizing that the reign of God means justice for all of us. That doesn’t happen without all of us coming together.
Until we bring together male and female, rich and poor, white and black (Gal. 3:28), the gospel will not make sense. Until we reach across those lines, our congregations will be culture clubs, united by a common set of blind spots. I know this because I’ve been there. I am there.
So, let us go find those who are mourning and pray with them. Go find those of a different race and study Scripture. Gather with those from other socio-economic levels. There is the reign of God. Listen to those of other genders. Welcome immigrants. Make a place for you and for your congregation to do this. Then, watch your eyes open, and the light dawn for all involved. You will be comforted and strengthened. You will see God. All will be filled.
Robert Mcafee Brown. 1984. Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, Cop.
Harold Grimm, ed. and Helmut T Lehmann, gen. ed. 1953. Luther’s Works vol. 31, The Life of the Reformer: Heidelberg Disputation. Philadelphia, Fortress Press
KULeuvenTheologie. 2017. “Daniel Pilario – Theology and Reflexivity.” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQVki3G61vo.
“Mujeristas: A Name of Our Own!! – Religion Online.” n.d. Accessed September 14, 2020. https://www.religion-online.org/article/mujeristas-a-name-of-our-own/.
Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, Theology and Reflexivity, Louvain Studies 41 (2018): 107-124 doi: 10.2143/LS.41.2.3284882 © 2018
Rosemary Radford Ruether. 1983. Sexism and God-Talk: Towards a Feminist Theology. London: Scm.