All Saints’ Day Year A
Revelation 7: 9-17
Psalm 34: 1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
The Jesus Movement. I remember when I first heard those words…. The Jesus Movement. They were uttered at our triennial General Convention by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry on the day of his election. He said we are all part of this JESUS MOVEMENT… His words struck me as not typically Episcopalian. Jesus Movement? How about the Book of Common Prayer Movement? Or the baptismal covenant movement? Or the sacrament movement? The liturgical movement? Jesus Movement…sounded so…Evangelical. Curry, it turns out, has had a large impact on us and our Evangelizing sensitivities as we have leaned into our identity as Episcopalian members of the Jesus Movement. He has invited us into a new understanding of who we are.
Both sides of Curry’s family were descended from slaves and sharecroppers in North Carolina and Alabama. Within their family lineage is an understanding of what it is to be one on the margins of society. Curry was born in Chicago, and raised in Buffalo, New York. He was installed as the first African American presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church on All Saints Day, 2016, and has, like all presiding bishops, given the Episcopal Church a decided newness– one that is, probably a whole lot closer to what Jesus calls us to, and, I think it is very appropriate that he became our 27th Presiding Bishop on All Saints Day…not that he is any more saintly than you or I….but he certainly understands a good deal about what being a saint is all about. Here’s an excerpt from his book, Crazy Christians,
“My father didn’t feel comfortable going up for communion, but when my mother went up, he watched closely. Was the priest really going to give her communion from the common cup? And if he did, was the next person really going to drink from that same cup? And would others drink too, knowing a black woman had sipped from that cup? He saw the priest offer her the cup, and she drank. Then the priest offered the cup to the next person at the rail, and that person drank. And then the next person, and the next, all down the rail. When my father told the story, he would always say: “That’s what brought me to the Episcopal Church. Any church in which black folks and white folks drink out of the same cup knows something about a gospel that I want to be a part of.”
(Michael Curry, Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus)
The Jesus Movement conveys the gospel good news to all persons, but especially to those to have been marginalized by society. Today’s gospel lesson, Matthew’s Beatitudes, is meaningful especially considering the verses that precede it. “24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” (Matthew 4:24,25) Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, teaching on a mountain surrounded by his followers, a great crowd, with many who were shunned by society. Jesus came to start a movement, not a church or even a new faith…. but a movement. Jesus was, after all, a reformer.
“Blessed”, he says, are all manner of people… We use the word blessed to mean that some sort of benefit has been conferred on someone. “You certainly were blessed in having your family all around you at Christmas.” But, blessed, as Matthew wrote had a slightly different meaning. It is from the Greek, Makarios, and means something closer to honored or fortunate or – even – happy. Honored or fortunate are the poor in spirit; Honored or fortunate are those who mourn. Jesus turned the tables of the social norms of his day. He assigned honor and good fortune to those who were not normally honored by the culture. What a shock that must have been for those first-century ears. The poor, sick, disadvantaged and hungry were those who could not maintain their social status. Jesus proclaimed their good fortune because of God’s abiding love for them…that and our care for them.
What about in our time though? Honored are those who sleep sheltered at the Haven. Honored are those who dine at the Spin Café. Honored are the youth who ride the buses all day and find clothing and assistance at Ryan’s House? Honored are the members of the LBGTQ community on this island? Is that a reality? How do we make it so, as members of the Jesus Movement – saints, followers of Jesus.
Near the end of Matthew’s gospel, chapter 28, after Jesus had been crucified and laid in the tomb, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb to care for it in the expected way. And then, an earthquake, and an angel, glowing white appeared and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised from the dead and is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” You will find him ahead of you, preparing the way. You will find him in Galilee… Galilee in the streets of the city…. Galilee in the lanes of the villages…Galilee on the battlefields... and among the fisherfolk…Galilee in the classrooms and in the hospitals. Find him in Galilee. Jesus came to start a movement; a movement of love particularly love of the marginalized and we are part of proclaiming and building it.
We are a part of the hope that God promises. Jesus pronounces that the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, and you when you are reviled on Jesus’ account are all to be honored. That is the first part of each statement, but then comes a promise for the future. The poor in spirit will have the kingdom of God; those who mourn will be comforted; the meek will inherit the earth; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled; the merciful will receive mercy; the pure in heart will see God; the peacemakers will be called children of God; A promise of the reign of God. Those who society denies will be honored and receive a reward in the reign of God.
Jesus’ followers, often referred to as saints – lower case s – were called, as part of that Jesus movement, to give food to the hungry – to supply physical food with the spiritual food Jesus offers. In the early church and today, that mission is hard to define. Congregations today wrestle with how to, as part of the Jesus Movement, provide physical food for those who are hungry. There is great need.
In an article this week from the Episcopal News Service, hunger is well documented. More than 41.2 million Americans and 12% of households are deemed food insecure because they lack access to enough food to maintain active and healthy lives, according to Feeding America’s most recent “Poverty and Hunger Fact Sheet.” And hunger is not solely a problem of poverty. More than half of all food-insecure Americans live in households above the poverty line. Hunger can be an ongoing, unforgiving, intractable fact of daily life. For many who live below or close to the poverty line, there is a fear, a wonder about where their next meal is going to come from.
The Episcopal Church emphasizes anti-hunger efforts at all levels. Congregations, just like ours, collect food for the food bank or operate food pantries and meal ministries that assist the needy, one canned good or bowl of soup at a time. Several of us know of such a program at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Seattle which serves free breakfast every weekday to hundreds of homeless residents in its Ballard neighborhood. A warm breakfast… and prayers…offered for any guest who desires it. It is part of being a member of the Jesus Movement. http://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2017/10/31/episcopalians-invoke-values-in-range-of-anti-hunger-efforts-from-soup-kitchens-to-global-aid/
The saints at St. Luke’s know what it is to live in a neighborhood overflowing with the hungry and the homeless and to provide food and shelter, love and hope for them…to invite them in. And they come, and they hang out on the steps and around the building – the hungry, the poor in spirit, the meek – they come in response to this Jesus Movement.
Another place in our diocese where the Jesus Movement is alive and evident is Chaplains on the Harbor, which is a diocesan-supported program based in Grays Harbor, a county of a good deal of economic disadvantage. The hungry, the homeless, the poor, the prisoners are blessed by the actions of these chaplains. A cold-weather shelter invites the homeless into the warmth of an environment that offers care. The Jesus Movement – find him in Galilee among the hungry of Grays Harbor.
The saints, Jesus reminds us, aren’t simply those who seem to have it all figured out, whose prayer life is perfect, whose service to church and community alike are irreproachable, and who have left a legacy that the rest of us will spend a lifetime aspiring to realize for ourselves.
On the contrary: The saints, Jesus tells us are those who have suffered greatly – and some who suffer still, even in our midst – and yet praise God all the more. The saints are those who have known the pain of grief and the sting of death, and still manage to find a way to sing, “Alleluia!” The saints are those who have been excluded and ignored by every corner of society and yet still find ways to seek and serve Christ, loving their neighbor as themselves. (The rev. marshall A. Jolly)
God’s good news is that Jesus came to live among us, to start a Movement among us, to bring love and hope to everyone, but especially to those whom society has kicked to the sidelines. As saints, or followers of Jesus, we are involved in that hope. We become more and more a beatitudinal or blessed community as we do that – for where two or three saints are gathered, there is the Christ.
In several minutes we will renew our baptismal covenant, something we do particularly on feast days. But, on All Saints Day, we especially hear these words as a call to follow the one in whom we have our being, our identity. We are called to be part of the Jesus Movement, but on this day of All Saints, we are aware that we join other holy women and holy men, who have gone before us. Some of their likenesses are on our altar today. We give thanks today for those men and women who have lived Godly lives and have encouraged us to do the same. Some are beatified; others, by their examples, live the life Jesus called them to and were examples for us. We give thanks for them today.
Let us pray…
Eternal God, you have always taken men and women of every nation, age and color and made them saints; Like them, transformed…like them baptized in Jesus’ name. Give us grace to follow them in their good works.
Before You this day, we name the saints in our lives. . .
And we ask your blessings on them and on us, as we live to do your work. Amen.