Nov 1: All Saints

From the Connections:
Today’s Gospel is the beautiful “Beatitudes” reading from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s compilation of the sayings and teachings of Jesus. The word “blessed,” as used by Jesus in the eight maxims, was written in Greek as makarios, a word which indicates a joy that is God-like in its serenity and totality.
Specific Greek words used throughout the text indicate several important meanings:
‘The poor in spirit:’ those who are detached from material things, who put their trust in God.

“The sorrowing:”  this Beatitude speaks of the value of caring and compassion -- the hallmarks of Jesus’ teaching.
“The lowly:” the Greek word used here is praotes-- true humility that banishes all pride; the “blessed” who accept the necessity to learn and grow and realize their need to be forgiven.
“They who show mercy:” the Greek word chesedh used here indicates the ability to get “inside a person's a skin” until we can see things from his/her perspective, consider things from his/her experience mind and feel his/her joys and sorrows.
“The peacemakers:” peace is not merely the absence of trouble or discord but peace is a positive condition: it is everything that provides and makes for humanity’s highest good; note, too, that the “blessed” are described as peace-makers and not simply peace-lovers.
Today we celebrate the feast of all the saints — not just the “official” saints we have read about and revere in the liturgical calendar, but the saints and martyrs we have known and who have lived among us, the “blessed” of the Gospel through whom God touches us and our world. 
All Saints is the festival in honor of those who gave their lives for others, those who taught us the wonders of life through their brave struggle to live, those who died for the cause of justice, who left no other mark on the world than their love of God in their love for others.  
The saints are a living presence among us, sources of inspiration and guidance as we make our way, one day, into their company.
Saints are the “blessed” of the Gospel who seek God’s way of compassion, who live lives of humble gratitude for the gift of life, who build peace, who live justly and seek justice for all God’s children, who imitate the mercy and consolation of God.

When you talk about gifted teachers, Mrs. G was the genuine article.  For four decades she taught first grade.  The way she could open a child’s mind to the excitement of forming letters into words and using numbers to compute was magic.  Mrs. G’s students loved to learn — and they took that love of learning into high school and college and grad school and then on to careers in medicine, education, the arts and business.   Her students — and her student’s children and their children, too — remember the Friday story-and-popcorn hour, Scooter the Hamster (and Scooter’s many successors over the years), the weekly math races and spelling derbies, and the ever-changing bulletin board in Mrs. G’s classroom.  But what they all cherish the most is the memory of Mrs. G herself, a woman of great love, warmth and caring.  On this All Saints Day, offer a prayer of thanks for the Mrs. G in your life.
Steven always wanted to be a fireman.  Even as a kid he would hang out at the neighborhood fire station.  Stevie idolized these guys.  Sometimes the firefighters would let him put on boots and help them wash the ladder truck — Stevie was thrilled to actually be working alongside his heroes.  After high school, he distinguished himself in the firefighter training program and became one of the guys.  Steve was a firefighter’s firefighter — the kind of firefighter who took the work, but not himself, seriously, who naturally won the confidence of his peers and the respect of the rookies.  So no one was surprised when Steve ran into that burning warehouse looking for trapped workers.  The workers all made it out.  Steve didn’t.  But you do what you have to do, as Steve always said.  His wife and three kids miss him terribly — but know that Steve continues to look out for them from his place in the company of saints.  Remember Steve today and all the guys like him who gave it their all. It’s their feast.
By any definition, Mary was the mother foundress of the parish.  When she teamed up with Father Tom to organize the new church, Mary brought a mother’s laser-like focus to the task and the “street smarts” to make it happen.  Officially, she was the first parish secretary; in fact, she was the force behind everything from the lectors’ schedule to the building fund.  Soon she added the religious education portfolio to her responsibilities; before long, it became her full-time ministry.  The formal theological education she lacked was more than offset by her unparalleled skill with the “practical theology” of caring, dedication and a wicked sense of humor.  When the cancer was first diagnosed, Mary considered it an inconvenience — it might slow her down but not stop her.  She conceded a couple of rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, but it was soon business as usual.  But a recurrence a few years later forced Mary to give up the work she loved.  That’s when the parish community truly shined brightest.  Parishioners took turns bringing supper to the family.  Transportation to and from the doctor’s office and hospital was covered.  And everyone made sure that Mary and Ken’s kids didn’t miss a beat of their teenage years.  It was all done without fanfare or any great summons to action or master scheduling.  Mary and her family were not the objects of charity but friends whose lives their fellow parishioners tried to make a bit easier.  In her last months, Mary discovered how good a parish she had built.  Celebrate the Marys in your parish and community on this All Saints day, the solemnity of Mary and good folks like her.
[Adapted from “Saints R Us” by Jay Cormier, U.S. Catholic, November 2006.]

Today we celebrate the feast of all the saints — not just the “official” saints we have read about like the Elizabeth Setons and the Francis of Assisis and the Thomas Mores and the Mother Teresas — but the saints we have known and who have lived among us, the “blessed” of the Gospel through whom God touches us and our world.  Today is the festival in honor of those who gave their lives for others, those who taught us the wonders of life through their brave struggle to live, those who dedicated themselves to the cause of justice, those who left no other mark on the world but their love of God in their love for others.  May the lives of Mrs. G and Steve and Mary and the endless litany of saints who have walked the earth inspire us to follow their examples of charity, humility and reconciling love so that, one day, we may join their company.  

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

The first reading from the Book of Revelation was written during the time of the persecution by the Roman Empire, to strengthen the faith of the Christians. The Apocalypse sees the clash with the Roman Empire as the clash between Christ and Satan. There can be only one result of such an encounter, the victory of Christ and his followers. The victory of Christ is also the victory of all those who have believed in Him. All these holy people are sealed by the mark of the Lamb and will be protected by him. We celebrate their victory and the promise they hold out for us who try to follow in their footsteps.

The Repairmen and Women
It was a Saturday afternoon. The streets were full of people going about their business. But all of a sudden the peace was shattered as some hooligans coming home from a football match went on a rampage. They began to fight with rival fans, missiles were thrown and with a loud shattering noise they knocked in the front window of a large store. Bedlam broke loose. People panicked and began to scream, but before the police arrived the hooligans had melted in the crowd. Slowly the panic subsided and things gradually got back to normal. About an hour later two repairmen arrived on the scene. The first thing they did was sweep up the broken glass, then they tackled the window itself. They removed all the remaining jagged pieces, then carefully measured the window and ordered it from their office. It arrived duly and they proceeded to put it in. They knew their job and did it thoroughly. All the time they worked on the window not a single passerby stopped to watch them. The next day’s papers headlines were about the hooligans who had smashed the window. They even had photos of the broken window. But there was not a single line about the two repairmen who had done such a splendid job that by the end of the day everything was back to normal. We live in a world where, thanks largely to the mass media, the ‘window-breakers’ get all the attention and the ‘repairmen’ are frequently ignored. The Church sets aside one day to honour all the ‘repairmen’ and ‘repair-women’ who do such an excellent job, and who do it quietly and anonymously. We call it All Saints Day.
Flor McCarthy in ‘Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’

In today’s gospel Jesus focuses on the qualities he wishes to see in his disciples, qualities that are exemplified in the lives of the saints. A glance at the beatitudes shows that they are a complete reversal of conventional values and standards. Worldly wisdom says “Blessed are the rich for they can have everything they want.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The world says, “Blessed are those who live it up.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” It is only those who are capable of loving who are capable of true mourning. The world says, “Blessed are those who are tough.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are gentle.” Gentleness is not weakness, but a form of true strength. The world says “Blessed are those who hunger for power, status and fame.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger for justice and what is right.” To live rightly is what life is all about. The world says, “Blessed are those who show no mercy and give no quarter.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful.” Happy are we who make allowances for the weaknesses of others, and whose greatness is in their ability to forgive. The world says, “Happy are those who have clean fingernails, clean teeth and clean skin!” But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have clean hearts.” The world says, “Blessed are the fighters and the bullies.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Happy are those who spread understanding and bring reconciliation, they are true children of God. The world says, “Blessed are those who lie and cheat and get away with it.” But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who make a stand for what is right, no matter what the cost.” The beatitudes are ultimately the attitudes of Christ and the saints which all of us are meant to have in our daily life.

“Oh God! Make me like Joe”

Joe was a drunk who was miraculously converted at a Bowery mission. Prior to his conversion, he had gained the reputation of being a dirty wino for whom there was no hope, only a miserable existence in the ghetto. But following his conversion to a new life with God, everything changed. Joe became the most caring person that anyone associated with the mission had ever known. Joe spent his days and nights hanging out at the mission, doing whatever needed to be done. There was never anything that he was asked to do that he considered beneath him. Whether it was cleaning up the vomit left by some violently sick alcoholic or scrubbing toilets after careless men left the men’s room filthy, Joe did what was asked with a smile on his face and a seeming gratitude for the chance to help. He could be counted on to feed feeble men, who wandered off the street and into the mission, and to undress and tuck into bed men who were too out of it to take care of themselves. One evening, when the director of the mission was delivering his evening evangelistic message to the usual crowd of still and sullen men with drooped heads, there was one man who looked up, came down the aisle to the altar, and knelt to pray, crying out for God to help him to change. The repentant drunk kept shouting, “Oh God! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe!” The director of the mission leaned over and said to the man, “Son, I think it would be better if you prayed, ‘Make me like Jesus.’” The man looked up at the director with a quizzical expression on his face and asked, “Is he like Joe?”
Tony Campolo in ‘Everything you’ve heard is wrong!’

God’s Noblest Creation –The Saints
In the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D. C., under the commanding mosaic of Christ in glory, are six pillars. Atop each is a statue of a Saint. There, side by side, are the figures of a queen (St Elizabeth), a vagrant (St Benedict Joseph Labre), a cook (St Zita), a doorman (St Conrad), a Mystic (St Gemma), and a parish priest (St John Vianney). For some of them, the road to holiness was easy, for others very hard. Some saints had gifts of great natural talent; others seemed devoid of it. Some saints were fiery, others gentle. Some were gregarious, others loners. There are old saints (such as St Anthony of the Desert, who lived to be 105) and young saints (such as Aloysius Gonzaga and Maria Goretti). There were brilliant saints (such as Thomas Aquinas) and dense saints (such as Joseph Cupertino). There were tough saints (such as Teresa of Avila) and emotional saints (such as Therese of Lisieux). There were innocent saints (such as Dominic Savio) and reformed sinners who became saints (such as Augustine). There are also saints who did not always agree with each other, such as Jerome and Augustine, who had a running battle of words for years. Nevertheless, the saints belong together. They all responded to God’s invitation to sainthood commemorated in today’s liturgy.
Harold Buetow in ‘God Still Speaks –Listen!’

Are you God?
Shortly after World War II, early one chilly morning, an American soldier was making his way back to the barracks in London. As he turned the corner in his jeep, he spotted a little lad with his nose pressed to the window of a pastry shop. The hungry boy stared in silence, watching every move. The soldier stopped, got out, and walked quietly over to where the little fellow was standing. Through the steamed-up window he could see the mouth-watering morsels as they were being pulled from the oven, piping hot. The boy salivated and released a slight groan as he watched the cook place them onto the glass enclosed counter ever so carefully. The soldier’s heart went out to the nameless orphan as he stood beside him. “Son…would you like some of those?” The boy was startled. “Oh, yeah…I would!” The American stepped inside and bought a dozen, put them in a bag, and walked back to where the lad was standing in the foggy cold of the London morning. He smiled, held out the bag, and said: “Here you are.” As he turned to walk away, he felt a tug on his coat. He looked back and heard the child ask quietly, “Mister… are you God?”
Charles Swindoll in ‘Improving Your Serve’

In their footsteps
St Jerome says in his writings that as a boy he and his friends used to play in the catacombs. Centuries after St Jerome, Roman boys still played in the catacombs. One day a group of boys was wandering through the maze of tunnels. Suddenly their only flashlight gave out. The boys were trapped in total darkness with no idea of the way out. They were on the verge of panic when one boy felt a smooth groove in the rock floor of the tunnel. It turned out to be a path that had been worn smooth by the feet of thousands of Christians in the days of the Roman persecutions. The boys followed in the footsteps of these saints of old and found their way out of the darkness into sunlight and safety.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

All that is necessary to be a saint
Thomas Merton is one of the most influential American Catholic authors of the twentieth century. Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking down the streets of New York with a friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Thomas what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic. “I don’t know.” Merton replied, adding simply that he wanted to be a good Catholic. Lax stopped him in his tracks. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!” Merton was dumbfounded. “How do you expect me to be a saint?” Merton asked him. Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you consent to let him do it? All you have is to desire it.” Thomas Merton knew his friend was right.
John Payappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’

I am reminded of a story about Theodore Roosevelt. During one of his political campaigns, a delegation called on him at his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. The President met them with his coat off and his sleeves rolled up.
"Ah, gentlemen," he said, "come down to the barn and we will talk while I do some work."

At the barn, Roosevelt picked up a pitchfork and looked around for the hay. Then he called out, "John, where's all the hay?"

"Sorry, sir," John called down from the hayloft. "I ain't had time to toss it back down again after you pitched it up while the Iowa folks were here."

As we go to the polls this Tuesday I know whom I am going to vote for. Let me tell you who: I am going to vote hypocrisy out of office and humility in. I am going to vote greatness out and servanthood in. I am going to vote honor out and duty in. That's whom I am going to vote for and I wish it were that simple. Truth is, leadership, the way Jesus described it, is hard to find, even among the religious.

So what is it exactly that Jesus wants out of leaders and how do they get there. We will look at that in a moment. .
Halloween is the ultimate holiday of "pretending."
On Halloween we dress up and "pretend" to be someone or something other than ourselves.
On Halloween we "pretend" to believe that the people jumping out at us and scaring us in the "haunted houses" we paid $25 to get into are monsters and zombies.
On Halloween we happily "pretend" that the scariest stuff in life are those things that "go bump in the night."
On Halloween we revel in "pretend" bumps instead of bumping into the terrifying realities of evil and cruelty that appear on any street, in any office, at any school, in broad daylight, on any given day - and that's just a rundown of the terrors of the last two weeks.
Yesterday, the day after "All Hallows Eve," is known in the liturgical calendar as "All Saints Day." "All Saints" is a celebration and commemoration of those who were never about pretense, but who devoted their lives to expressing true faithfulness and genuine piety. The church lives, not by the majesty of its beliefs but by the manifestation of its manifold witness through the magnificence of its "communion of saints."
Who are these "all saints?" The "all saints" are all the everyday, ordinary men and women who live lives of humility and service in Jesus' name and for his sake. They never "dressed up" or "dressed down" in order to exhibit some "pretend" piety. They never paraded their piety in peacock plumage. Generation after generation of these "all saints" make up the great "Cloud of Witnesses" (the church had "The Cloud" before Microsoft) who make it possible for the historic Jesus of the first century to become the living Christ of the twenty-first century.
The community of "all saints" didn't need to play "pretend." Their lives witnessed to the living presence of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, who made them all into "transformers," transformers of lives, transformers of hopes, transformers of dreams, transformers of the world they lived in.. 
Humility in Action
One of the best stories of humility I know is that of a man who arrived in 1953 at the Chicago railroad station to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He stepped off the train, a tall man with bushy hair and a big mustache. As the cameras flashed and city officials approached with hands outstretched to meet him, he thanked them politely. Then he asked to be excused for a minute. He walked through the crowd to the side of an elderly black woman struggling with two large suitcases. He picked them up, smiled, and escorted her to the bus, helped her get on, and wished her a safe journey. Then Albert Schweitzer turned to the crowd and apologized for keeping them waiting. It is reported that one member of the reception committee told a reporter, "That's the first time I ever saw a sermon walking."

We've been given a great task - to live in harmony, to weep with the mournful, to laugh with the joyful, to not be conceited. Especially, we are called to be righteous, but not self-righteous. We are to be humble. 
Roy T. Lloyd, Charades and Reality
Admired the Peacock, but Loved the Duck

Carlton Van Ornum tells this story. A large crowd of people gathered near an enclosure in the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston as a peacock slowly spread his great tail and displayed its stunning plumage. The great bird stood erect and noble and strutted regally. Just then an old, dun-colored duck waddled slowly from the pond and passed between the proud peacock and the admiring crowd. Enraged, the peacock drove the duck back to the water. In a moment, the beautiful bird had become ugly with fierce anger. The plain and awkward duck, having returned to its natural habitat, was no longer unbecoming. In the water it swam and dived gracefully, unaware that many eyes were watching. The people who had admired the peacock loved the duck. Each of us was reminded of the dangers of pride, and that happiness comes from just being ourselves.

Jerry L. Schmalenberger, When Christians Quarrel, CSS Publishing Company
Jesus' Criticisms
Here is a list of Jesus' criticisms about religious leadership in his day:
They did not practice what they taught (hypocrisy).
They put heavy burdens on others but not themselves (legalism).
They sought and loved public recognition (pride).
Status, respect and titles were important to them (arrogance).
They locked people out of the kingdom (judgmental).
They established laws to benefit themselves (greed).
They neglected to emphasize justice and mercy (bias).
They were accomplices to silencing the prophets (oppressive).
George Johnson, Critical Decisions in Following Jesus, CSS Publishing Company.
The Young Seminarian
A young seminary graduate came up to the lectern, very self-confident and immaculately dressed. He began to deliver his first sermon in his first church and the words simply would not come out. Finally he burst into tears and ended up leaving the platform obviously humbled.
There were two older ladies sitting in the front row and one remarked to the other, "If he'd come in like he went out, he would have gone out like he came in."
Jesus calls us to a real trust in God and to humble service in his church and world. The temptation is ever before us to exalt ourselves - to impress others, to make a name for ourselves. That was not how Jesus came, nor was it why he came.
Peter J. Blackburn, Humble Before God
All Perfume, No Flowers
The brilliant behavioral scientist Gordon Allport spoke at Appleton Chapel at Harvard University about how a code of ethics, however highly approved, can be a hollow thing without something to back it up. Following the RULES of faith-as if that was all that was required-was likened by Dr. Allport to living on the perfume of an empty vase. It's possible to live, perhaps for a long time, on the perfume of an empty vase, but sooner or later one is thrust into a situation where there had better be some real flowers, not just the aroma, or one is lost.

In our Gospel we see the tragedy of being religious without being the real deal, of placing primary emphasis on outer conduct rather than on inner character. Those to whom Jesus speaks did not recognize their need to be changed. These people may talk a good fight of faith, but when they are forced to fall back upon their inner resources of faith, they discover that the tank is empty. Jesus says, "Don't imitate them for they don't practice what they teach." All perfume, no flowers.

Roy T. Lloyd, Charades and Reality
Hospitality Outdoes Erudition
One pastor tells of his excitement of bringing into parish membership a university professor. The pastor endeavored to prepare and to deliver better sermons from the pulpit, as this prospective member continued to attend worship. Later, while reflecting with the professor after he joined the parish, the pastor found that the professor's joining had less to do with the sermons he heard and more to do with an elderly woman who consistently made him feel so welcomed and valued. That was what moved him into Christian community. Imagine that: the Christian spirit of hospitality outdid erudition. Servanthood over showmanship wins hearts in many, many places.
Joseph M. Freeman, Where Gratitude Abounds, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
The danger of pride is that it feeds on goodness.
I Am the Path
The church in the world is a lot like the story that E. Stanley Jones tells of the missionary in the jungle. He got lost with nothing around him but bush and a few cleared places. He finally found a small village and asked one of the natives if he could lead him out of the jungle. The native said he could. "All right," the missionary said, "Show me the way." They walked for hours through dense brush hacking their way through unmarked jungle. The missionary began to worry and said, "Are you quite sure this is the way? Where is the path?" The native said. "Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path."
Our path out of the jungle of this world is God in Christ. We may have some Rabbis, Masters, Father's, Teachers, and Reverends, but we are all like the missionary. We rely not upon men but Christ who is our path.
Brett Blair,
Exaltation of the Humble - Service

 During the dark days of World War II, England had a great deal of difficulty keeping men in the coal mines. It was a thankless kind of job, totally lacking in any glory. Most chose to join the various military services. They desired something that could give them more social acceptance and recognition. Something was needed to motivate these men in the work that they were doing so that they would remain in the mines.
With this in mind, Winston Churchill delivered a speech one day to thousands of coal miners, stressing to them the importance of their role in the war effort. He did this by painting for them a mental picture. He told them to picture the grand parade that would take place when VE Day came. First, he said, would come the sailors of the British Navy, the ones who had upheld the grand tradition of Trafalgar and the defeat of the Armada. Next in the parade, he said, would come the pilots of the Royal Air Force. They were the ones who, more than any other, had saved England from the dreaded German Lufwaffa. Next in the parade would come the Army, the ones that had stood tall at the crises of Dunkirk.
Last of all, he said, would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in minor's caps..
Lutheran pastor Martin Taylor tells a delightful story which he says he heard from another pastor, an elderly gentleman, at a pastor's meeting. As a young man this pastor had been studying for the ministry and was asked to serve a small congregation in Canada over the summer months. His father who was also a pastor urged him to accept the opportunity, but he was reluctant. He was young, inexperienced. The idea of serving a congregation and especially the writing of sermons terrified him. His father said he would help him with that. He would simply provide him with some of his old sermons that he could recycle as he needed. 

Reluctantly the son agreed to this proposal. And things went relatively well . . . until the day that a member of the church died. The son panicked. He had never performed a funeral. He didn't even know this parishioner. How could he prepare a message under these circumstances? 

His father said not to worry. He had a funeral meditation that he had written to commemorate the life one of his church's leading saints, a meditation that had received many accolades. Evidently the person the father had eulogized was a person who had lived an exemplary life. 

Apparently this was not so for the person who had died in the son's parish. Indeed, he was something of a scoundrel. So as the son rattled on about what a great saint the deceased was, the family became increasingly uncomfortable. They knew it was all untrue. 

Finally a young boy in the family, who had been overhearing his family's whispered comments about the inaccuracy of the young pastor's description of their dearly departed, broke the decorum of the funeral setting. He stood in front of the pulpit and declared in a stern voice, "Hogwash, hogwash, hogwash!" Actually that's not the term he used. It's a more polite paraphrase of a common expletive.

This totally unhinged the young pastor. He was stricken speechless. All he could do was to put away his notes, close his Bible, say "Amen" and sit down.

 Well clearly the deceased was not a saint--not, at least, in the way we normally think of a saint. Let's reflect for a few moments on what it takes to be a saint as we look at our text for this All Saints' Day from the Psalms...

  "The Making of a Saint"

 Today's Gospel is difficult to preach on All Saints' Sunday. The story of the raising of Lazarus is familiar and uplifting, but this section is a little awkward. We enter just in time to witness Jesus' tears and anguish, some graphic words about how the body would smell, an odd little prayer, and -- almost as an afterthought -- the calling forth of four-day-dead Lazarus, still bound in his shroud, shuffling awkwardly from his tomb before the astonished mourners. No ringing words about Jesus as the resurrection and the life; just a, shall we say, former corpse blinking newly-restored eyes against the light of an ordinary earthly day. 
Because that was what the still-present shroud signifies: Lazarus has been raised but not resurrected. He's been given a new lease on his old life; he hasn't been ushered yet into the life of heaven. What happened to him when Jesus called him from the grave is marvelous but is at most a foretaste or symbol of the rich, endless new life that Jesus promised. Lazarus is raised to live on earth again, with a death still in his future, and with the life of heaven still a promise. 
Makes you want to run to the ringing promises of Isaiah: "And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples ... he will swallow up death forever" (Isaiah 25:7). That's more like it! Get rid of that shroud! Destroy death forever! That's what we should be hearing on All Saints' Day: a celebration of the Resurrection Life for God's saints, especially for those who have died. We want to hear that their grave-clothes and shrouds are replaced by festal robes and mantles of joy. Why not visualize glorified saints instead of resuscitated corpses? 


Celebrating All Saint's Day
When pop culture transforms a "holy day" into a "holiday," it almost always manages to focus on the wrong side of the equation.
For example:
*The number of shopping days left til Christmas is NOT as important as the 12 day period between the Christmas day miracle and the season of Epiphany.

*A huge party, Mardi Gras, on "Fat Tuesday" is NOT as important as the forty days of Lent that follow.
*Eating all your chocolate bunnies before breakfast on Easter morning is NOT as important as rejoicing over living a resurrection faith on Easter afternoon.

*Tonight, while the world is recovering from a spooky, kooky All Hallow's Eve party, "Halloween" is NOT as important as is the celebrations it fronts for - All Saints Day and All Soul's Day.
Outwitting spooky spirits on Halloween is not essential to Christian discipleship. But remembering the "saints" is. Celebrating our ancestors in the faith, those men and women, some unknown, some esteemed, who lived and died furthering the Christian faith, that is the "holy day" the church needs to hold up to the world.

The Roman Catholic Church calendar still establishes a two day series of special masses and prayers that follow All Hallow's Eve - All Saint's Day on November 1 and All Soul's Day on November 2. All Saints Day commemorates the faithful who, according to the church, have achieved heavenly status. All Soul's Day is a day to pray for family members and the unsung saints of the world.
There is a historical argument that can be made for All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day being the most under-celebrated church holiday in the post-Reformation church. Before the Reformation some overzealous fundraisers in the church gladly granted what was called a "plenary indulgence" to those who attended church services on All Saint's and All Soul's day. According to medieval theology this meant that if you attended church on those days your presence automatically released one soul from purgatory.
The problem was that eventually the church ended up with a revolving door of visitors. It was the theological equivalent of buying a fistful of lottery tickets instead of betting on just one number. Better odds. People with lots of dead relatives would enter the church, offer the name of their deceased loved one, exit the church, and then turn around and do it all again, theologically assured that each time they re-entered the church that day they were freeing another Purgatory prisoner. Those with few relatives would simply draw up lists of historical figures they liked and hoped to chalk up heavenly credit to liberate them.
This kind of incentive for church attendance is questionable, though it did work. But the eagerness of living generations to stay connected to past generations, both in prayers and in practices, is admirable. For medieval Christians, the dead were still an active part of the living, and past generations still had something to offer the present generations.
It is hard for some of us to make that kind of connection anymore. People used to know their "family trees" as well as they knew their own furniture. But the USA has always been a country made of up of new arrivals, and for some of us the past is a blur. After generations of being on the move and unattached, there are now internet sites that offer to help us find our "ancestry." At "" the appearance of a single "leaf" next to a name is the signal that there is more information available.

But many of us don't have "family trees." We don't have a familiar forest of known relatives we can point to and proudly claim as our own. Some of us have family blackberry bushes. By that I mean unwieldy, twisted, brier-patch knots that are way too thorny to investigate without getting hurt. Whether you have a well-shaped family tree or an untamed bramble bush in your personal history, every member of the body of Christ stills participates in the communion of the saints.
No matter what you know, or don't know, about church history, or about your own personal history, we all have common ancestors in the faith and personal knowledge of saints. We need to celebrate All Saint's Day.

Leonard Sweet, Collected Sermons,
Fall Back

Remember, Daylight Savings Time ends this weekend, officially on November 1 at 2:00 am.  Don't forget to set your clock back one hour!  
He Lives!
There is a story about a man whose epitaph read, "Died at forty--buried at eighty." Something had gone out of this man long before he had drawn his last breath. Jesus knew that the secret to death's power is found in how much we fear it. Fear releases dominating power before the grave--not at the grave. Somehow the fear of dying traps the very purpose of life and locks it up--and we never enjoy our life. Our faith which we celebrate in this sanctuary today is not just a pleasant memorial service to a dead king--or a nice lord.  We worship the Living God who declares that abundant life is not just available in heaven--but right here on earth. We have a "foretaste of glory divine." That is why we sing that great evangelical hymn, "He Lives."
Eric Ritz

New Priorities of the Kingdom
A holy man was engaged in his morning meditation under a tree whose roots stretched out over the riverbank. During his meditation he noticed that the river was rising, and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown. He crawled out on the roots and reached down to free the scorpion, but every time he did so, the scorpion struck back at him. An observer came along and said to the holy man, 'Don't you know that's a scorpion, and it's in the nature of a scorpion to want to sting?' To which the holy man replied, 'That may well be, but it is my nature to save, and must I change my nature because the scorpion does not change his?'
A Religion Worth Nothing
A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.

Martin Luther
At the Heart of the Universe Is a God Who Loves Us 

The raising of Lazarus is a reminder that there will come a time when there will be no more pain or sorrow; there will come a time when there will be no more tears. Why? Because at the heart of the universe is a God who loves us.

That is the testimony of John in the Revelation. He writes, "Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,' for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

Two images ought to stick in our minds forever. Jesus standing beside a friend's tomb weeping. And even more striking, the eternal God of all creation wiping the tears from His children's eyes. Cold, impersonal universe? I don't think so. 

Let me close with an interesting story. A woman named Ella Wilcox once witnessed a woman sitting quietly by herself sobbing very noticeably in the middle of a train car. At first, Ella was a little bothered by the persistent weeping, but then she noticed another passenger in the car an older gentlemen who was sitting near the rear of the car. He was telling funny stories to the passengers sitting around him. Everybody smiled and chuckled along with the old man. After a while, some of the other passengers in the car started moving. They were getting up from their seats in the front, near the crying woman, and gravitating toward the back near the man telling the funny stories. Out of this experience, Ella Wilcox wrote these well-known words: "Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone."  

When you are weeping, you may feel alone, terribly alone, but you are not. There is One who weeps with you. There is One who will one day wipe away every tear from your eyes. This One has power over life and death. This One is Jesus Christ and he has the power to call you forth from your tomb of tears and give you life once again.

King Duncan,
Would You Be a Saint? - by Leonard Sweet
The family, the Body of Christ, should always require a two-pronged greeting: "Good Morning Saints; Good Morning Sinners!" That is the organic complexity, the paradox of orthodoxy, that makes up this "Christ-Body" and makes it so vital.

Both Saints and Sinners are present and accounted for.

And all of us are both.
My grandma used to make her requests using a very particular vocabulary. She would ask, "Would you be a saint and bring me that sweater?" Or maybe, "Would you be a saint and pick up those dishes?" All of her requests gave us the opportunity to register ourselves as "saints."

But is that all there is to being a "saint?" Would all of us be real "saints" if all we had to do was run helpful errands? Isn't there some deeper commitment, some greater impulse required of a "saint?"
We all know there are true saints in our midst this morning. Can't you feel their presence? We have but to recognize and celebrate them. And this is our problem.

The problem with real "saints" is that they are slippery. Jesus identified the revealing qualities of a true "saint" in today's text. They don't proudly peacock their achievements. They do not wear "broad phylacteries" or "long fringes." They do not insist upon the best, recognition of their deeds, or need special placement in the community, or the best seats in the sanctuary.
True "saints" slip under the radar...
Standing Up for Christian Values
Even our culture a supposedly Judeo-Christian culture is not always in agreement with the teachings of Christ.
For example, we are a materialistic culture. Many of us are obsessed with having nice things. It would cause a radical change in our lifestyle if we were to take seriously Jesus' teaching about the place of money in our lives.
The conflict between Christ and culture was most easily seen in the days when the civil rights movement was in full bloom. Our Judeo-Christian culture actually had laws relegating people of color to the back of the bus and to grossly inferior schools. They were denied access to water fountains, restaurants and hotels. They were dehumanized in a hundred different ways.
Lyndon Baines Johnson from the state of Texas was Senate majority leader in those days. The Johnsons had a wonderful black cook, Zephyr Wright, who was considered a part of the family. One day at LBJ's home in Washington, Johnson told Zephyr that he wanted her and her husband, Sammy, to pack up and drive to the LBJ ranch in Texas to prepare for the Johnsons' vacation stay.
"I'm not going to do it," Zephyr told Johnson defiantly. She explained that on the two-day trip, she would have to substitute the bushes on the road for a rest room, brown-bag it from restaurants that would not serve blacks, and her husband would have to sleep in the backseat of the car and she in the front seat below the steering wheel because they could not get into a hotel.
Johnson told reporters of her plight many times, and when it came time to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he had proposed, he gave one of the first pens after the signing to Zephyr Wright.
"You deserve this more than anyone else," Johnson told Wright.

Do you think Johnson's support of the Civil Rights Act made him popular back in Texas? Hardly. But Texas was not alone. We had dehumanizing Jim Crow laws on the books of many of our states until finally a group of Americans both black and white said, "Enough! In the name of God, enough!"
King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
Mercy and Empathy
There are people crying all around us, people approaching the point of desperation. But many of their cries go unheard. The noise of the self-oriented machinery of our culture is drowning them out and they are dying. The world needs the merciful. We all need someone who will identify with us. Someone who will hear our cry, listen, have empathy, and care. We all need to have an attitude of mercy and to be the recipients of such an attitude! As Shakespeare said:
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is
twice blest, It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.