The Great Inversion of Sainthood
November 3, 2019
Feast of All Saints
All Saints’ Church
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
Blessed are you who have found your way to church on the Sunday of the New York City Marathon.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven.
Do people actually believe this? Are there people in the world who think that the poverty of this life is richness in God’s eyes? Does anyone really believe that true greatness is meekness? That sorrow is transformed into joy? That exclusion in society is inclusion in the heavenly fellowship?
Does anyone actually believe the beatitudes? Yes—and they are called saints. And guess what? This is All Saints’ Church. The Feast of All Saints we celebrate today is special for us at this church. It is a reminder of our true calling, of the path God has prepared for each and every one of us, paths specific to who each of us is, but each of which leads to the same destination: sainthood. If you are here, then you are called to sainthood.
And if you’re confused about what it means to be a saint, just listen to Jesus, who tells us what it means to be blessed and beautiful. To be blessed means making room for God’s richness and not your own. It means filling up on all that is good and holy. It means having faith that sadness and pain will be transformed to joy. It means turning your back on the affirmation of the world and all its temptations and turning toward the great mystery of God in Christ.
That’s what it means to be a saint, according to Jesus. Obviously, sainthood isn’t easy. And part of the problem is that the way you are a saint is unique to you—to the gifts God has given you, to the time and place in which you find yourself, to the struggles you face. If these Beatitudes give us the principle of sainthood, the details are only filled in through excruciating trial and error. But let me tell you something I know as surely as I stand before you this morning: I have never met a person who wasn’t called to sainthood. It may confuse you. It may confound you. You may run from it and try to hide from the sheer weight of this calling. But you are called to be a saint of God.
Luckily, we who have been called to sainthood have a powerful tool on our side: this very church. All Saints’ Church is, among other things, a fellowship for those who are called to sainthood. You see, you don’t become a saint overnight. It takes practice. We come here, week after week, year after year—or even for the first time today—to practice being saints. You also don’t become a saint on your own. Many people think that saints live by themselves in caves until they are given a revelation by God, or that they are singularly talented and charismatic. But when you read the lives of the saints, you learn that every saint was born in community. All Saints’ Church is your sainthood community. Here, you are welcomed, you are nurtured, you are challenged, you are encouraged, you are held accountable, and you are sent out into the world to be a saint. There is no other place than a loving Christian community that will equip you for sainthood. There is nothing to replace a church in the formation of saints. This is the place where you encounter yourself anew each week, where you encounter yourself as a saint.
One of the reasons it’s so difficult for us to wrap our heads around sainthood as Jesus describes it is because it calls for an inversion of the way we see the world. In Jesus’ time, the great and the mighty were what he describes in the second half of today’s Gospel passage—the part with the woes. Woe to the rich. Woe to those who feast at sumptuous banquets. Woe to those who laugh, and woe to those who receive high praise. These were the things people sought after in their lives.
And as you can tell, things haven’t changed very much, even after 2000 years. We lift up the rich and the well-fed, the happy and the well-praised. There are no reality shows about those who weep. Just try starting an Instagram account about poverty and see how many followers you get. Accolades and praise are given out so readily and for so little that they hardly have any value. Did you see the news this week about Adam Neumann, the former CEO of WeWork, the company that owns coworking spaces? At the age of 40, he resigned after leading the company to utter ruin. You might think that after arranging shady financial deals and misrepresenting the company’s true value, after laying off almost a quarter of its employees, Mr. Neumann would face some harsh consequences. Instead, he received a payout of one billion dollars. One billion dollars.
That’s a lot of money, and Mr. Neumann is now a rich man for his failures. But in the inverted world of beatitudes, he is not rich at all, because his ill-begotten fortune separates him from the place of true riches: the Kingdom of God.
It is appropriate that this Feast of All Saints is also the beginning of our annual stewardship campaign at All Saints’ Church. Every year, we are called to reflect anew on what it truly means to be blessed. We recommit ourselves to the words of the beatitudes and take seriously our call to sainthood. Following this morning’s Eucharist is our annual Stewardship Café, where you can see the many ministries you can be involved in. And in three weeks’ time, on Harvest Sunday, we will offer our pledges to equip the work of the saints in this place, remembering what it means truly to be wealthy.
Today we also welcome a new saint into our midst as we baptize Lucy Rose Fontana. God willing, she will have the words of the beatitudes written on her heart. She will never forget that even in the trials of life, she is blessed. Lucy is just now beginning her path toward sainthood, and she’s going to need all of our help. Are you willing to show Lucy by example what it means to be a saint? Do you want the world she grows up in to look up to billionaire failures or to confess the richness of God’s Kingdom? When we are all gone and Lucy is still here, do you want her to remember us as a generation of the confused or as the saints who blazed the trail for her?
God has called you to be a saint. It is the highest calling one can have. You are a part of the great cloud of witnesses that envelops us even here this morning. May God be your strength and your guide. And may the saints of God shine forever by the light of Jesus Christ.
Leave a Reply.