November 5, 2023

All Saints’ Sunday

November 5, 2023

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; I John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

     From the first letter of St. John, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” I speak to you in the Name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifying Sustainer. Amen.

     As you have probably realized, All Saints’ Sunday is one of the great festivals of the Church year. Embellished by pomp and circumstance, today we recognize and give thanks to God for all the saints who have gone before us, as well as those who dwell among us still. And yet, All Saints Sunday is much more than that.

Nevertheless, when asked “Who is a Saint?” most people will name Saint Peter or Paul; Saint Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John; St. Mary, the mother of God, or St. Joseph, her spouse. Or they might answer St. Benedict, St. Clare, St. Francis and so on. All of them people from the past. Now some might mention someone more contemporary - someone like Mother Theresa of Calcutta, or the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The truth is, when asked to name saints, we typically think of someone who was exemplary in their witness, self-sacrifice, virtue, or accomplishment. And yet, All Saints’ Sunday is so much more than a celebration of the “Top 40 Names in Christianity.”

     See, Church history, as well as our scripture lessons this morning reveal that Saints were and are much simpler and more common that we might realize. In fact, more often than not, Saints were and are imperfect people and each one very different from the other. Different except for this one thing: each one of them was and is a child of God; an imperfect child of God mind you, but, nevertheless, Jesus Christ dwelled within them just as Jesus Christ dwells within us. And that is what makes anyone a Saint. That’s why St. John’s words in his first letter to the Church are so important to hear this morning. He writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”

A favorite 14th Century mystic interpreted John’s words this way: “Not as thou art, but as thou wilt be, God, with loving eyes sees thee.”[1]  And therein lies the deeper meaning, grace and beauty – and frankly, the hope and challenge celebrated on All Saints’ Sunday.

     See, St. Paul, in his letters to the Colossians, Ephesians, Corinthians, Romans, and Philippians[2] describes saints as all members of the Christian Church: all who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in “the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” - I Corinthians 6:11 – and “share in the life of Christ.” Being described as a saint is not about perfection, but rather, it is about embracing and then sharing in the life of Christ. What Paul means by “sharing in the life of Christ” is how Christ lives in us, transforms us, and how Christ continues to live through us. And that is the whole crux of sainthood and All Saints’ Sunday celebrations.

The truth is saints are known and remembered not because of what they were able to do of themselves, but rather, because the on-going, transforming work of Christ within them enabled and empowered them to live differently. Saints, past and present, offer the world a glimpse of what God’s kingdom is like when one commits to make Jesus’ prayer, “thy kingdom come” more than a prayer, more than a dream. Saints choose to make those words a reality today and that is our challenge as fellow saints of God.

     Still, most Christians today think of Saints solely as those who were and are especially blessed and graced of God and so, we might question how we could ever be described as “a saint.” That’s why our lectionary is wise to include today’s reading from the Gospel according to Matthew. This particular teaching of Jesus is commonly called the “Beatitudes” which means “supreme blessedness” or “supreme happiness.” We do think of the saints as being supremely blessed and happy, but that is not what Jesus had in mind here nor what scripture and history reveal about Saints. A careful reading of this text shows Jesus alternating between the present tense and future tense. Those who are poor in spirit today, those who mourn today, those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness today, those who are merciful today, and those who are reviled and persecuted right now will, someday, be comforted, they will inherit the earth, they will be filled. Reflecting on this particular passage from Matthew, Theologian M. Eugene Boring – now that’s an ominous last name isn’t it? – Well, Eugene says that in the Beatitudes, Jesus is, “not offering a philosophy of life designed to make us feel better or be more successful or calm in the midst of overwhelming adversity and hardship.” He continues, “Christianity is not a scheme to reduce stress, lose weight, advance one’s career, or preserve one from illness. No. The Christian faith is a way of living based on the firm and sure hope that meekness is the way of God, that righteousness and peace will finally prevail, and that God’s future will be a time of mercy, not cruelty. So, Jesus says, blessed are those who live this sort of life now, even when such a life seems (absolutely) foolish.”[3] That, my friends, is the way of life embraced and demonstrated by Saints: A way that lifts up how life should be. An ideal where all humanity lives in unity with God and each other in Christ, and where God’s promises of redemption and wholeness, God’s promises of life everlasting and triumph over evil, are fully realized. That kind of living brings hope into every community because it offers the world a glimpse of God’s kingdom where mercy, grace, and justice do abound. And that kind of living is what we are called to embrace and demonstrate as children of God, as Saints of God today.

     Now, I am sure some might be thinking, “I’m just a regular person with no special skills or abilities. How can I, how can any of us, offer the world a “glimpse of God’s kingdom”?

Well, in his “I have a dream” speech, the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about standing on a mountaintop where he had a glimpse just for a moment of a world that embraced God’s values, a world where all people worshipped and lived together in peace and unity, where all flesh recognized the value and dignity of every human being. That was a glimpse of God’s kingdom. Mother Theresa of Calcutta chose to see Christ in every person she met. She offered water to the thirsty because she saw Christ in that thirsty person. She offered food to the hungry and nurture to the sick because she saw a hungry and sick Christ at her door. And in so doing, she offered the world, offered us, a glimpse of God’s kingdom where all are fed and watered, where death and dying are no more, where, as we heard in our reading from the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, God wipes away every tear from our eyes. That is the testimony of the Saints: their sharing in the life of Christ – a sharing that made, and still makes, a difference in this world. Theirs was a commitment to make each of their baptismal promises more than words. And All Saints’ Sunday urges us to do the same. 

     Friends, Sainthood is not about perfection, just as it is not about special skills or abilities. It is about Jesus Christ. As St. John writes, God sees us not as we are with all our imperfections and limitations, but as we are in Christ right now: children of God, redeemed, reformed, sanctified, embraced, and empowered to be as Christ in this community and the world. To love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and love all that God loves – our neighbor as much as ourselves – is the beginning to living the life of a Saint. Such was the choice of those we commemorate today: Saints who have shown and continue to show the world there is a better way to live: God’s way.

     “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” May God open our hearts, eyes, and minds for glimpses of God’s kingdom in our midst right now, glimpses of the Saints past and present encouraging us to live more fully as children of God so that we become not just glimpses, but living examples of God’s grace, mercy, love, justice, welcome, and peace to our neighbors, one another, this nation, and the world.

     Today, we thank God for the Saints … and God-helping let us choose to live like, and be one, too. Amen.   


[1] A 14th Century Mystic known only by the title of his book, “The Cloud of Unknowing,”

[2] Rom.1:7, I Cor. 1:2, II Cor. 1:1, Eph.1:1, Phil.1:1; Col. 1:2

[3] M. Eugene Boring, New Interpreter’s Bible Reflections on Matthew 5:3-12, p. 181; Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2004.