Scriptures for today are Here.
Earlier this year, I decided to take up a new hobby: knitting. Now, I have never been a crafty person. But I came to a point where I felt that I was spending all my time with words – reading, writing, talking, praying, preaching, teaching. So I decided to learn to do something that engaged a whole other part of my brain. I took a class, I bought some yarn, I started learning. And as it stands now, my family has been deluged with knitted scarves and hats – I mean, we live in Phoenix, but maybe they’ll wear them someday! But I get great satisfaction out of watching something tangible and beautiful take shape before my eyes, something my own hands have made.
What we all know about material that is knitted together is that all the parts are connected – if you press over here, the cloth over there will be affected. What I didn’t realize until I started knitting things myself is that a knitted thing is really just one long, patterned sequence of slip knots – every stitch is connected to the one above it, below it, to the left, to the right – every stitch is connected to every other stitch, so that if one unravels, the whole thing falls apart. Something that is knitted together is composed of many vulnerable, individual bits, that all together become strong, warm, beautiful, useful. Because the whole is much stronger than the sum of the tiny parts.
I don’t know whether the person who wrote our collect for All Saints – the prayer that we said at the beginning of the service – was a knitter or not, but now that I’m a knitter the collect is much more meaningful to me this year than it has been before. It begins, Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord. In Jesus, we are knitted together into one whole cloth – Jesus is the thread that binds us together, we are the stitches that stay strong as long as connected. The cloth of the church of Jesus is an interconnected network of people and churches, saints and sinners, that stretches back through the ages and forward to eternity, and every part of that cloth is dependent on every other. If you touch one part, the whole is affected; if one bit falls apart, the whole cloth begins to unravel – we are dependent on each other and on Jesus, the one who knit us together into one Body, the communion of saints.
Today in the church we celebrate All Saints’ Day – the day that celebrates the fact that we are bound together with every Christian in this church, and every Christian who has ever lived, in an unbreakable cloth knitted together by the love of Christ. During the week of All Saints, we remember three kinds of saints. We remember great heroes of the faith like Francis of Assisi, people who were leaders and martyrs and examples for all time of how Jesus asked us to live. We also remember all those who have died in faith, who are now in the arms of God’s mercy, and we rejoice for that mercy which is our destiny also. All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2, is the day when we pray for all the dead and give thanks for the love they have given us, which will always bind us together with them. And third: we remember that all of us are saints – every single one. If we are baptized (like Beckett Moyer will be in a few minutes), we too have been knitted into the communion of saints; we are holy and sacred members of Jesus’ family, and the Bible calls us saints.
But sainthood can be confusing, especially if we think that a saint is someone who lives a perfect life. And especially when we look at today’s gospel as an example of the perfect life of a saint – Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Matthew’s gospel is much softer and more accessible for a lot of people. But in Luke’s gospel, the Beatitudes are hugely challenging: Jesus says “Blessed are the poor,” and “Blessed are the hungry,” and drives the point home with “Woe to you who are rich” and “Woe to you who are full now.” Given that most people in this country enjoy a standard of living far higher than most people in the rest of the world – this is very challenging stuff. If we are rich by the standards of the world & world history – and middle-class Americans surely are – then should we give up on being saints, resign ourselves to eternal perdition?
Well, no – we misunderstand Jesus if we think that in this gospel he is laying down the rules we have to follow to get into heaven – God’s grace does this for us. It’s already been done. What Jesus is doing is way more radical than that: he is calling each one of us who are baptized children of God, otherwise known as saints – to join him in his quest to live out the kingdom of God right here on earth. To live as saints right here and now. I firmly believe that God has a special calling for each one of us, a special way he asks us to live out our sainthood right here in this life.
You know the old saying: if you were arrested and put on trial on charges of being a Christian – would there be enough evidence to convict you? Jesus wants us to live our lives to show evidence of our sainthood every day. And yet, in the world we live in, that is exceedingly hard to do. We live in a world that values possessions, money, success, achievement, more than almost anything else – certainly more than sainthood and connection to God. We live in a world where people brag about how busy they are, and where our busy-ness consumes our lives so that we fall into bed exhausted each night with no time even to think about God or about how God might be calling us. We live in a world that feels more anxious and fearful by the day – as the divisive election season we are in surely demonstrates, to people on all sides of the political spectrum.
I think it’s to people like us that Jesus is talking today. He is saying, why are we filling ourselves w worries that take all our time, energy, and attention? And forgetting that it is God who truly can fill us up with the joy of heaven? St. Augustine said: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they find their home in you.” Someone else said it more simply: We have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. We try all kinds of things to fill that empty hole – possessions, busyness, worry, politics. But ultimately, only God can fill that hole.
And this gospel today – blessed are the poor, woe to those who are rich? I think it’s telling us that God’s kingdom is an upside-down world, where wealth, power, satisfaction, achievement can be misfortunes that separate us from God by encouraging us to believe that our own efforts are enough to get us whatever we want, without regard for others around us. And it’s telling us that good fortune instead comes in the shape of self-emptying that reminds us that true blessing comes from God alone. Good fortune – blessing – comes in recognizing that no matter how wealthy and powerful we are, being knit together with every other believer means that we are part of them and they are part of us. We are called to care for each other – rich or poor, black or white, and yes, Republican or Democrat.
Which means that Christian sainthood recognizes that we are knitted together into a colorful, interconnected whole, the Body of Christ that calls us to rank the welfare of our neighbor just as highly as we rank our own good fortune. To devote our time, money, resources to the well-being of others, and to God’s mission. To do the hard work – the really hard work – of loving our enemies, praying for those who abuse us, doing only good to those who do bad things to us. To participate in our work, our families, our communities – as if everything we do affects the common bonds of our life as an interconnected, knitted-together whole, as if every action we take affects every other part of the colorful cloth that Jesus has knitted together.
And in a time of a divisive election, I do think that Christians have a special vocation. I can’t tell you how to vote on Tuesday – knowing that faithful Christians can come to different conclusions on that. But part of our calling as Christians is to pray for our divided country. So Nativity’s sanctuary will be open all day Tuesday for prayer, and Wayne and I are offering prayer services at noon and 5:30.
Our calling as Christians is to care for those around us, whether we agree with them or not, and to respect and learn from those with whom we disagree. To work, on the day after the election, for reconciliation in this divided country, so that we can come together to confront the problems that face us. To build up each part of the Body of Christ so that no part is weaker or more stressed than any other, but so that all of us support each other. Because we are saints of God, baptized in Christ Jesus into the promise of everlasting life, and God has knit us together into a colorful, beautiful, interconnected, interdependent, cloth, which is the Body of Christ.