All Saints’ Sunday
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb
Matthew 5:1-12

Last year, just about this time, when Robyn and I were back in Georgia, we took flowers to Robyn’s dad’s grave. Her dad is buried in a professionally kept and well visited cemetery just outside of town. Our visit last autumn was at the end of the day, just about dusk; and as it got darker, we noticed something we had never seen before. The cemetery had suddenly undergone a transformation. There were dozens if not hundreds of tiny flickering lights. (It seems to be the most popular thing for honoring lost loved ones these days: battery operated lights enclosed in an opaque covering that makes the light look, for all the world, like a candle dancing in the wind.) Hundreds of lights marking the graves – remembering family and friends and the sadness of that loss, but also the joy of that person’s life, and the influence each of those lives had on someone, who still cared, still remembered, still loved. A glowing testimony to light and life.

Also, “back home,” in the south, there is an earlier tradition, in more Protestant circles, among more “old-time religion” people, for families remembering past generations and beloved family members that impacted their lives. It is a similar celebration in another season. It falls in spring or early summer. It is called “Homecoming,” not to be confused with “Homegoing,” a term these same people use to refer to a person’s dying and going to heaven. “Homecoming” is a time when people come from near and far to their church of origin – their home church. Some of them are still members there and some of them have long since moved far away; some have become members of other churches and some just don’t attend church much anymore. But on Homecoming Sunday, they come – all of them – for a reunion with the living and the dead. They come to church and sing hymns and praise God together. They renew old friendships, talk about old times, and old folks long gone. And they eat together. They call it “dinner on the ground” as they spread blankets and have a picnic with 50 different kinds of food, most of it fried – and delicious! Interestingly, they have that picnic and spread their blankets in the cemetery, near the family plot, the thought being that they are including their deceased loved ones in this homecoming celebration as well, where all – the living and the dead – are linked together in a spiritual way.

Now, this group of Christians wouldn’t have a clue about All Saints Day. In fact, they would probably think you were weird for celebrating such a day and such a thing. The whole idea of this “Saint” stuff is a little suspect to them.

But that’s okay, because you probably think their homecoming thing is weird. But, you know, other than the fact that our celebrations go by different names and fall at different times of the year and are celebrated in a different way, all of them – the lighted cemetery, Homecoming, All Saints – celebrate the same thing: Honoring the special people in our lives, recognizing the connection that still exists between us, giving thanks, even amid sadness, for the lives of all those we loved and respected, and who deserve to be remembered.

That’s what All Saints is for us: a day that honors all the faithful servants of God. They may not be famous enough to have their own day on the church calendar, like St Mark or St. Peter or St. Paul. They may not have a church or a town named after them. But they have lived their days as faithful, loving people – disciples and examples. We remember especially today those saints who have died and we remember with joy God’s promise and the belief that they have been raised to new life and are in the everlasting care of an ever-loving God. All Saints is the occasion for followers of Jesus to celebrate that we are never lost in death, but that death has been overcome by our Lord, and Life is forever. In Life, we are all connected for all time.

So this is the day for recalling all the people who have lived and died in the Lord. Yet, All Saints Day is not a day about death. It is a day that celebrates life. All Saints Day honors the lives of those saints who never became celebrities but who made all the difference in the world to us. No one (except the church) will ever declare a holiday for them. No one will name a street or city or school for them (though the church might name a room for them) The world will forget them, but the church will not. (Not as long as there is All Saints Day.) The world will become a poorer place without them. But the church will be ever richer because of them and will celebrate them – your loved ones – with you and even after you are gone, even when you become one of the dearly departed saints we remember on this day. Then, the church will remember you!

But there is even more to All Saints Day than remembering the dead who are alive in the Lord. The celebration is about more than remembering the beloved people of the past. It is about the here and now. It is about the living witnesses – the saints who live now on earth together – in communion – with those who are alive in the Lord in heaven. “All Saints” means just that: all the saints. The great ones and the small ones, the heavenly ones and the earthly ones, the big ones and small ones, the rich ones and poor ones, the young ones and old ones, the upright and pure ones and the stumbling, soiled ones. All of us can claim some sense or semblance of sainthood, because through Christ, in baptism, God has made us saints. We may not always feel like we deserve the title. We, often, may not want the title or the responsibility. But there it is anyway. Bestowed on us by God’s grace: not deserved, not earned, but gifted.

You and I are marked by baptism. We are marked by the sacrament that plunges us into union with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we are, thereby, in communion and in membership with all the saints who have taken that same plunge. We are accountable to the standard of faithfulness they established, forgiven when we sometimes fall short (just as they were), and, by the work and grace of Christ, entitled to share the inheritance and reward of heaven. That is the good news of All Saints Day. That’s the reason we celebrate this day. For all the saints, for the multitude of saints, for the great cloud of witnesses of which we are a part – of which you are one – through the grace and glory of God.

Like those with whom we are in communion, we are rich saints. Wealthy in so many ways. We have gifts and skills and talents and treasures – blessings beyond comparison with most of the rest of the world. We have incomes and money. And our riches are a part of our discipleship. How we use our money is a part of “saintliness.”

The question becomes, “How much a part?”

C’mon. . . I don’t get to preach again until Commitment Sunday, and you didn’t think you were going to get out of some pulpit message from me on stewardship, did you?

And it’s not easy to segue from All Saints Day to a stewardship message, so give me some credit for imagination AND for this minimum exposure. But do listen.

It was a law in Old Testament times that 10 percent – the first 10 percent – the first fruits – of one’s income was to be given to the temple as a religious sacrifice, as a thank offering or thanks giving – giving back – to God. Some congregations and churches, including the Episcopal Church, have translated the old regulation into a principle called a tithe, which calls on its members to give 10 percent of their incomes for God’s work through the church.

But the New Testament standard for all the saints of God is not 10 percent. Jesus calls us to even more. He said we should love the Lord with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength.

In the Book of Acts, when a couple of wealth named Ananias and Sapphira held back from God what they knew belonged to God, when they did not give according to what they had been given, they died. (Dropped dead right there at the place where they made their offering.) They were cut off from the communion of saints because did not give of all the blessings that were theirs – because they did not give from all that they had.

Now, I don’t want to scare anybody here (with that story), even this close to Halloween. That’s not my goal. But we do need to start taking God seriously. We do need to start taking our faith seriously. We do need to stop playing church and start being church. We need to start behaving like saints, even if imperfect ones, in need of God’s grace, and that includes being faithful in our worship, with our money and with our time. We need to give not just 10 percent of ourselves, but all of ourselves to God.

When one is a Christian, one is never not a Christian! One never takes a day off from the faith. One is never on vacation from loving God.

We witness and cling to Christian love not just in worship, but at home with our spouses and partners and kids, with other family members and neighbors, just as our saintly examples did.

We are committed to Christian hope not just one Sundays, but every day. We treasure Christian values not just in church activities and ministry, but also in our business and professional and personal activities. –At work and at school

We are people of faith 100 percent of the time.

Each of us has 168 hours a week. We are Christians all of that time. What portion of that time will we give to the work of God through the church?

Each of us has some set of skills, abilities, talents. What portion of those gifts will we give to the work of God through the church?

We are rich saints. In most of the world’s eyes, rich beyond compare. We live by means most folk can’t even dream of. What portion of those riches will we give for the work of God through the church?

There is a word often used when describing the saints. Generous. I’ll bet you’ve used that word describing those saints in your life. Those you remember today.

Let it be said of us, of this generation, of this congregation – Let it be said of you, There was a generous Christian who gave all – 100 percent – of heart, soul, mind and strength for the love of, and for the work of, and for the sake of God.

Let it be said of us, they were Christians, lovers of the Lord and his people. Servants and saints of God.

I sing a song of the saints of God, and I mean to be one too.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.