Sermon – November 3, 2002

November 3, 2002

All Saints

Saints and Heroes

Matthew 5:1-12

One day a baseball team came to play a game. Just as the game was to
begin the catcher for the home team arrived and hurried into his pads.
The center didn’t show up at all, but later sent his regrets. The
third baseman likewise didn’t show up either, because he had been up late
the night before. The shortstop showed up late, forgot his glove,
couldn’t play, so he went home. Two of the outfielders went away on a
little weekend trip, but called back to say they were there in spirit. No
one knows what happened to the 1st baseman.

So, when the pitcher went to the mound he looked around for his
teammates, and his heart sunk, because most of their postions were empty. But
the game was announced, the visting team took the field, the stands
were full. So, he saw tghere was nothing to do but pitch the ball and
hope for the best. Well, you can imagine what happened since the poor
pitcher also had to cover 1st base, third base, short and center field.
Well, when the absent members of the soundly defeated team heard that
their team had lost, they all made the decision to replace the pitcher!

One player does not make a baseball team. This little parable points
out a truth about the saints. The saints are a community, a fellowship.
John Ylisivaker, a contemporary Lutheran hymnwriter, wrote a song
called, “One saint ain’t”. The saints are part of communities, families,
fellowships.

In our understanding, the saints are those who believe, those who
constitute the body of Christ, the church. You and me, our parents our
pastors, those who have brought us here in Jesus’ name. Individually, were
are remarkable or not, competent at something or not, successful or
not. The constituting fact of our sainthood is that we are the children
of God. We are the communion of saints, those who gather in
celebration of that faith and try to practice what we preach in our daily lives.
On days like today, All Saint’s Sunday, we honor those who have
contributed to that communion because of the ways they have strengthened us,
taught us, carried us in our own faith journeys. Today we are reminded
that the saints are those who declined to make their faith a private
affair.

On a day like today I think of my father. He was an able church
nursing home administrator, a good fisherman, a father who succeeded at some
things and failed at others. In small ways and big, he demonstrated
for us that faith can uphold a family and a community, and that without
it some questions are too big, some hurts too deep, some battles too
hopeless. These are lessons I would not have learned without him. Dad
was a saint.

I think of Evelyn. She was a woman in her 70s or 80’s, she was never
real forthcoming with me about that. She spent most of her adult life
either on the streets as a homeless woman or as a patient in a mental
hospital. When we met she was a ward of the city of Washington. D.C.,
living in a second rate nursing home. She had nothing. I picked her
up every Wednesday and took her to the church for Bible study and a
meal. It was important for her to be there, because it was where she was
seen and treated as a whole person. It was where she could confirm and
express her faith. It was what she had that the streets or the
psychiatric ward could not take away. I know of no remarkable things she did
in her life, but she had persevered and the reason was the strength and
the comfort she drew from a Christian community and from her faith.
Because of her, it was easier for me to understand grace, to believe
that not a sparrow falls but that God makes note of it. Evelyn was a saint.

The struggle of Martin Luther King was fundamentally a religious one,
against hatred and separation and violence. He taught us about
persevering, leaning on faith, about self–sacrifice, about gathering common,
faithful people against evil. He was a saint.

The idea of saints is not much in vogue these days. We prefer heroes
with all the attending glamour of that designation. We can find them
in a number of venues. There are sports heroes. They are simply
entertainers, they are competent at one thing. I don’t know what we admire
most, their skills or their cash value. Both leave us a little awe
struck and we call them heroes.

Business produces heroes, and while it is not always the case, it is
arguable that those whom we designate here as heroes are those who can
meet the ideal of bigger, stronger, with consolidated power and
influence. Yet the cost of that can often be family jobs or the economic
well–being of a community or an outrageous disparity in income, but we call
them heroes.

War produces heroes, but war is the premier example of human failing.
Fundamentally, it cannot operate without hate and violence, and often
those who practice the art of war with the most skill are labeled
heroes.

In all these cases, heroes are identified by common characteristics,
their aggressiveness, their ability to conquer. They are often brash.
And they are rewarded with the military currency of rank and medals,
the sports and business currency of fame and, well, currency. In one
way or another, the heroes of our time model for us is the ability to
triumph over another. There is a last man standing sort of ethic.

It is not so with the saints. Listen to the words of Jesus. Blessed
are the poor. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are
those who are persecuted for my sake. Blessed are those who look beyond
themselves.

There is a striking difference, almost a mirror opposite of the
cultural heroes and the notion of the saints, the believers. What does that
tell us? That the church is out of whack? Yes, a little. . . ..When
the church is healthy it is always the case that she stands on the edge
of the prevailing culture, probing, providing an alternative.

This matters, to recognize this distinction. I don’t care what Charles
Barkley says, heroes are role models. So are the saints. It matters
because it causes us to discern who are the saints in our lives, and it
causes us to remember who we are, from whom we came, and who we mark as
our heroes, as our saints. It matters when we find ourselves facing a
choice of good and evil, or when we’ve got to find our way through a
crisis, or when we are trying to live our lives fully, trying to take
care of one another, and our community. . . . . It matters because it
reminds us that the last one standing, stands alone.

We honor the saints today, those of the present time and those who have
died, not specifically so much for their deeds as for the faith that
sustained them, that faith they passed on to us. This matters because
now we are the saints, and our challenge is to pass on the ethic and idea
of the kingdom of God as expressed by Jesus—blessed are the merciful,
the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteous–, as lived
by Jesus, for others, in faith, in sacrifice–, as promised by
Jesus–you will be comforted, children of God, given mercy, rewarded.

And when we do that, when we stand in that faith, under this cloud of
witnesses to that faith, then it is not just the last man standing, but
all of us standing together, the communion of saints, with one another,
for one another, in Christ’s name, until Christ comes.

Amen

Copyright (c) 2002 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus