All Hallow’s Eve, The Saints, Beatitudes and Ingathering Homily
Sunday, November 6, 2016 The Rev. Peg Flynn, Deacon
This past Monday evening, I found myself walking down the street hand in hand with an almost four-foot-tall, secret agent. We were kicking our way through leaves bunched in the gutter. He wore a black trench coat, hat, and sunglasses–even though the sun had just set. As we passed a family of pirates going the opposite way, we called out, “Happy Halloween!” After they had passed I said, more to myself than anything, “Happy All Hallows’ Eve.”
“What?” asked Kalel who hears and remembers everything.
“I said, ‘Happy All Hallows’ Eve.’”
“No,” said Kal’El: “It’s Happy HalloWEEN.”
“’All Hallows’ Eve is what people used to say. We changed it, shortened it to Halloween.”
He looked at me dubiously over the tops of his sunglasses.
I spelled it out: “All—A-l-l—HALLOWS—Eve—for evening.”
“What does it mean?”
In half a second my brain flipflopped through several iterations of a possible explanation that would make sense for a six-year-old.
Hallows, saints, holy dead people, life, death, eternal life. And I ended up back at the beginning, what, exactly, does it all mean?
Fortunately, just at that moment we turned the corner of a street and looming up in front of us was a 10-foot dragon with a fire red belly, tongues of cloth fire unfurling out its mouth. Huge wings . . .
All religious and existential questions were obliterated in a moment of pure wonder.
We stood completely still. Kal’El said, reverently, “THAT, is an awesome dragon!”
“Wow!” I agreed.
It was awe-inspiring.
There is this thing in the human soul that craves being in awe—being dumbstruck, feeling the adrenaline rush, the goosebumps, the heart-thumping thrill that strikes unexpectedly–sometimes from fear or excitement; Other times from experiencing beauty, goodness, and yes—Love.
So, on All Hallows’ Eve powerful emotions are tied together in a night of thrilling pagan bacchanalia—which has become a children’s Disney party—followed by a day for our veneration of holy dead people.
And as we pass through this annual journey that takes us from a fiery Night on Bald Mountain into a misty morning of Ave Maria—we face, directly or indirectly, honestly or disingenuously, our own mortality and fear of the meaninglessness of a mortal life—and turn to hope, work to build our belief in something greater.
On All Hallows Day and All Hallows Sunday—All Saints Sunday– we are invited to examine what our mortal life means in the face of eternity. And annually, our liturgical calendar helps us do this through reflecting on the Beatitudes of Christ.
This year we encounter Luke’s version rather than Matthew’s—and I am glad for that because, unlike Matthew, Luke doesn’t leave us any moral wiggle room. Luke forces us to consider contrasts—and contemplate where we might fall in those contrasts.
The Sermon on the Plain brings us face to face with a series of blessings paired with warnings. At least I prefer to think of them as warnings rather than damnations:
They ask us to consider now, rather than later, which end of a continuum we are on.
They bother me—these “woe be to the fill-in-the-blanks.”
Before you think I am motivated by overactive compassion for those others over there, I hurry to assure you that my concern is largely self-serving. Where do I fall in this comparison?
“Blessed are you who weep now—woe be to you who are laughing now.”
“Blessed are you who are hungry now—woe be to you who are full.”
You see, more often than not, I find myself in the “Woe be to you” end of things. For I am laughing now. And I am full, now.
“Blessed are you who are poor — Woe to you who are rich.”
Compared to the vast majority of the world—I am indeed rich. By any measure—my resources—the resources of the middle class in the U.S. place us among the wealthiest of human beings in the world, the healthiest, most privileged people of almost any age-perhaps of all time.
And yet, too often, I fail to acknowledge and marvel at my wealth, my abundance. I have found that fear of the future, fear of the unknown—rather than trust and faith in God—drives too many of my decisions. We call this pragmatism.
It seems a common human issue: that we complain far too often and too bitterly of what we do not have—rather than focusing on what we have to be grateful for.
And our fear all too often arrests our ability to give abundantly—out of a sense of gratitude for all that we have been provided.
And so how appropriate that this lesson comes the week before Ingathering Sunday—when we are asked to bring pledges of our giving back to God that which is God’s.
This is where our saints—and memory of their lives—comes in to play.
God has given us worldly role models, saints. Many of them are dead. But, I think sometimes at least shadows of them walk among us.
Last Monday, as my six-year-old secret agent and I were approaching the end of our evening of candy hunting and gathering, we walked up a path to a woman who was sitting on her porch. She had a huge box stuffed full of candy, and she held this out to Kalel. “Take some.”
He bent over the box looking over the goods. Then, carefully, he picked one piece, dropped it in his bucket and said, “Thank you.”
As he turned to walk away, the woman said, “Wait! Is that all? Don’t you want to take some more?”
He smiled, shook his head and held up his bucket to her, “Look at all that I have. I’ll leave the rest for the other kids.”
When I grow up, I want to be a whole lot more like my friend, Kal’El.
You see, he is a person whose glass is neither half empty nor half full. For Kal’El, his cup perpetually runneth over. No wonder Jesus loved the little kids!
Now, here, for me comes a serious question: Should I be worried about my friend’s chances in the next age?
After all, “woe be to those who are happy now.”
This is the admonition that gives me the most trouble. Is it telling us that God wants us to be miserable in this life? Is God condemning all happy people?
Would that jive with our belief in a loving God?
I don’t think so.
“Woe be to those who are happy now.”
Is this, possibly, a warning about the source or type of our happiness? Do we attempt to gain happiness through acquisition of material goods or power or prestige over others?
Is this warning us to consider whether we can ever be truly happy as long as we are blind or indifferent to the suffering, the poverty, the hunger of others? Are we ever truly alive if we remain blind or indifferent to those living in such conditions?
Is there a profoundly deeper level of happiness—and way of being—in true communion with God and God’s people that emerges out of pain and suffering—sharing the pain and suffering of others, also known as compassion?
On the other end of things, “blessed be those who are weeping now”: While I haven’t met every person in the world, it seems to me that all people suffer and experience pain during the course of their lives. And while happiness may be the bigger part of the balance, the older we get, the more we accumulate memories of the difficult times in our lives and memories of the suffering of others.
When we emerge from a trial—we are not unscathed—there are usually scars—and sometimes surprising gifts. We have been tested, honed by the fire—changed, and hopefully, strengthened—at the very least by the knowledge that we go on.
And–and here is the really Good News–
Maybe the most important assurance that we have from the Beatitudes in Luke is that God does not rejoice in the poverty of God’s people—hunger or suffering of whatever kind. God is not indifferent. God is ever present, even in times of distress.
And so WE must be present for our brothers and sisters—not just the ones in our families, neighborhoods—not just the ones who wish us well, but our enemies, those who threaten us as well.
It sounds so easy. But it does require personal sacrifice and tremendous self-discipline—and we are not always comfortable with that.
So God has given us among all our other gifts—companions. Like our church family–
Like short companions who like to hold our hand and share their bounty of candy with us.
And we have spiritual companions, those whose lives and deaths mark a path for us to follow—not least of these—Jesus, our redeemer, savior of our souls
And so, let us always and evermore, in the words of Psalm 149
“Praise our God.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
Rejoice in our Maker;
For God takes delight in God’s people;
and crowns the humble with victory.”
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!