A sermon given by the Rev. Clare L. Hickman on November 5, 2017
Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 5:1-12
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
November 5, 2017—All Saints
Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 5:1-12
“We are Christ’s Body, we are the saints.” We are. We are the saints; we are the citizens of the Kingdom of God. Which means we live by different standards. Which means our joy and prosperity spring from a far different source than that of the world. We hear it in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the meek,” we are told. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, and those who give up their right to vengeance and violence and status in this world. They are blessed. They are happy. They are, we might imagine on this Feast of All Saints, sanctified.
Sanctification is an idea we have a hard time wrapping our heads around. We can perhaps get on board with the idea that religion is about making us slightly better people. Right? On our good days, when we pay attention to the rules and regs, when we look to the example of Jesus perhaps, and it inspires us to be kinder and more generous … when it reminds us not to hurt people or steal from people. Religion urges us to be better, recommends so many ways of doing (or not doing) things.
But sanctification takes us to a whole different level: a level on which the purpose of religion is nothing less than to make us holy. To make our lives sacred. To live here in this world, but to live as though it is the Kingdom of God. Because it is.
But how do we do that? Let’s look back at the Beatitudes, which are not, as it turns out, a spiritual To Do list. “Blessed are the meek,” is not a command to be meek. Neither is blessed are those who mourn. Rather, they are a call to a new spiritual imagination. They are deliberate challenges to what the world tells us about the source of blessing, success and happiness.[i]
Because we expect success and happiness to come from adding things: achievements, possessions, influence, and security. We’ll even place some things on the pile that seem a bit more spiritual and meaningful like knowledge and love. That looks pretty good to us, though it must be admitted that the stack can get a little wobbly, and the fear of losing any part of it can sometimes keep us up at night. Still, the kingdom of this world can make a very pretty picture, if you get it right.
But the Kingdom of God calls us away from building our towers. The Kingdom of God invites us to imagine a world in which the only secure source of happiness, success and blessing is found not in adding things, but in giving things up. In stripping away our focus on those things (the possessions, the status, the self-protection) that wall us off—not just from other people but from our own vulnerability. The Kingdom of God dares us to look beyond this world ruled by anxiety and competition, to the one (as close to you as breathing) whose rule is self-giving love, whose joy can never be lost or stolen.
There, we will discover a life abounding in blessing. There, we will begin to believe that we too can be sanctified. That our very life can be sacred and holy. That we deserve the label of “saint” that Paul was so generous to paste upon us all.
It begins with letting things go. But that marvelous passage from Revelation suggests another aspect of sanctification that seems particularly powerful on this feast day when we remember our connections across time and space: that sanctification happens in a crowd. There, before the throne of God and the Lamb, spreads a vast multitude. Not merely the 144,000 mentioned in the previous passage, but those of every tribe and people and language of the world are gathered there. They have suffered, but now they have found joy, and they are singing praises to God.
It happens in a crowd. With others around us, we are more likely to come through the changes and chances of this life. We serve and support each other. We encourage and inspire each other. We shine the light of God’s hope for each other. Having a crowd will just plain help us to survive long enough to achieve sanctification.
But it’s more than that. Living with others, being part of a multitude, will in itself sanctify us. Those living in convents and monasteries liken it to a rock tumbler: When we take on the commitment of staying in community with other people—no matter how irritating they can be, no matter how they call us to change, no matter how much patience or kindness or self-reflection or compromise it requires—the very act of staying begins to smooth us out. We get in each other’s way, we knock against each other, and if we do that for long enough, it makes us begin to shine.
I have been known to say the same thing about marriage.
Sanctification and holiness: right there in the tasks of daily living. Imagine that. We, the great multitude; we, who hear Jesus’ call to a different vision of blessedness; we are surrounded by holiness. Not just the saints who throng around us, but our own sanctification, day by day.
We shall be sanctified. Which perhaps still seems ridiculous to you, so let me leave you with the reassurance of the early church fathers that “Christ became like us, so that we might become like Christ.”[ii] Which means sanctification doesn’t happen through our own power and efforts. And it doesn’t come from obeying the rules and regulations of scripture, or following the example of the life of Jesus. Rather, it is the mystery of Christ dwelling in us that will transform us. It is the mind of Christ within us that will give us the imagination of the Kingdom of God. It is the love of Christ alive in us that will endow us with the courage and strength to stay in community.
My sisters and my brothers, it is the power of Christ that will make us saints, raising our voices to praise our God in all that we say and all that we do. May he live in you, and may that make you holy. Alleluia, Amen.
[i] David Lose, http://www.davidlose.net/2017/11/all-saints-a-preaching-a-beatitudes-inversion/
[ii] See, for instance, these examples: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divinization_(Christian)