Several years ago, a Presbyterian minister challenged his congregation to open its doors and its heart more fully to the poor. The congregation initially responded with enthusiasm, and a number of programs were introduced that actively invited people from the less-privileged economic areas of the city, including a number of street-people, to come their church. Unfortunately, the romance soon died as coffee cups and other loose items began to disappear, some purses were stolen, and the church and meeting space were often left messy and soiled. A number of the congregation began to complain and demand an end to the experiment: "This isn't what we expected! Our church isn't clean and safe anymore! We wanted to reach out to these people and this is what we get! This is too messy to continue!"
However, the minister held his ground, pointing out that their expectations were naive that what they were experiencing was precisely part of the cost of reaching out to the poor, and that Jesus assures us that loving is unsafe and messy, not just in reaching out to the poor, but also in reaching out to anyone.
Wisdom of Charles Schultz:
After Charlie Brown's team lost another baseball game, he went to Lucy and paid five cents for her psychiatric help. She said: "Adversity builds character. Without adversity a person would never mature and be able to face up to all the things that will come later in life." Charlie asked, "What things?" She replied, "More adversity."
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Since the early centuries, the church has set aside one day to honor, collectively, all saints, both those officially recognized and those known only to God. Today, we celebrate all those known and unknown women, men, and even children who lived their lives with transparency, and who were grounded in their personal integrity. They radiated God’s compassion and were willing to reach out beyond race, creed, gender, ideology, and differences of every kind – no matter the cost, no matter how messy life became when they reached beyond themselves - frequently embracing adversity and more adversity!
Sometimes we tend to think of saints as pious people, at times, irrelevant to our experience and often shown in pictures with halos and ecstatic gazes. But today, saints are women and men like us who live regular lives and struggle with the ordinary and the extraordinary problems of life. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God, the Gospel, and God’s people. Each one, in his or her own inimitable way, rolled up their sleeves, put on an apron, and in bending, were eager to wash the feet of all whom they met, no matter how messy the conditions or how unwelcoming the environment. They were willing to face up to all the adversities they encountered – from their own culture, their government, the church, or even their own families or communities!
On the feast of all saints, we are not only celebrating those who have died –we are celebrating all who have experienced the Gospel message and know that God dwells with them now. Death is not the criteria required for sainthood, nor is perfection. It is in our very participation in life knowing that we have God’s grace and power within us that we can reach beyond ourselves, no matter the cost – no matter the adversity. The saints we celebrate today are the people we know and who lived their faith. Today, we honor all who have gone before us – and what we can simply say about them is that they tried; they believed. They lived as best they could; they persevered in their trust in God; they lived the Beatitudes – perhaps without even knowing it.
• And so in our age, when there is renewed awareness of the suffering of innocent people though human trafficking, or through the exploitation of third world countries, or through the tragic systematic death of peoples by means of torture, famine, and genocide, then we can be sure that the saints are there tirelessly spending their lives to alleviate the suffering of humankind – in all its messiness and adversity.
• In an age when there is a clash between human dignity of all and the restrictive power of a few over all, we can be sure that the saints will be there to name the injustice and call it social sin.
• In an age when Christians are often confronted to choose between life and death for the sake of the Gospel, we can be sure the saints will be there with a holy resiliency, boldly standing in the mess and muck of it all - choosing life - and willing to stare death in the face for the sake of God’s reign.
• In an age when there is an ecclesial restriction of gifts of the Spirit to some groups, we can be sure that the saints will be there and will witness to the freedom of the Spirit regardless of restrictive laws about the use of those gifts.
• In an age when discrimination, elitism, and oppression operates in society, in governments, or in churches, we can be sure the saints will be there to again proclaim the reign of God and be voice and heart, call and sign of the God whose design for this world is justice and mercy for all.
The nature of sainthood is an incarnational reality, the shape and form of holiness may change from age to age and culture to culture. But, the Spirit of the Holy will continue to call people like all of us who are present here and those beyond this faith community – for it is God’s caring that we witness and it is God’s love that we share – no matter the cost, no matter the messiness of it all – let us be willing to face up to all things that will come now and later as adversity and more adversity, for it truly builds character.
So, I close with the words of Tagore – who speaks to us about what being a saint truly is:
I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.
- Rabindranath Tagore