Saints To See By
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Good morning. Its All Saints’ Day and I want to invite you to call to mind a saint. Preferably not a famous, churchy one – like St. Catherine or St. Francis – but a saint from your life. Someone who you know really loved you – and you really loved them. Maybe romantic love was a piece of it – maybe not. And maybe calling them to mind is hard – because there is a lump in the throat – which is a reminder of that love and how much they mattered to you – and how you miss them.
What quality – what insight – is now a part of you because of them? How did that person change the way you see yourself, or maybe the world? Could you see yourself through their eyes?
Does it make sense to you that if they now know eternal life with God – and you carry them with you – you are forever connected eternally?
I love that part in the Eucharistic Prayer where the priest says – Therefore, joining with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven – the fact that it says “joining” – the tense of it reminds us that there is always this incredible cloud of witnesses – the saints - singing the praises of God – that I can always tap into. And people, who I no longer see – are a part of that. It gives me strength – like I know there are people in my life that are now with God who are looking out for me. Looking out for this church – this community – I have no doubt that the saints that have left this place are always here with us.
In chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel we read that Jesus was surrounded by great crowds – maybe clouds – but mostly crowds of witnesses. This is because he had been traveling around teaching – and healing. A few verses before the sermon on the mount reads:
Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching and curing ever disease and every sickness among the people – so his fame spread throughout all of Syria –and the people brought him all who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics – and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee (the region he is moving through) but also the Decapolis (which means the Gentiles, those who aren’t Jewish), Jerusalem, Judea and from beyond the Jordan.
And Jesus saw the crowds so he went up the mountain, and sat down just to be with and teach the disciples.
Jesus steps away from the crowds, takes a time out to teach the core group something important. Jesus gets that the curing is why everyone is following him – he knows that’s why his fame is spreading. He wants the disciples to understand why – so they start seeing the crowds the way he does.
Those diseases that are named – epilepsy, paralysis, demoniacs (mental illness) – those were the diseases like leprosy where people were cast out, shunned. When Jesus healed people suffering in that way – he not only restored them to health – he restored them to having a place in their community – a place in their family even. It was healing that brought people back into relationships.
Jesus wants the disciples to see with the eyes of God. That’s what Jesus came to help us do – see. Jesus is always curing blindness literally – and figuratively. Do you see this woman he asks Peter, when Peter gets uncomfortable because she is washing Jesus’ feet with her hair. Do you see her? Throughout the gospels we’ll read – and Jesus sees so and so and such and such – and that’s a big deal, to feel as if you are seen.
What Jesus names as blessings – are not things that we want to see. Poverty, meekness, mourning. Nor is Jesus telling us something to go and do. The sermon on the mount – the Beatitudes – Jesus’ most famous speech – whatever you want to call it – it is not a moral checklist for us to follow, or an impossible list of benchmarks only saints can reach.
Jesus is describing the kingdom of God – where we are seen when we admit we need God most. In our poverty – in our grief – in our weakness. Do most of us feel blessed when we feel that way? I don’t think so – but – when our spirits are renewed – our sadness turns to joy – and our weakness turns to a new awareness of our internal strength. Then its #feeling blessed. Then we see.
I was talking with someone not long ago who had worked on a Habitat house in Baltimore. And they said – something I’ve heard, and thought myself, in a myriad of contexts when people are engaged in some sort of outreach ministry – ok, we did something, we built a house, one family has a home – but across the streets the houses are still dilapidated, crime is rampant, does it really matter?
It matters when we open our eyes to the way other people live. And it stirs something in us that causes us to thirst and hunger for righteousness – for bringing people together in relationship to do some reconciling – and when people come together for common good – good happens – it may not change the world, but it does bring in the kingdom.
I was staying with a friend who has an adorable 7 year old son. He was telling me thanksgiving – and in addition to family, friends are coming over – and one of his parent’s friends has a daughter who is 8 – and James, that’s his name – has seen the daughter on Facebook and really wants her to like him. So, he asked me, since you’re a priest – could you have one of your mind conversations with God to get her to like me?
My mind conversations with God – I’d never heard that before – I think its great. What are your mind conversations with God these days? Sometimes it’s good to turn as God to have some conversations with us - to open ourselves to where God is asking us to see a situation, a problem, a gift – with God’s eyes.
To see the blessedness of compassion – of mercy. To see where we can be people who seek that kingdom first in all we do. That’s all it takes to be a saint – to see what love the Father has given us – so that we are called children of God, for that is what we are.
For we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – who are always, believe it or not, singing our praises – for they see us from eternity. May the saints in our lives be our strength – and our hope – in living the blessed ways of God – so we can be a blessing to ourselves – and everyone else. Amen.