Sermon for All Saints Sunday, 1 November 2020
By Revd George Mwaura
Matthew 5: 1–12
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all your saints past and present be acceptable before your throne of divine mercy.
A few years ago, a group of Christians from the United States visited war-torn Nicaragua. While there, a young man from the church was killed by the Contras guerrillas. This left the group confused and full of questions. The following Sunday, a Memorial Service was held. From the altar the priest said, ‘The peace of the Lord be with you’, and people from the Nicaraguan congregation began to embrace the Americans saying, ‘peace’. These people, who had suffered in so many ways, were passing the peace of Christ. During the Communion Service there was a pause. The congregation went silent. Then someone called out a name and in one voice everyone shouted, ‘Presente!’ Another name was called out. Once again, the response was, ‘Presente!’ During the service at least twenty names were called out and each time the same response: ‘Presente!’ The pastor leading the American group of Christians did not understand what was happening until he heard the name Oscar Romero. Then he realised that all the names being called out were those of persons who had died. From that moment on he joined in shouting, ‘Presente!’
‘Presente’ or ‘Present’ is used by schoolchildren to answer roll call. At the Lord’s Table we use the word present to mean in our midst or present with us. And just before we pronounce the Sanctus we say, ‘And so, with your people on earth, and all the company of heaven we praise your name and join their unending hymn.’ Shouting ‘Presente’ in this Worship Service was a way of proclaiming the reality of the communion of saints. Although those persons named had all died, their presence and influence were still felt.
Today is All Saints Sunday, and we remember those persons who have influenced our faith development and whose presence is still felt in our lives, even though they are no longer with us. All Saints Sunday is the church’s Memorial Day, a time to remember and give thanks to God for those who have died in the faith. With these thoughts in mind, walk with me, now, to a mountain where Jesus is teaching. He begins with a list of Beatitudes. These Beatitudes form a picture of the life of a saint. On this All Saints Day let us consider three of the more difficult of these Beatitudes to see if you and I might qualify.
First and foremost: saints are people who live lives trusting God
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,’ said Jesus, ‘for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Please be aware that Jesus is not extolling the virtues of poverty; far from it! He is extolling the virtues of faith in God. God is our ultimate source of security. We think if we have enough money and enough possessions, we will be in control of our lives. We will be protected and have security. But people who have lost their business and jobs in this pandemic know that control is an illusion. People who have experienced devastating illness and lost loved ones know that there is no security. There are times when only faith in God will pull us through.
A few years ago, I ministered to a woman who had been given a terminal diagnosis. She was a wonderful woman of deep faith in God and her commitment to her family. She never complained about her pain or about her life being cut short at the age of fifty-two. Throughout her suffering, she would say, ‘I thank God for my family and my life.’ Even though she knew she was going to die soon, she radiated the joy that comes from placing her total trust in God. Each morning her husband would say to her, ‘This is the day which the Lord has made,’ and courageously, she would respond, ‘Let us rejoice and be glad in it!’ That is saint-like faith living life trusting nothing other than God.
Second, saints are people who submit their will to the will of God
‘Blessed are the meek,’ said Jesus, for they will inherit the earth. In the original Greek, meek meant literally the tamed or the broken. Say, for example, a broken wild horse. A wild horse is of no use to anyone, but a meek or tamed horse can carry children. Meekness is a matter of submission to God’s will. But submission is something some of us are not particularly good at. You may be familiar with the amusing story of the schoolboy who appeared greatly upset when he came to the Principal’s office and requested to use the phone. ‘Can I help you with something?’ the Principal asked. The little boy explained, ‘Yesterday I forgot my sweater at school. This morning my mother told me not to come home without it. I cannot find it anywhere. I want to call her and ask her where she wants me to go!’
For many of us life is one long battle for control. First with our parents, then with our teachers, then with our employers, even with ourselves. That is the humbling effect of a bad habit. We discover we cannot even control ourselves. We have only one hope: to yield to God’s control. When we can do that, we can rest assured that God will take care of us. There is a lesson here for us. We can surrender our wills to God’s will knowing that God loves us and that wherever he leads us, he will be with us. We do not have to enter the dog houses alone. Saints trust in God and God alone. Saints submit their will to God’s will.
Finally, saints are people who, no matter what happens to them, they stand firm in their faith
Jesus knew as he addressed his disciples on the mountain top that the day would come when they would be persecuted for believing in him. Jesus knew that living the kind of life that he outlined would be difficult. In his final Beatitude Jesus tried to warn the disciples that the Christian life is sometimes exceedingly difficult. ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.’ When those things happen, and they are bound to happen at one time or another, Jesus said, ‘Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.’
All through the ages there have been saints who have suffered because of their Christian convictions. They took unpopular stands, but they remained strong in the faith. They did not waver in the face of adversity. John Wesley, the eighteenth-century founder of Methodism, said that the Feast of All Saints was his favorite festival in the church year. It was the one time, more than at any other, when the great chain of witness, from the earliest worshippers of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was emphasised and brought into the present through remembrance. On All Saints Sunday, more than at any other time, I too feel surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Such persons are examples for us. They offer us a word of hope. They endured, and so can we.
We have all known a few saints in our time. Some of them are now with God. They were not perfect people, but they fit these three criteria: trusting, submitting, standing firm. They blessed my life, and they blessed all who knew them. And on this All Saints Day I would like to say one thing in their behalf. ‘Presente!’