Year A, All Saints and Proper 26
All Saints Day
I find myself humming the hymn, “For All the Saints” as I consider the texts for All Saints Day and for Proper 26. The first line of the hymn connects the themes of each day’s celebration, “For all the saints who from their labors rest…”. On All Saints Day we remember the saints in faith who have gone before us leaving behind a legacy of challenge and belief. We celebrate the great cloud of witnesses they form in union with God. Proper 26 celebrates the work and witness of our most ancient saints and ancestors of the faith in our Judeo-Christian heritage as through trial and error they carve out their lives trusting in God’s guidance.
Our All Saints Day texts provide beautiful imagery of the saints of God who have survived the challenges and persecutions as well as the delights and celebrations of faith. We have traditional imagery of shining robes of light and angels encamped around the faithful in Revelation and Psalm 34. I John 3 assures the saints that they are God’s children in the purifying force of God’s love. The Beatitudes of Matthew 5 are a compelling list of the labors of the present saints of God as well as the work of our ancestors in faith.
In Joshua we learn of the crossing of the Israelite people into the Promised Land. God parts the river Jordan for all the people to cross over led by leaders of the twelve tribes carrying the Ark of the Covenant. This dramatic image reminds of us the parting of the Red Sea and God’s deliverance of the people there. The two partings are bookends for the forty years of wandering and wondering in the wilderness as the people of God were shaped and formed for inheriting the Promised Land. And Psalm 107 paints a vivid, lyrical picture of that journey.
The alternate texts from Micah and Psalm 43 portray a very different scene. The prophet, Micah, tells us what is happening with God’s people generations after the inheritance of the Promised Land. There is almost a smell of over-ripe, decaying food as the prophet describes the use God’s promised abundance for greed, bribery, the “abhorrence of justice” and the “perversion of equity.” Psalm 43 laments the people’s turn from God’s ways of light and seeks to re-establish the peoples’ relationship with God.
Both the gift of Promised Land abundance and humanity’s tendency to squander God’s gifts, to turn from God’s ways, are timely imagery for twenty-first century faith communities. As the saints of today how will we use our labors in the lands of abundant promise given to us? Will we remember justice and equity and generosity?
In I Thessalonians 2 Paul remembers with the church at Thessalonica all the work they have done together as saints in God’s community giving thanks for God’s presence among them. Jesus cautions the crowds and his disciples against the sins of God’s people in the Micah passage. Remember, he tells, them who your one God is and what God requires….a humble and willing heart. “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Remembering again the hymn, may we the people of God here and now be “faithful, true and bold, live as the saints who nobly fought of old, and share with them a glorious crown of gold” as we work for justice and equity, abundance and generosity for all creation. Alleluia!
Two very different tales come to me as means of celebrating the work of the saints. You will find their bare bones below.Tell and embellish them with your own imaginations.
I also suggest that you use one of the Beatitudes to craft or find a story, whether it be folklore, biblical, personal or historic. What stories do you know of the “poor in spirit”, “those who mourn”, the strength of “the meek” or humble, and those yearning “for righteousness”? Do you have favorite stories of compassion or “mercy”, those who “see God”, of “peacemakers” or “those who are persecuted” for their work as the saints of God?
A story to go with Matthew 23:1-12
A story from William R. White in his book, Stories for the Journey; A Sourcebook for Christian Storytellers (Augsburg Publishing House, 1988.)
Rev. White tells a series of stories about a Teacher who travels through the world teaching and sharing God’s love.
One day a student came excitedly to the Teacher. “I have found a place where Jesus made a mistake,” the student exclaimed. “Oh, really,” replied the Teacher with interest. “Yes, here in Mark 10:29 Jesus says to Peter, ‘I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecution) and in the age to come, eternal life.’”
“Where is the mistake?” “Do you not hear it? Jesus mentions fathers in the first list and yet when he says you will receive all those things on hundredfold in the second list he leaves out fathers!”
The Teacher replied to the student, “Jesus did teach us that by putting first the kingdom of God in our lives we would receive all these things one hundred fold…we will have new brothers and sisters and children and mothers in our Christian communities that will be new family. There will be new places that are home to us and new places to work for God’s justice and peace. And Jesus always taught us that there is only one “father”…our Creator God in heaven.”
“A Wee Lift”
In The Healing Heart; Communities,
edited by Alison Cox and David Albert.
(New Society Publishers, 2003.)
The imagery in this story reminds us of the simple work of life that is the work of the saints. And the encouragement that is needed from time to time to continue the work.
Once there was a farmer and his wife who had fallen on tough times. The cows gave little milk. The hens stopped laying eggs. The fields and their fences were in disrepair. The spirits of farmer and his wife were very low. The hearts were burdened with worry and sadness.
One night as they were about to eat their meager meal of potatoes and buttermilk there was a knock on the door. When the farmer opened it there was a tramp there whose clothes were threadbare and who looked as if his last meal was sometime long past. “Come in out of the weather,” said the farmer. “Join us for dinner”, said his wife. And they all sat down at the table for the meal.
After supper over the tea they talked with one another, sharing stories of times gone by. The farmer and his wife shared their discouragement with the tramp. As he listened they noticed his eyes were warm and serious. That night he slept in front of their fire. And in the morning after the porridge for breakfast he bid them goodbye. Just before he left he turned to them and said, “I was sorry to hear about your misfortune. You helped me. Perhaps I can help you.” Out of his coat he pulled a bar of pure gold and he gave it to the couple. “Use this wisely and I will return next year to see how you are.”
The farmer and his wife were stunned. They took the gold and buried it beside the fireplace of their home since they could not decide what to do. As the day went by and the next and the next they began to talk with one another. “Should we buy a new cow?” “No, Daisy will soon be herself again.” “What about the hens?” “They will settle down and start to laying again, you’ll see.” “Shall we have someone build a new fence?” “No, I have plenty of posts out in the barn. I will do that tomorrow and take a look at the fields.” The bar of gold remained buried by the fireplace.
A year passed and the tramp returned. He was joyfully invited into stay with them. And he commented at dinner how grand things looked at the farm. The fences were new and the fields were well plowed. There were flowers growing in the garden. And there was a sumptuous the meal in front of him – eggs, butter, potatoes, bacon, green vegetables, good brown bread. “How did you spend the gold bar?” he asked. “Oh, we didn’t” replied the couple. “It is still buried by our fireplace. We couldn’t decide what to use it for so we just started to work around the place first. And as we started things got better. I guess we just needed a wee lift. And you gave it to us!” The tramp laughed. The couple laughed with him. And in the morning the tramp said, “Well, perhaps you can give me back the gold. And I will share it with someone else down the road who needs a wee lift as well.”
So it is in life….we all need a wee lift from time to time.
Blessings on your story journey,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017 and beyond. Photos and commentary may be used with permission only. Please tell the stories!