Archives for November 2008

Rise! Shine!,1 Advent (B) – 2008

November 30, 2008

Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-27

“Rise! Shine! For the light is a-comin’!
“My Lord says he’s comin’ by and by.”

The words of the African American spiritual speak to the central theme of Advent and especially to this first Sunday. It is a firm declaration to “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light,” for as we read in Mark, “the Son of Man” is coming with “great power and glory.”

Let us be clear: the God depicted here is not a serene and docile deity. Isaiah calls upon a potent God who would “tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake.” And our actions in response to this coming should be no less robust.

At first look, we welcome such a dominating and mighty God to respond to our needs and concerns. Yet we who believe in a divine being from whom all things flow, also know that such a transcendent force can “bend history.” Put bluntly, if we are not prepared for God’s response to our prayers for the Creator’s presence, the appearance of the divine can be unsettling and threatening to our very lives and our very order. Such a forceful manifestation can bring about significant change. Our desire for the Lord’s coming brings with it risk as well as reward.

There is a little-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm entitled “Der Mond,” or in English, “The Moon.” It is a short tale that was adapted by the German composer Carl Orff into an opera in one act. It involves four young rowdy misfits from a land where there is no light – no sun in the day and no moon or stars at night. These are people who “walk in darkness.” Sound familiar?

These lads travel to another land where they find the moon hanging on a tree. They steal the moon and bring it back to their land where they charge people money for their use of the moonlight. Eventually, as happens to all of us, they grow old and die. As each one dies, one quarter of the moon is cut away and buried with one of its owners until there is no more light. In the opera, Petrus, “who rules the sky,” descends to the dead (sound familiar?) and retrieves the four pieces of the moon and hangs it in the sky for the benefit of all.

Yes, this tale is a modern retelling of the age-old belief that God brings light to the people who, in the words of the prophet, “walk in darkness.” Yes, this is about the season of Advent, which alludes to an arrival, a beginning. It is best understood as a dawning, as in the early morn of a new day. Yes, like the four misfits, this is a time when we come upon and marvel in a new Light. Yes, like the four young men, we can hoard and hide the light. And yes, we, like Petrus in Carl Orff’s opera, are called to share this light with the world.

There is an intrinsic understanding that, no matter what, we welcome the coming of the Lord and that it can happen at any time. Indeed, during the course of our lives, God appears and reappears. At times, we are that very light to the world in what we say and what we do. When we are called to serve and share a warm and friendly smile, we are restored; God’s face shines through our own countenance, and we are saved.

The expectation is that we are God’s hands, God’s light on this earth. God calls us to shine a light, to be witnesses to his mercy and love; not only through our words, but also in our works. We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. When we serve those in need – like the student who needs tutoring, the lonely homebound person who needs company, those who have lost their homes and possessions because of a hurricane, earthquake, flooding or fire, or those who mourn – we, as in the words of the spiritual, “rise and shine.” We are witnesses to the Lord’s coming – symbolically on Christmas Day, and for real today and all the tomorrows of our lives.

Those who first sang the words of the spiritual, shackled by the chains of slavery, looked with hope to a new day – to a brighter day when the darkness of this inhumane treatment would give way to the light of freedom. Indeed, in response to their oppression, they sang these words with faith and hope. And in this age when we encounter personal and communal challenges that test our mettle, we would do well to join these forebearers in our common history by not cursing the darkness but always seeking the light. Yes, this is the meaning of Advent.

Jesus says in the gospel reading, “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you, I say to all: Keep awake.”

So:

“Rise! Shine! For the light is a-comin’!
“My Lord says he’s comin’ by and by!”

 

— John E. Colón is an active Episcopal layperson and is director of Human Resource Management at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City. He attends Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights, in the Diocese of Long Island.

Ordinary time, Christ the King, Last Sunday After Pentecost – 2008

[RCL] Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100 or Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

“Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Today, the twenty-eighth and last Sunday after Pentecost, brings to a conclusion the great – perhaps long is a better word for it – season of time after Pentecost. For that matter, it brings to an end the entire cycle of the church year. Next week at this time, on the First Sunday of Advent, we will find ourselves in a brand-new church year.

In some church circles, the season of time after Pentecost that we have just concluded is called “ordinary time,” perhaps to distinguish it from the string of extra-ordinary events in the life of Christ and the Church recounted in the liturgical calendar from Advent to Pentecost. After all, not much seems to happen during the time after Pentecost. There are few, if any, great feasts or fasts of the Church. And the liturgical color remains standard-issue green for months on end.

But the time after Pentecost has traditionally been a good opportunity for study and reflection in the life of the Church. And that in itself is significant. For while folks sometimes tease that Episcopalians do not read or study the Bible, the reality is that our worship is firmly grounded in scripture, and perhaps never more so than in the time after Pentecost. This past year, for instance, in our Sunday lessons we have been reading the Gospel of Matthew pretty much straight through. Ditto for several other books of the Bible, including Paul’s Letter to the Romans, one of the seminal works of the New Testament and our Christian faith. So while these long months of time after Pentecost are sometimes thought of as down time at Church, they are anything but.

Ordinary time may have another sense to it as well when we consider that we are today still living in the time after Pentecost – quite literally. Let’s see. If the original Pentecost occurred about the year AD 33, give or take, that would make about one thousand nine hundred and seventy-five years of Sundays after Pentecost. So, if the math is right, we have already surpassed the one hundred thousandth Sunday after Pentecost. That is a lot of ordinary time in the ordinary lives of ordinary people like all of us.

But that is also a lot of sanctification. Some pretty extraordinary things have happened during these ordinary times. Great saints have inspired us with their learning and holiness. Bishops, rectors, priests, and deacons have come and gone at thousands of cathedrals and churches near and far. Important movements and reforms have arisen in the Church and brought people closer to Christ.

And we have been born, baptized, fed at the Lord’s Table, and lived out our lives and common faith together. We have fed the hungry – if we have heeded today’s gospel account from Matthew. We have given drink to the thirsty, and clothing to the naked. We have tended the sick and visited the prisoner. We have helped others on their journeys and in their struggles. Not once or twice, but day in and day out. Not bad – for being ordinary people in ordinary times.

Truth is: nothing is ever really ordinary about God’s plan for us. Not our birth. Not our life. Not our work. Not our family or friends. And certainly not our death. As humorist Garrison Keillor might say, “We are all above average in the eyes of God,” every last one of us. For in everything we are and do, we share in the very life of God. And that is pretty extraordinary. Just ask anyone.

As we now bring to a close our liturgical ordinary time, listen carefully to the story of God’s extraordinary love for us as recounted in scripture and in our prayers and hymns. Celebrate the extraordinary in your own life, and know that the uncommon gift of God’s love is yours in every ordinary moment of time.

For when God’s amazing work of salvation is over, and when the last star has dimmed, God’s love will persevere, and our faith and deeds in this time and place will remain forever extraordinary and real. And from eternity, as our Gospel account assures us, “The king will say … ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”

Written by the Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus is interim rector of the extraordinary Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Del Mar, California. He welcomes your comments at frankhegedus@hotmail.com.

Offer a simple prayer, Pentecost 27, Proper 28 – 2008

[RCL] Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 123; or Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Jesus was good at providing difficult stories. No doubt they were as hard to hear standing in a group in Palestine as they are from our pews today. If we have sympathy for anyone in today’s gospel reading, it is probably for the poor person who was deprived of the gift once given, just because he was shy, or reserved, or cautious.
We’ll leave aside the whole matter of being cast into the eternal rubbish dump and all the wailing and teeth gnashing.

And surely Jesus is not telling us that our friend who has put extra cash under the mattress is worse off than those of us who are watching our pension funds decrease in the stock market?

Certainly in Jesus’ day a “talent” was a significantly valued coin. Nevertheless, we should forget that piece of information immediately. Nowadays a “talent” is an ability. Martha has a talent for painting. John is a talented musician. We should also forget that definition immediately. Jesus isn’t talking about wealth in terms of cash or natural ability.

Jesus is talking about vocation and the grace given when we accept and enter into a covenant with God. To a new Christian listening to this gospel in, shall we say, Rome in about the year 85, what would immediately strike home would be the meaning of baptism and the task set before the baptized.

To early Christians at that time, baptism was not merely a church rite, something done to little Willy and Jane to which friends may be invited who never darken the porch of our church except when friends are hatched, matched, or dispatched. Far from it. Those Christians were giving their lives for God. In times of relative tranquility they probably just lost their jobs, their reputations, and even their families by becoming Christians. During turbulent times they faced arrest and execution.

Nowadays in America we may be baptized without exciting much comment at all. Unless we belong to a parish facing extinction or financial ruin, or unless we take seriously the statistics about declining membership and revenue in the diocese or national church, the cost of being a Christian and an Episcopalian may seem minimal.

We may bemoan the feuding, fussing, and fighting we witness in our church and wish people would be quiet; but apart from that, our pew is safe, and we are safe, and perhaps our willingness to sing those dreary hymns and jumpy songs and say all those prayers God seems to like may get us a seat in heaven.

If you are honestly not too uncomfortable about this last thought, this parable is for you. Prepare for Jesus to make you uncomfortable. He has a way of doing that.

When we were baptized, we were tasked to be witnesses of the Kingdom which is and which is to come. The word “witness” in Greek is the same as our word “martyr.” That’s a bit confusing for us, because the chance of our being martyred and landing up in the Church Calendar or depicted in a stained-glass window is pretty slim. Life-giving doesn’t always mean dying. Those of us who are married have promised to give our lives to each other. Close friends take seriously Jesus’ words that there is no greater sign of love than to be prepared to surrender everything for the beloved.

The gift of discipleship given to us in our baptism involves our being prepared to be life-givers for Jesus. We are being asked by Jesus to give ourselves up in selfless love for God and selfless love for everyone else and for this world in which we are stewards.

The fault of the person who did not use the gift he was given was that he was entirely passive. That person was so frightened that he would lose what he had been given that he was paralyzed by an awful fear.

You may be thinking that passivity and fear are opposites. Not so. There’s a type of fear that is tranquil. There’s safety in inertia.

Those of us who are inert Christians may even piously mutter that we do pray. Prayer is very dangerous. True prayer propels us into the heart of God and incites us to take on the pains and tragedies of others. “God bless God, and God bless Freda …” doesn’t get us very far. When we risk stepping into the penetrating love of God and into the misery of our neighbor, we step into danger, if only the danger of doing something for others and thus exposing ourselves to rejection or loss.

Episcopalians seem paralyzed by the Biblical word “evangelism.” We are prepared to inflict our politics and even our recipes on others, but not our faith. We come up with all sorts of excuses to justify our apathy or take cover under the cloak of not being a fundamentalist.

We act as if it’s unfortunate that Jesus commanded us to go into the world and proclaim the Good News. We don’t want to admit that our own Christian faith rests on generations of people who have passed on the Gospel.

Of course we are not to force our faith on others. Of course we are not to say that we are going to heaven and they are going to hell. That is God’s business.

Yet we have been given the grace to witness the faith within us to others, and that may be in giving instruction or providing shelter, and hopefully, by telling and showing the love of Jesus at one and the same time.

Each one of us in our baptism was given a wealth of love and an intimate experience of the presence of God. We renew that gift at each Eucharist, as we receive Jesus into our lives and join with the hosts of heaven in worship and thanksgiving.

As we embrace the world in the Prayers of the People, we commit ourselves to embrace that same world in our daily life and work, at school, at business, and with our neighbors next door.

The warning that the gift may be taken back flies against our popular notion of God. Surely God wouldn’t be so mean. But the warning comes from Jesus, so it is worth taking seriously.

Perhaps when we come to the Table this morning, we might offer a simple prayer: “Lord give me the will to be faithful and active.” Jesus will tell you what he wants you to do.

Written by the Very Rev. Anthony F.M. Clavier
Fr. Tony Clavier is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, La Porte, Indiana, in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. He is also dean of the Michigan City deanery. His email address is anthony.clavier@gmail.com.

Mindful of God’s abundance, Pentecost 26, Proper 27 – 2008

[RCL] Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

What are we to do with Jesus’ parable of wise and foolish bridesmaids? It’s not easy to be sympathetic with any of the characters here. The bridegroom sends out invitations, but shows up hours late himself and then shuts the door on half of the bridesmaids. Those maidens who get shut out are off trying to buy oil in the middle of the night, when the wedding is about to begin. Meanwhile, the bridesmaids who did bring extra oil won’t share it, and come off looking selfish and snotty.

And what shall we do with a parable that speaks about God closing the door to heaven? That much seems clear – the wedding banquet represents the joy of being in the presence of God. A month ago we heard another parable about a wedding feast, in which the king sends out invitations to his son’s wedding feast, only to have the invitations refused. Not to be deterred, he invites in whoever is standing at the street corners, and has a huge party anyway.

Once again in today’s parable, everyone is invited to the banquet. So why does anyone get shut out? They all do show up; they all do bring their lamps; they all are ready. Could the problem be their lack of watchfulness? True, the bridesmaids do fall asleep while they’re waiting; and Jesus admonishes us at the end of the parable to “Keep awake … for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

But let’s be fair – all the bridesmaids fall asleep, the wise and the foolish alike, yet half of them end up enjoying the wedding anyhow.

That leaves us with the oil. We’re told the wise maidens bring extra oil, and the foolish ones don’t. That sounds simple enough, but we’re on pretty shaky ground if we look for the easy answers, and decide that the oil represents Goodness, or Piety, or Works, or even Faith. If we do, then it starts to sound as though what’s important is the amount of oil we’re carrying around – as though we all ought to be doing extra good deeds, or praying extra hard, or living a perfect life, so that we can store up a spare flask full of midnight oil, ready to burn if the Messiah decides to pull a pop quiz at the end of days.

The pattern of Jesus’ teaching throughout the gospels simply doesn’t support that viewpoint. Instead, in his parables the invitations always go out to everyone, the pay is the same for those who start work early or late, and everyone is considered a faithful servant so long as they don’t bury their gifts.

No, it’s not that the foolish bridesmaids are shut out because they don’t have enough oil – after all, their lamps are trimmed and still burning when the bridegroom’s arrival is announced. They get excluded because they’re so worried their lamps might go out that they run off in search of extra oil, and wind up missing their grand entrance.

What they seem to forget is that God hasn’t retired from the miracle business; that in fact, God seems particularly fond of weddings, of making a little go a long way, and of keeping oil burning when it really matters. Jesus turned an ordinary wedding into a foretaste of the banquet to come when he turned water into wine. He defied scarcity with the abundance of the kingdom of God, and fed thousands from a small boy’s lunch.

According to rabbinic tradition, when the Maccabees liberated Jerusalem from the Seleucid Empire, only a single night’s worth of oil remained undefiled in the Temple. Nevertheless, the sanctuary lamps remained lit for eight days until fresh oil could be prepared. Next month Jews around the world will commemorate this unquenchable abundance as they light candles in celebration of Hanukkah.

Mindful of God’s abundance, consider the passage from the book of Wisdom that was offered today as an alternate reading in place of a psalm:

Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,
And one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,
because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
and she graciously appears to them in their paths,
and meets them in every thought.
We don’t need to chase after Wisdom – just seeking her is enough. In fact, Wisdom herself is seeking us.

Now we can see how the foolish bridesmaids have gone astray. Instead of trusting that they can find Wisdom sitting alongside them at the gate, they run off to the marketplace of ideas in search of illumination. Instead of trusting that Wisdom is radiant and unfading, they worry that their own little lamps won’t be enough for the bridegroom’s party. So they hurry off, hoping to find someone who can sell them some security, who can take their money and hand them a nicely packaged flask of enlightenment that will be sufficient to please the bridegroom.

Perhaps if the foolish bridesmaids had trusted that wisdom is unfading, they would have stayed and greeted the bridegroom and would have been welcomed into the feast. Perhaps the wise maidens never even needed to open their extra flasks, because the banquet hall itself was so brilliantly lit.

You see, God doesn’t only perform miracles with oil and with water – the sorts of miracles that defy the physical laws of nature. God’s greatest miracles are those that defy the laws of human nature, our ingrained expectations of work and reward. We’re used to thinking that doing more gets us more, that by and large we are rewarded in proportion to our effort.

But the Bridegroom does not open the door to us because of more work, or even more faith. He opens the door to us so long as so long as we keep our lamps burning for him; so long as our faith allows us wisdom enough – a gallon of wisdom or one radiant drop – to answer his gracious invitation and await his arrival at the feast.

Written by the Rev. G. Cole Gruberth
The Rev. Cole Gruberth is an associate rector at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Poway, California.

Fellow travelers, Pentecost 25, Proper 26 – 2008

[RCL] Joshua 3:7-17, Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37; or Micah 3:5-12, Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12

One way to approach scripture is by asking ourselves two questions.

“What’s going on here?” is the first. It forces us to delve a little deeper, to see if we can get a handle on the passage in question and really understand it.

The second question is “What does that mean for us?” This question is often the more difficult because, of course, it forces us to consider our own ways of thinking and acting in light of the gospel values.

What’s going on here? Jesus is having another one of his run-ins with the Pharisees. Many Christians see the Pharisees as the “bad guys,” always wearing the black hats. This is not true. The Pharisees were a group of pious Jews who put great emphasis on beliefs and practices of the prophets and adapted these to their own times. They sought to make the love of God and love of neighbor the chief commandments, the essence of the Torah from which all else flowed. That sounds quite a bit like Jesus himself, doesn’t it? The Pharisees were very concerned about preserving Jewish religious and cultural life in the midst of Hellenistic Roman society, and so they emphasized the laws concerning food, purity, and group practices. These practices served to keep Jews united to one another and distinct from the dominant gentile society.

Many Pharisees of Jesus’ time went one step further to make their way of life even more distinctive. They drew on an old tradition of using the priestly laws concerning purity, food, and marriage for all Jews, not just for the priests. These purity regulations, which may seem mysterious and strange to us today, regularized life and separated that which was normal and life-giving from that which was abnormal or ambiguous. The Pharisees with whom Jesus contends attempted to keep themselves in a state of purity at all times as would a priest in the Temple. They were scrupulous in their behavior and took great care not to come in contact with any source of defilement.

The gentiles presented a danger to those who would keep themselves pure, but another danger to purity was the presence of the “people of the land.” These were the ordinary folk who had neither the time, money, nor inclination to keep the priestly laws of purity. They were unable to tithe properly and their food – what little they had – was not properly sanctified and could not be eaten by the Pharisees. “The people of the land” were poor and lived a subsistence existence; they were probably too busy trying to keep food on the table to worry about what kind of food it was and if it had been properly prepared.

A word about the dietary laws today: Jews who keep these laws do so as a spiritual practice. They may be inconvenient at times, but they are not burdensome to them. Like spiritual disciplines we might practice – daily prayer, fasting or abstaining from certain foods – they serve to integrate our beliefs with daily life, to give shape to our everyday lives by living according to our principles.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus is not criticizing those who try faithfully to keep the Law. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks of the Torah as good and God-given. Here he is speaking about those who forget what really mattered in it: loving God and loving your neighbor. He is speaking about the big things: justice and mercy and faithfulness. He is speaking to the experts, the ones who were so good at telling other people what they should be doing. And he is speaking to those who work really hard at keeping the letter of the law while forgetting about the spirit of the law.

Tom Wright, a Biblical commentator, wrote that “Generations of preachers have used this passage to criticize church leaders who like dressing up and being seen in public. That’s fair enough.”

But this is about more than fancy clothes and good seats. Jesus criticized the Pharisees because they didn’t practice what they preached; their lives did not reflect the law that they continually debated; they didn’t live out what they taught. While Jesus’ rebuke seems general, as though all scribes and Pharisees were guilty of love of place and honor, we know the rabbis themselves condemned such behavior. We know that leaders of every generation – second temple Judaism, the early church, the church through the ages, and the church today – have not lived out their vocations in congruence with the values of the gospel. So the real audience is not the Pharisees, but the disciples and, by extension, us; Jesus is talking to his church and especially to its leaders.

Remember who it is that is speaking in our gospel lesson. It is Christ Jesus, who, as we read in Philippians, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” Remember also, that Jesus is in Jerusalem. It is Tuesday, the Tuesday following the triumphal entry. He has returned to the Temple after casting out the animal buyers and sellers and overturning the tables of the money changers. He must have known that his time was short, that confrontation was ahead. He has just a little time left to teach his disciples, to help them to practice what they will preach.

Kathleen Norris, in her book, The Cloister Walk, writes of the congruence between monastic practice and the discipline of writing. After giving a poetry reading to a community of Trappists, she writes:

“I told the monks that I had come to see both writing and monasticism as vocations that require periods of apprenticeship and formation. Prodigies are common in mathematics, but extremely rare in literature, and, I add, ‘As far as I know, there are no prodigies in monastic life.’”
We know, from our life in the Christian community, that this is true, not just for monastics or writers, but for all of us. There are no prodigies in the Christian life; all of us are apprentices; all of us are in need of conversion; all of us require formation. That’s why we come together, week by week, to be nourished by word and sacrament. That’s why we have preaching and teaching. That’s why we gather together as a community of faith. We are not prodigies, we are fellow travelers on the journey of faith. We are here to help each other, for we all journey together.

Written by the Rev. Mary K. Morrison
The Rev. Mary K. Morrison is pastoral associate at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Los Gatos, California. E-mail: mkmorrison@stlukeslg.org.

Looking for good examples, All Saints’ Day – 2008

[RCL] Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Another Halloween has come and gone, and how well did we do in making it All Saints’ Eve? What did we notice as the little ones with smiley faces gave cheery “Trick or Treat” greetings? Beyond the joy of giving out candy, how many of us kept track of the costumes the children wore?
It depends on the fads of the year, of course, but you can count on scary, dark characters: murderers from horror movies, Grim Reapers, Draculas, vampires, skeletons, ghosts, monsters, headless horsemen, and mummies.

There are bound to be warriors of one sort or another: Power Rangers, ninjas, superheroes such as Batman and Spiderman, as well as matadors, football players, professional wrestlers, soldiers, and pirates.

And don’t forget animals: gorillas, leopards, lions, tigers, and black widow spiders.

There are always happy characters, too: fairies, Cinderellas, princesses, cheerleaders, prom queens, clowns, ladybugs, flowers, pumpkins, ballerinas, and brides.

And there are sometimes costumes of actual people: Queen Elizabeth, Davy Crockett, Ronald Reagan, Elvis Presley, and the like.

But think about it. How many children come dressed as something we would identify as religious? Angels, maybe, but that’s about it. Is this likely to disappoint us, if not totally disillusion us? How naive or idiotic is it to expect to get Sunday school children to dress as saints when they go trick-or-treating? That’s about as realistic as trying to get adults to come to a costume party dressed as their favorite saints. Besides, it’s totally impractical: where would you buy a saint costume?

But what about making costumes depicting saints? How many of us would resort to designing flowing robes and halos or something that looks like the way we think people dressed in Jesus’ day?

Can’t we get more creative than that? How about dressing as an old worn-down woman with scars from beatings by cruel overseers? This would be Sojourner Truth, a saint who gained freedom from slavery and preached the gospel of liberation to a prejudiced generation.

How about wearing a plain white shirt with a stethoscope and a big white handlebar mustache? This would be Albert Schweitzer, a saint who gave his life as a missionary and doctor in Africa, even though he could have remained in Europe, living in luxury and fame.

Why not dress in a black suit and simple tie, with a dark mustache, carrying a Bible? This would be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a saint who gave his life trying to end racial discrimination in America.

How about going out wearing rags with stuffed animals and toy birds attached to them? This would be St. Francis of Assisi, who loved all God’s creatures as brothers and sisters.

Or how about dressing as a woman with dark circles under her eyes and rough hands from being up nights caring for a sick child and working days at some arduous labor to put food the table? This would be a single, working mother, giving herself away to make a better life for her family.

Maybe a trick-or-treater could just go dressed as a regular child, such as the boy who went to a scouting contest for homemade racing cars. It was one of those events where the contestants are supposed to do their own work but most of the fathers help too much. At one such event, a youngster with no dad showed up with a racer he had obviously made with his own unskilled hands. The contest pitted boys in pairs, one against another with the winner advancing to the next round in a series of eliminations. Somehow this one kid’s funny-looking car won again and again, until, defying all odds, he was in the finals against another scout with a slick-looking, well-made racer.

Before the championship race, the boy asked the director to wait a moment so he could pray. The crowd, now enthralled by the unlikely story unfolding before them, stood in silence, loving the boy and secretly praying with him that he might win; he seemed so deserving.

After the boy won the race and was given a trophy, the director said, “Well, I guess it is a good thing you prayed, so you could win.”

“Oh, no!” the boy protested, horrified to have been misunderstood. “I didn’t pray to win. That would have been wrong. The other scout had as much right to win as I did. I couldn’t pray that God would make him lose. I just prayed that God would help me keep from crying if I lost.”

There is, of course, something more important than how children or adults costume themselves on Halloween. It is understanding that we can emulate the saints, that we can become saints too, that we can become faithful disciples of Christ, following the saints who show us the way.

Isn’t that why we remember the saints, some of whom are publicly known and recognized in the light of history, and others, like the Boy Scout, whom we come across in the obscurity of ordinary struggles?

All Saints’ Day celebrates those whose good examples remind us of what we can be at our best. The stories of their lives remind us of who we are, what we believe, and what we can become. They remind us how closely a human being can follow the example of Jesus. They draw us forward, give us courage, strengthen us to do God’s will, and lead the way. Their good examples remind us that God reaches out to us with grace and love and care.

All Saints’ Day helps us reestablish, in faith and prayer, our links with these Christians and with the people in our lives they may represent. They have gone on before us to the nearer presence of God, but they are also connected to us. Those who know rest from their labors help keep us from growing weary on our often difficult Christian pilgrimages.

The saints inspire us not to lose sight of the ultimate goal: Jesus’ imperative to love God with all our hearts and minds and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Remembering the witness of the saints allows us to continue to hold them close and can give us strength whenever and wherever we stand. Remembering their witnesses can help us feel God’s comforting touch when we are discouraged or sorrowful and can help raise us up when we fall.

The saints call us to an awareness of God’s peace that surpasses human knowing. They help keep us from presuming too much about our own strength. They teach us to trust in the one who has loved us beyond all measure.

All Saints’ Day is a time when looking at the good examples of those who have come before us can enable us to think beyond our limitations and to believe that we have the potential to respond to God’s gracious love with active love for others and with commitment and caring and giving. The saints lead us into the fullness of life that God intends for us all.

Written by the Rev. Ken Kesselus
The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of John E. Hines: Granite on Fire (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, Texas. Email: Kesselus@juno.com.