A Reading from the Book of Revelation (7:9-17)
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
PSALM 34:1-10, 22
1 I will bless the Lord at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
2 I will glory in the Lord; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.
3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord;*
let us exalt his Name together.
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.
5 Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.
6 I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.
7 The angel of the Lord encom- passes those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.
8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!
9 Fear the LORD, you that are his saints, *
For those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger, *
but those who seek the LORD lack nothing that is good.
22 The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.
A Reading from the First Book of John (3:1-3)
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (5:1-12)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
As Mark and Micaela grow up, Judy and I have the “opportunity” of experiencing once again many of the same stages that we went through with our older children. I am sure that those of you who are parents went through them as well.
A few years ago, for example, they were into clubs. The “thing to do” was to create a club. I don’t think there were ever more than four or five so-called members. It didn’t have any real purpose, other than ensuring that a few, carefully selected other kids were in the club and everybody else was not. Inevitably, the two of them would get into an argument about something, and the first one would announce that the second could no longer be in the club. And, just as inevitably, the second one would then form a new club and announce that the first could not be a member of it. Membership, it seemed, changed by the hour, sometimes even more frequently.
Now that they are older, we are experiencing a more subtle, but more real, form of “who’s in and who’s out.” Especially among girls their age and a little older, it seems that somebody always has to be “out” of a group of sometimes friends Unfortunately, we know from having been through this before that this phase is not going to be going away for a few years.
Unfortunate also is the fact that the game of “who’s in and who’s out” doesn’t always end when adolescents transition into adults. And, most unfortunate of all, is the fact that people seem insistent on holding on to that practice even in the realm of religion, trying to decide who is in and who is out even in the name of God.
The history of religious conflicts is filled with assertions from people of many different religions, and of many different denominations within religions, that only those who believe and practice faith their way can enter into the presence of God. We are “in”; everyone else is “out.” In the centuries following the Reformation, many people in reformed parts of the church claimed that only they, and certainly not people like Roman Catholics, would be saved. There were also many in the Roman Catholic Church who have been convinced that only they and their fellow Roman Catholics would be saved. And there were many in the Church of England who at one time seem to have been convinced that only those who approached faith their way would be saved. Richard Hooker, perhaps the greatest Anglican theologian of all times, created quite a stir when, around the year 1600, he asserted that God could save even Puritans and Roman Catholics: the opponents of Anglicanism from opposite ends of the spectrum. It was a radical assertion at that time.
Even today, it is not hard to find Christians who quickly take short scripture quotes out of context, supposedly “proving” that only Christians — and specifically Christians who believe and practice their faith the same, narrow way that they themselves do – can share the life of God, or “be saved” as they usually put it. We never seem to give up trying to define who is in and who is out. We, of course, are always part of the in group; it’s others who are out.
But what if the standards that we set, the criteria that we use, are human boundaries, human limits, not divine ones? What if the one God is far bigger than that? What if the one God is far bigger than we are? What if God’s intention is to gather into one an innumerable throng, like that of which our reading from Revelation speaks: that “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”? What if we are the ones who put so much effort into separating people from one another, into deciding who is in and who is out, while God is working to bring all people together, to make them one, just as God always intended us to be? What a totally different approach to faith that would be! What a totally different way of living that would be!
Yet that is the ideal that God sets before us. That is the goal toward which all of creation is directed. Jesus called it “the reign of God.” St. Paul wrote of it as the day when God will be “all in all.”
As we work, with the rest of God’s saints, for the coming of that day, is there a way that we can begin to experience it here and now? Actually, there is. That is what we are doing here this morning and every time we gather to hear God’s word and break the bread in Jesus’ name. The celebration of the Holy Eucharist is, as the Book of Common Prayer terms it, “a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.” It is a dress rehearsal, if you will, for the kingdom of God. It is to this table that all people are called to share and celebrate together the new life of the resurrection, which is God’s gift to all the world in Jesus.
At one time, Holy Communion was looked on as a private time between the individual and Jesus. That is the spirituality in which I was raised in the Roman Church, and in which many of you were raised in the Episcopal Church as well. But over the past half-century, the wider church has begun questioning this, and other medieval approaches, approaches that were only partially corrected by the Reformation, and has been returning to the practice and approaches of the New Testament and of the early Church. It has begun seeing once again that the act of sharing in the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ is probably the least private time of our entire lives. It is the moment in which God breaks through our separateness, our division from one another, and opens us up to experience the unity with God and with one another that is God’s gift to us in the risen Christ. We celebrate that unity by standing and singing together, just as the author of the Book of Revelation pictures that vast throng doing as they gather around the throne of God at the end of time. Our singing is, in a sense, a choir rehearsal: a rehearsal for our participation in that greatest of all choirs in the kingdom of God.
Today, we celebrate that unity, that communion, in a special way as we celebrate All Saints Day. But, as we do so, it is important to remember that our role as a people chosen by God for new life in Christ is not the role of being the “in” people, the only ones whom God intends to share God’s gift of the fullness of life. Instead, we are a community that has been called by God to bring the life of God to all the world, to show the world what the kingdom of God is like, to prepare all the people of the world to live in that kingdom.
Early this summer, we listened to the story of the call of Abraham, in which God declared that in him all the nations of the earth would find blessing. In the second part of the Book of Isaiah, God tells Israel that its role is to be a light to the nations so that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. And in the gospels, Jesus reminds us that we are to be light for the world and salt for the earth so that all people might come to know and live in the one God of all creation.
It is in that identity and with that vocation that we celebrate this feast of All Saints, asking God to make us effective witnesses to God’s love: a love that knows no boundaries, a love that embraces all.