I’m not sure why, but I’ve realized over the years that for me, All Saints Day is an important date in our Christian calendar. In conversations with a person steeped in the Protestant tradition, I’ve realized that All Saints Day is more important to me than Reformation Sunday—which is the last Sunday in October to remember Martin Luther. I can’t say why. Maybe it comes from the Methodist emphasis; I grew up with less of a Presbyterian emphasis in the United Church. John Wesley focused on the Spirit and the Spirit’s gift of grace to us; and maybe in starting the Methodist Church, which in Canada amalgamated with most of the Presbyterians and Congregationalists to become the United Church in 1925, Wesley spoke of All Saints Day; I actually don’t remember from my church history days.
My Protestant roots come through in that All Saints Day is a time to remember the people who’ve been influential in our lives—the ordinary people not the “capital S Saints.” Many Anglican congregations and certainly the Roman Catholics remember the “capital S Saints,” which they are doing today. For me, it is much more about recognizing the divine spark of love that is in all life and each of us. That’s a message that we need to hear often. I recognize that this is covered in All Souls Day, which is tomorrow, but that gets little emphasis in the Church and doesn’t emphasize enough for me the power of the Spirit working in all creation.
Part of what I believe about the fact that we all need to hear that God’s Spirit animates all of our lives—all of life—is that, in my estimation, this is how God operates—from below. You often see major sports figures pointing up to the sky after scoring a goal. I think it gives the wrong impression of who God is; God isn’t up “there” in the heavens, even though we say that in the Jesus’ Prayer. God is in us and all around us in creation. God is in the yellowing hillsides around here of the larch turning golden. God is in the reddening of Maple trees, the yellowing of the cottonwoods and birches. And God is in the ordinary people around us who do extraordinary things, like Jean Grevstad—Jasmine’s grandmother and Uma Jean’s great grandmother. Bob Keating, a local CBC reporter, last week presented a 3-part series of his recordings of Jean’s life. She was baptized by the Rev. Lydia Gruchy, the first woman ordained in the United Church. Among many accomplishments, Jean was the first female bank manager in Western Canada, who sadly did not receive the same compensation as men at that time! You can find the story of Jean as part of the CBC podcasts.
This is the upside-down KinDom of which Jesus spoke and of which the Beatitudes were key. The whole of the Sermon on the Mount, as I’ve said before, was Jesus’ manifesto of God’s upside-down KinDom of peace and love. The beatitudes are the beginning of it.
I agree with many biblical scholars, that it is remarkable and important for Jesus to begin what we call the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes—these 8 blessings. The Sermon on the Mount expands on these blessings through parables, startling revelations about loving your enemies, commandments to love, and other actions. The Sermon on the Mount celebrates that God is present in all of us ordinary people and lifts us out of the challenges and struggles that we face because God’s love is planted deeply in all creation.
These blessings are upside-down because they start with the poor, those who suffer economic hardship or other hardships, those who grieve, those who care for others but are denigrated for it, those who stand tall in the face of injustice and oppression, those who work toward peace with justice for all. Jesus reminded us through the Beatitudes that God’s world is about standing with those who struggle and seek to simply live. God’s KinDom celebrates self-emptying love for others as a strength, not as a weakness. As Layton Williams said in his Christian Century article about the Beatitudes, “In the Beatitudes, Jesus makes a promise: that regardless of how this world fails them, God’s commonwealth or Kin-Dom will ultimately comfort and lift up…”
The Pandemic, political challenges in the world—and we pray for the USA this week, racism, and the Opioid crisis has certainly turned our world upside-down and that has meant that many of those who were already grieving, poor, suffering hardship and who struggled, who daily faced oppression and racism, were faced with even more challenge.
Into his world-turned-over, a world of oppression and injustice but also a world of hope and moments of love, Jesus took the time to speak words of blessing to those I like to call the Saints. In our time of upheaval, we, too, can speak blessings with our words and our actions. Because we are those very Saints who are being blessed! And as the Celts first said, a phrase, that many of use, “Blessed. Blessed be!” I understand that to mean that as you are blessed, be a blessing to others and share your gifts to strengthen love in the world. In this way, we celebrate all God’s creation as the Saints.
I want to conclude with a poem from a Nigerian American poet by the name of Ayokunle Falomo. I discovered his poetry just recently in an email of inspirational words sent to me. Here is one of the Saints, Ayokunle, with his poem, “an alive so colourful.” He performed it at the 2016 Texas Grand Slam Poetry Festival. He talks from his own experience of suffering and how he finds new beginnings. Like most slam poetry, it needs to be experienced first-hand and not read by someone else. I’ve included a transcription in the NUC Weekly and in my sermon for you to follow along. Here’s “an alive so colourful.”
Ayokunle Falomo’s poem,
“an alive so colourful.”
“Come celebrate with me
That every day something has tried to kill me and has failed.”
What doesn’t kill me, makes me… (audience: ”stronger”).
What doesn’t kill me, makes me!
It makes me…
Into the who I want to be…
the who I want to be remembered as eventually when it does succeed. I wish I could say that it makes me stronger, but no, it does not.
It instead makes of me a myth of a super-hero,
an Atlas with shoulders far less broad enough to hold up the heavens…
and say, “there are days I want to be more.”
More than just the ripple in the river that is this world and I’m only always a stone’s throw away
and alive is a winding road, you know;
but I along with my brothers and sisters keep on travelling…
sore feet and all.
Odd things that we are.
We are all we can make some days of ourselves is alive,
an alive so colourful that it would make a panther chameleon
wish to trade her coat and this,
this art of living…
this art of living with your whole heart is still a work in progress.
Masterpieces we are not.
We are not.
We are not here by accident,
but have been carefully assembled and put together and are held together in this ceramic panel
that is our bodies of clay by good intentions.
We, too, are works of art!
So, can you see in this gallery, like that which is the universe the wonder that is you? Can you tell that you are alive…
that a universe is alive in you,
that you are made from the same stuff the universe is…
No, no, no.
Does that charge you up?
Stardust child, dust…
the bubble pin that turns the house that is your life into, off your shoulders.
Roll the darkness up into a fist and throw it against the canvas that is the night sky. There are days when I just wish to see more of what I am, a miracle.
See, this is not how we have always been,
but this is how living is done…
until living is done.
Look at the stars and how we, in spite of everything that seeks to snub the light out of a pin.
And this is not how we have always been.
and I am a lot… And I am not done.
As with performance poetry—or slam poetry—it needs to be experienced first-hand from the author. So, if you find it inspirational, please review this poem often at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chfVreCGUtA.
 See the article at https://www.christiancentury.org