November 5 All Saints Sunday Sermon All Saints is a Baptismal Feast
Sunday, November 5, 2017 All Saints Sunday
Revelation 7:9–17; Matthew 5:1–12
All Saints is a Baptismal Feast
Expectation and anticipation are high. Who will be come out on top? Who will win, and who will lose? Who will capture the golden ring, and who will be sent packing bags and returning home?
I’m talking about the kingdom of heaven, not politics, or sports, in case you were wondering.
Those envisioned in the Book of Revelation number 144,000 (See Revelation 7:1-8). The total of these twelve thousand groups representing the twelve tribes of Israel (12,000 times 12) are often referred to as the elect. Rather than some false interpretations that limit those getting into heaven to exactly 144K, this is really yet another numbers symbology that relates to twelve and any number related to twelve as complete or full. So the BIG number referenced in Revelation relates to phrases we heard in the First Reading that say things like a great multitude and a group so large that no one could count. In other words, that heavenly chorus from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, dressed in white and worshipping God were– a whole lot of folk.
Here’s how the preeminent poet James Weldon Johnson described the vision in his fiery depiction of heaven called “The Judgment Day:”
God’s a-going to say:
Enter into my kingdom.
And those who’ve come through the great tribulations,
And washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb,
They will enter in—
Clothed in spotless white,
With starry crowns upon their heads,
And silver slippers on their feet,
And harps in their hands;–
And two by two they’ll walk
Up and down the golden street
Feasting on the milk and honey
Singing new songs of Zion,
Chattering with the angels
All around the Great White Throne.
–from God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (Penguin Books)
If this is a vision of heaven’s not-yet-future glory imaged by Revelation’s main character John of Patmos, and it mirrors the church’s already taste of heaven’s joys in those just baptized, whom tradition also calls the elect, and you hear today on this All Saints’ Sunday the question posed by the elder to John “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” wouldn’t you answer, “well Manny and Marion Young, twins who have survived the ordeal of being born (and prematurely) and their first months of knowing the closeness of mother and father and family and friends and church and being fed and keeping warm?” Or, wouldn’t you answer “well, Aleda, Anna, and Theodore, who have survived the “ordeal” of entering Bethesda’s doors and rubbing shoulders with the likes of us in their trying out this community, sharing in weekly formation by God’s Word and the meal that is our viaticum, our manna for the way, and in singing and fellowship?”
Here they all are, today, on All Saints’ Sunday, and we can call them the elect, beloved children of God, joining the parade of all those whom share in the communion of saints. Theodore, Anna, Aleda, Marion, and Manny, part of the landscape of the great multitudes who have paved the way to Christ, the saints who have gone before us who have died but held in Christ, feasting on that milk and honey, singing new songs of Zion, chattering with angels all around the Great White Throne.
Does this great procession occur to you when you are given the bread for the journey? Are you filled with awe when young children and elders, strangers and friends gather as beloved of God?
Did make the connection, when water was lavishly poured over the twins, and oil slathered on their heads, that they, those little ones, joined the company of God’s holy ones from all times and places?
Will you make the connection, when Anna and Aleda and all of us, making promises to God and to one another, say I do, and I ask God to help and guide me?
Whom does God bless? Whom does God invite into holy living? Whom does God elect?
Is it just the mighty Lutherans, or white folks, or Democrats, or Republicans? Or isn’it a whole lot of folk?
The leading candidate, just beginning campaign, prepares a stump speech that outlines the program and talking points. Once a matter of public record, the candidate must make good on campaign promises uttered audibly in front of God and everyone.
There, high on the dais, or should I say mountain, Jesus makes his first stump speech in the gospel of Matthew, pointing out those who constituency. He call these blessed.
poor in spirit;
those who mourn;
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness;
the pure in heart;
those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Jesus’ campaign promises are astonishing, because the ones on the bottom rung are given pride of place. Those who are poured out and spent become filled up. These pronouncements of holiness, of blessing, the Beatitudes frame the very nature of discipleship that we welcome the newly baptized, the newest members, and those from all corners of the city into.
The Gospel of Matthew, ever interested in action following words, form following function, is like a laser beam inviting those who wish to follow Jesus to adopt a cruciform way of life. Those who win, like Jesus, must lose, must adopt a platform of loving service.
A cross-bearing orientation is what the baptized wear on their foreheads and adopt for their lifestyle. They look at the world with the eyes of Jesus with particular focus on the lost and the least. And to the poor, the meek, the pure in heart, we will invite with us to don the white robe, to change their status in both this life and in the life to come.
As we feast today, so must we pray for a whole lot more baptisms, and a whole lot more to greet and welcome and invite and serve. As we remember saints of old and saints today, so must we reorient ourselves to holy living, seeking both to bless and to be blessed.
Here, today, on All Saints’ Sunday, imagine that we all wear white. God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is all the clothing we need. In a world where there is a whole lot of pain and in a country leadership is crumbling and scrambling and belittleing, let us allow God to break open the kingdom for those we welcome, for you, and for me, and for all who wear the cross and God’s name, past, present, and future, the elect of God.
Tags: James Weldon Johnson, John of Patmos, the Beatitudes, the Book of Revelation, the elect