All Saints’ Day ~ Sunday, November 1, 2020

TEXT: Matthew 5:1-12

By the time Sunday arrives this year, another Halloween will have come and gone. If you live in a place where pandemic restrictions allow for door-to-door visiting, I wonder what you will have noticed as the little ones in their disguises cried out for “Halloween apples” or shouted “Trick or Treat!” What sort of costumes did the children wear?

It depends on the fads of the year, of course, but you can likely count on scary, dark characters: axe-murderers from horror movies, Grim Reapers, vampires, skeletons, ghosts, monsters, headless horsemen, and mummies. Maybe even somebody dressed up like a flu shot!

But think about it: despite the fact that Halloween is the eve of All Saints’ Day, not many children come dressed in a religious theme. And that’s curious, in a way. Why so many devil costumes—and so few angels? Why so many violent characters—and so few peaceful ones? So many sinners … so few saints!

Mind you, there aren’t a lot of choices: where would you buy a saint costume?

I suppose we could make costumes depicting saints. But how do we even know what a saint looks like? Well, in our gospel lesson for today, Jesus gives us some hints:

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit ..
  • “Blessed are those who mourn … the meek … those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …
  • “Blessed are the merciful… the pure in heart … the peacemakers … those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake …”

Of course, all of that is really about what saintly behaviour looks like—but maybe it’s a description that points us in the right direction.

What would a “saint costume” look like?

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

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 perverse 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 spent 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, Junior—a saint who gave his life trying to end racial discrimination in the United States.

Or you could don a pair of glasses, ruffle up your hair, and go as another Baptist preacher—Tommy Douglas, the “Father of Medicare,” once named “the Greatest Canadian” in a CBC poll.

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 this one 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. “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.”

Far more important than how we dress up on Halloween is understanding that we can emulate the saints—that we can become saints, too! Because, you know, when the Bible talks about saints, it just means ordinary believers like you and me—ordinary, but sincere and dedicated folks who do their best to be faithful disciples of Christ. We can do that—following the saints who show us the way.

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.

Saints draw us forward, give us courage, strengthen us to do God’s will, and lead the way. Whether they are people we hear about, or people we know, their good examples remind us that God reaches out to us with grace and love and care.

The saints inspire us not to lose sight of the ultimate goal: Jesus’ imperative to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Remembering the witness of the saints can help us feel God’s comforting touch when we are discouraged.

Why? Because 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—by considering the faithful lives of those who have gone before us—we are challenged to think beyond our limitations.

On All Saints’ Day, we are reminded that we each have the potential to respond to God’s gracious love, also—to respond with active love for others; with commitment and caring and giving. The saints of old—and the saints in our lives today—lead us into the fullness of life that God intends for us all. Thank heaven for their witness to us. Amen.

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