Sunday, November 5 is All Saints Sunday for some of our RevGal preachers, and it is the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost for others. The congregations of which I have been a part have always used the All Saints texts on the first Sunday of November. My reflection will inhabit those texts primarily, but I will also share a few thoughts about the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost.
In both sets of readings, there is a sharp contrast between the world to which God calls us and the world as we live it.
If you celebrate All Saints Sunday this weekend, there are all sorts of high-impact texts on which to build a sermon. The first reading, from Revelation 7, sets before us the vision of the great multitude robed in white and carrying palm branches. The question is posed: who are these, and where have they come from. One of the most compelling answers to that question was shared more than a dozen years ago by Martha Greene in an article in Christian Century. With some additions of names from recent years, this could be a strong foundation for an All Saints message: “The redeemed are so numerous they cannot be counted. Who is among them? There is Steven who was stoned and St. Peter who was crucified. There is Oscar Romero with the eucharistic prayer of thanksgiving still issuing from his mouth; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, triumphant over the Nazi gallows; Martin Luther King Jr. still praying that his dream will come true for humanity; Sudanese Christian boys gunned down in their villages by Muslim fanatics. And hospital workers in Pakistan–their robes are the most freshly washed. We see a procession of the faithful lined up in historical order, or maybe not, because order does not matter in the heavenly realm. Will those of whom we know nothing, whose tribulations are private, will they not also be in the great multitude?”
The Gospel for All Saints Sunday is familiar to many people under the name Beatitudes. Sarah Dylan Breuer (www.sarahlaughed.net) asks this provocative question: “What would it mean if we honored those whom God honors? What would happen if we stopped playing all of our culture’s games for status and power and privilege? What would it cost us if we lived more deeply into justice, and mercy, and humility? And more importantly, what blessings await us on that journey? It’s quite an adventure.” Pastor Mary Hinkle Shore (a skilled weaver of ideas whom I first met when she was on the faculty at Luther Seminary) observes in her Pilgrim Preaching blog that “the beatitudes begin to paint a picture of what the world looks like when the Lord’s Prayer (also part of the Sermon on the Mount) is answered: ‘thy kingdom come; thy will be done…’”
For those using the texts for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, you may find yourself examining the sharp contrast between the words and the actions of the scribes and Pharisees. The prophet Micah proclaims God’s disfavor with false prophecy, especially with those whose message is pleasing when they are paid well but is a harsh message otherwise.
Apparently Micah’s warning was ignored, because the Gospel has Jesus calling out the scribes and the Pharisees for a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. This hypocrisy is something that individual Christians, congregations, and the church as a whole struggle with every day. How often do we say all the right words, but our actions give lie to those words?
Both Gospel texts, from Matthew 5 and from Matthew 23, remind us clearly that God’s vision of this world is nothing at all like the way we usually conduct ourselves. Some would call that total depravity, others call it original sin. Whatever we call it, we are confronted with a world filled with injustice and corruption, and we are called to stand, and speak, and march, and preach an entirely different message.
Barbara Bruneau is a retired Lutheran pastor, living in southeastern Minnesota and currently serving in interim ministry. She is a knitter, a weaver, and a very occasional blogger at An Explosion of Texture and Color.
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