Revised Common Lectionary reflection for All Saints Sunday and the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 26
November 5, 2017
Lessons: Revelation 7:9-17, Psalm 34:1-10, 22, 1 John 3;1-3, Matthew 5:1-12 (All Saints Sunday)
Lessons: Micah 3:5-12, Psalm 43, 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, Matthew 23:1-12 (Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost)
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people take their place among the saints of all times and all seasons to be faithful stewards and partners in the renewal of all creation.
Key Scriptures: 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. Revelation 7:9
All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:12
A colleague in North Dakota once shared with me the symbolism behind the half-moon-shaped altar rails found in many prairie churches of Scandinavian heritage. The current congregation gathers around the visible half-circle rail, while the circle is completed beyond time and space by those who have already died and who are yet to come. The wholeness of that transcendent circle of all the saints makes a beautiful and powerful statement about the faith we profess and the hope to which we cling.
The readings appointed for this day offer a fine opportunity to explore the concept of sainthood in its various expressions. What do we ordinary, everyday folk have in common with pillars of faith commemorated by the church throughout the ages – from apostles, to mystics, to martyrs, and prophets? The answer, of course, is both many things and the one thing that matters.
I suspect many people today look at the traditional “saints” as either inaccessible or otherworldly and beyond mere mortal comprehension. A saint is someone whose image is stamped on a medallion or carved into statuary, or else who died a gruesome death for his or her faith in Jesus Christ. I remember as a young adult reading a battered second-hand copy of Lives of the Saints by Alban Butler and being fascinated by the entries therein but also daunted by the scope of the saints’ witness and lives.
Every time we recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship, we profess to believe in “the communion of saints.” On All Saints’ Day we often include hymns such as “For All the Saints,” singing “Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine,/we feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet/all are one in thee, for all are thine.” Yes, we may be struggling, we may be faltering, but we are part of that communion of saints right along with the apostles, Augustine, Perpetua, Felicity, Jerome, Hildegard, Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a host of other folk.
We, dear friends, are God’s children, and this is very good news indeed. John reminds us of this fact in this week’s epistle reading from 1 John. We are loved, we are called children of God, and even though we may not fully comprehend what it means to be part of that great communion and never-ending story, we are nonetheless included. Our very calling as Christians is to reflect God’s great love – not our own pitiable attempts at goodness – so that the world may see God.
This week, consider how you might engage the senses to help the saints with whom you serve to see and comprehend their role in the great salvation narrative. Invite the congregation to share stories of those who have influenced their faith and who have shown them the love of Jesus. Invite them to write those names on slips of paper to be gathered into a beautiful bowl that may then be placed on the altar. Make candles available for people to light after communion in memory and/or in honor of various everyday saints. If you are fortunate enough to have one of those half-moon altar rails be sure to share the symbolism. Drag out a copy of The Lives of the Saints, Sundays and Seasons, or a comparable volume and decorate a bulletin board or produce a PowerPoint presentation with information about selected saints, highlighting the broad scope of their gifts, ministry, and devotion to God.
Finally, consider how you might make a connection between the lives of all saints and Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount. (Note: If you are using the lessons for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, consider how Jesus calls us to everyday “sainthood” even as we still die daily to sin and rise to newness of life. What examples of everyday saints can we point to?) How can each one of us as precious children of God witness to this great love and saving grace of which we are heirs? Maybe this would be a good Sunday to leave worship to the words and music of David Haas’ fine hymn “Blest are They” (GIA Publications, Inc.). Indeed, in the company of such saints past, present, and future there is much about which we may rejoice. Thanks be to God!
All Saints Sunday Lessons
Revelation 7:9-17: John’s apocalyptic vision of the great multitude praising God must have been a hopeful and healing balm for his audience of persecuted Christians. Whatever the trials and tribulations they faced, they would come through the “great ordeal” with Jesus as their guide and God wiping away their tears. In the chaos of our world today, we also find comfort and hope in this vision.
Psalm 34:1-10, 22: Praise the Lord in all circumstances and at all times. The Creator of the cosmos is always there and ever-faithful, delivering and redeeming all who take refuge in God.
1 John 3:1-3: How amazing is it that God loves us so much that we are called the “children of God”? We have great hope in this reality.
Matthew 5:1-12: Want to be happy for the rest of your eternal life? Jesus has some words for you in this sermon. It may not be an easy ride in the here and now, but you are not forsaken or forgotten, so go ahead and rejoice in the face of difficulties and suffering. You have reason to be glad!
22nd Sunday after Pentecost Lessons
Micah 3:5-12: Pay attention people. These words from Micah carry a sting. God sees the heart of the matter, and we dare not be deluded. God desires justice and mercy and our participation in setting the world aright.
Psalm 43: Even in life’s darkest valleys, our hope is in God.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13: The good news is not mere words of human construct, but rather the very word of God that is sown in our hearts and is at work within us.
Matthew 23:1-12: Be careful that those who teach and whom you follow practice what they preach. Jesus prefers humility and margins. Jesus establishes a clear vision of a community of mutuality, humble service, and inclusion, a place where people are safe to be authentic and “real” with one another and a place where all find welcome and where leaders practice what they teach.
Consider framing a sermon within the singing of one of the many fine hymns appropriate for All Saints Sunday.
Buy small candles and use terracotta pots filled with sand or tea lights on mirrors as an opportunity to invite worshipers to light a candle in memory or in honor of a saint who has influenced their lives. A good place to incorporate this into the service is following communion. This makes a powerful visual statement. Be sure to have ushers or other helpers on hand.
What does it mean to be “blessed”? Spend some time with youth considering the Beatitudes from this week’s gospel lesson. Consider sharing Jacob Nordby’s “Beatitudes for the Weird” (www.BlessedAreTheWeird.com). You can also find images of these beatitudes to share. Compare Nordby’s beatitudes with Jesus’ beatitudes. What comparisons can they make? Where are the differences? The similarities?
Start the worship with the Children’s Time, inviting the children to the font and having them dip their fingers into the water and make the sign of the cross on their foreheads. Talk with them about how they were incorporated into God’s family on the day of their baptism. Invite them to help you following the Affirmation of Baptism and during the entrance hymn by using evergreen branches to gently splash water from the font onto the congregation. Have the bigger children “help” the little ones so that all remain safe.
All Saints Sunday Super Saint (Here’s a PDF for a “Super Saint” children’s sermon based on the reading from 1 John 3:2-3)
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Ever thought of yourself as a saint? Most of us probably don’t, but according to scripture we are. All God’s beloved are classified as saints (and simultaneously sinners), and we are called to be partners with God in the renewing of all creation. If that’s not about stewardship, then what is?
Stewardship at Home
This week give some thought to those people who have been “saints” in your life. What people (living or dead) who have been instrumental in helping you form your faith? What public “saints” have made an impact on you? Whom do you know that really “walks the walk and talks the talk” as a disciple of Christ? Consider creating a photo or art collage. Pray daily this week and give thanks for all God’s saints.
Photos: Magic Madzik, Kent Christoffersen, and Christopher Buell, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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