Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Proper 26 (31), Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, All Saints Sunday
November 3, 2019
All Saints: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
Proper 26: Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people partner with God in the stewardship of radical love—for ALL the saints.
Key Scriptures: In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:11-12
Then Jesus said to [Zacchaeus], “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost. -Luke 19:9-10
This Sunday many worshiping communities will commemorate “All Saints” or “All Souls” Day. The earliest known observances of this festival date to the early fourth century CE, but it wasn’t until the middle of the eighth century that Pope Gregory III declared All Saints a holy day and moved the date from May 13 to November 1. Many churches observe All Saints on the first Sunday in November, although Eastern Orthodox Christians observe the festival on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Click here for more history and traditions.
How is All Saints celebrated in your context? Most liturgical churches use white paraments (reminding one of both baptismal garment and funeral pall), and many congregations light candles in memory of saints who have died in the past year or in recent memory. Some congregations place a vase of flowers on or near the altar to commemorate loved ones. Still others bring photos for a special display. If your church does not officially commemorate All Saints, perhaps this is the year to introduce the festival, reframing it in a broader context for ALL the saints. The lessons appointed for All Saints Day and the lessons for Proper 26 (Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost) work well for a preaching and teaching about God’s radical love for all people and for the beloved community that gathers across time and space.
I confess that until recently I looked at All Saints Day primarily in past tense. It was a day to remember the dearly departed, to give thanks for faithful lives well-lived, and to recall their faithful witness to the gospel as inspiration for my own faith journey. That’s all well and good and certainly reflects the historical intent of the day, but I wonder if we would do well to expand that understanding. Might it make more sense and meaning to twenty-first century disciples to see themselves as part of a past, a present, and a future woven by the Spirit’s holy thread of wisdom, knit together in Christ, and held in grace-filled love by the Creator of all that has ever existed? Yes, why not expand the commemoration from icons and candles to a reality of cosmic proportions? Here are a few thoughts on both sets of lessons to inspire your liturgical, homiletical, and instructional creativity. Blessings on your faithful preaching and teaching.
All Saints Lessons
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18: The brief snippet from Daniel introduces an element of apocalyptic writing—of hope for people in need of hope and God’s faithful promises and presence. The challenge (and opportunity!) of this lesson is to establish context and history so that the words make sense for a contemporary audience.
Psalm 149: This song of praise provides a glimpse into the Israelites’ understanding of the nature of God and the divine love and pleasure that God takes in faithful people. It’s a reminder that in good times and in times of grief, suffering, and sorrow, we are still held by an amazing God who will not forsake us. Praise is always an appropriate response.
Ephesians 1:11-23: The author (still widely attributed to Paul, although more likely composed by one of his disciples) opens the letter to the Christians at Ephesus with a reminder of what we believe and confess about God and the magnificent and expansive Trinitarian nature of God. If a church leader were to write this letter today, what might the opening say? How might we speak to a community under cultural pressure and living in a broken world? What assurances might need to be offered?
Luke 6:20-31: Pay attention, Christians whose lives are going well and who are located in places of privilege and abundance! That little word woe (ouai in Greek) is more of a call to be aware, to look around, to wake up rather than a pronouncement of doom or a curse dispatched to do one in. And makarios, the Greek word usually translated as blessed or happy, might be better understood as being unbound, unburdened, free, and content. Once Jesus gets our attention, he moves into a prescription for action (6:27-31) that if taken according to discipleship directions will prepare us to fully embrace the reign of God that is already breaking in around us. Yes, Jesus expresses throughout his ministry a distinct preference for those on the margins, those without voice, and those who live in poverty, but our Lord’s intent is that all people come to the table to experience beloved community and a sacramental life of faith. What are we missing when we fail to open our eyes, hands, and hearts wide enough to see the great arc of justice, hope, peace, and radical love painted like an eternal rainbow across all souls? I am reminded of a social media meme that says “Accessibility is being able to get in the building. Diversity is getting invited to the table. Inclusion is having a voice at the table. Belonging is having your voice heard at the table.” Jesus always aims for belonging, and so should we who follow his way and example.
Proper 26 Lessons
Isaiah 1:10-18: God, speaking through the prophet, expresses disdain for the people’s worship, with rote offerings and practices. Instead, God calls us to wake up, wash up, and stop doing evil. We are to “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (1:17). How do we do this today? How can we welcome ALL people, simultaneously saint and sinner, to the Body of Christ? What can we learn about this from the lives of those we call saints and from those who ignited the spark of faith in our own lives? What can changing our focus and “business as usual” do to seed the soil for future saints in this grand narrative of faith?
Psalm 32:1-7: The psalm continues the theme from the Old Testament lesson and offers the comfort found in knowing that God is “a hiding place” to preserve us from trouble and who surrounds us with “glad cries of deliverance.” Once again we are called to turn from lives of sin and selfishness to the abundant life God offers.
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12: The lessons for All Saints included the introduction to Ephesians. Here we have an introduction to a letter designed to offer hope for the future, a way of life that leads to real and lasting life. Eugene Peterson, in his introduction to 1 and 2 Thessalonians in The Message says “If our sense of future is weak, we live listlessly” (p. 1631). The celebration of All Saints helps bridge the memory of our ancestors and their faith with a bright and hopeful future, all held in the precious tension of this present time.
Luke 19:1-10: The story of Zacchaeus reminds us that salvation comes to and for all people—for ALL the saints. Jesus ministry is marked by radical love and wide welcome for those cast outside the circle of the righteousness and right practice as defined by religious insiders. The key for us today is check our own practice and notions about who is in and who is outside the wide grip of God’s grace. Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus’ invitation provides a model for us in how to respond to the inbreaking of God’s reign in our own life and time. Who has not been invited and welcomed to the Beloved Community in our context? Why have we excluded some of God’s beloved saints in the making? What have we lost through our own unwillingness to practice stewardship of radical love?
If you choose to commemorate All Saints Day be sure to stress the wideness of God’s mercy and grace. Find creative visual, tactile, and auditory ways to weave the connections among the ancestors, present day saints, and future faithful. Help worshipers connect to the broader story of salvation and life beyond what we presently experience. Death does not have the last word in God’s reign, so we can boldly choose a life of belonging that includes all people rather than grumble about who belongs. All of us, including the saints we remember and give thanks for, have sinned and fallen short. Yet we are all still heirs of the promise and part of the story.
How about exploring saints in the making? Invite each youth to pick a “saint” from scripture or Christian history to study and share some facts. They will quickly learn that no one is perfect, that all saints had their moments, their weaknesses, and their failings. Perfection does not a saint make; rather, faith and following nurtures and cultivates a Christian whose life burns for the sake of the gospel, whose purpose is aligned with Jesus’ teachings and ministry. Saints help us by giving examples of faith lived out in many ways and places. Their witness can inspire our own faith journey and help us to boldly steward the good news that is for all people.
This week’s focus verse is Luke 19:8 – Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” (Note: If you are using the All Saints lessons, you can use Luke 6:27-31 to accomplish the same purpose)
What does a Saint look like? Any ideas? Let the children respond, and honor their responses. You might want to point out some traditional saints if you have stained glass windows, icons, or photographs of those saints commemorated throughout the church year. Perhaps you have photos of former pastors and pillars of your own faith community. Make sure to have a mirror so that children can look and see their own faces as “saints.” Help the children make the connection that we are, ALL of us, everyday saints, becoming all that God desires us to be. Being a saint is about living out the great commandment to love God with all we are and have, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Finish with a blessing and a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
This Sunday we give thanks for the lives of ALL the saints—past, present, and yet to come. We are, ALL of us, stewards of the gospel and God’s radical love right where we are, in this time and place, with the gifts we’ve been given.
Stewardship at Home
Whose lives have inspired your faith, helped plant the seeds and cultivate your faith, and continue to equip you for the journey? Whose life has let the light of Christ shine through for you and others to see? This week give thanks for those lives and for their witness. Consider picking a “saint” to learn more about that person’s life and faith journey, their struggles and their joys, their hopes and foibles. For a long yet incomplete list of saints that have been recognized by the church click here. For some modern day saints click here. Know that you too are a saint in the making, made holy through Jesus and called to let the light of Christ shine through your life, your actions, and your witness.
2010 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2010/11/saint-who-saint-you/
Images: Brian Smithson; Rick and Brenda Beerhorst, Peaceable Kingdom, from Art in the Christian Tradition; and jannanab, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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