Daniel’s dream conveys the message for All Saints Day. The four beasts are four kings who will arise, from north, east, south and west, covering the earth. But their great power, before which we rightly tremble, is of no value. Will they receive the kingdom and possess it forever? No.. The holy ones of the Most High will. Little people, in other words, people like us, will receive the gift of the kingdom because, as Jesus said, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Now see the power of a king whose domain is a quarter of the earth. The saints of God will win the field and the kingdom forever.
Then in the second reading, St. Paul prays that the Ephesians will know the hope to which God has called them. He sees Christ seated at the right hand of God now and in the age to come. God has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body. What an image!
The Church on earth is the body of Christ filled with God because He is the only one who has the power to overcome every obstacle and put himself so fully into every situation that there is no room left for anything else. That is the fullness of him who fills all in all. How can that be expressed except in the imagery of hope, a glorious inheritance, an immeasurable greatness, and being seated at God’s right hand?
How wonderful to dream of overcoming kings so powerful they are spoken of as four monsters. How wonderful it would be to glimpse ourselves being associated with Jesus Christ whose name is above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
Could we see Jesus as the head over all things for the church? Then, are we truly the Body of Christ in this place? Luke gives us more imagery by bringing us down from the mountaintop, down from the ecstasy of heavenly visions, down from soaring language.
Would we possess the kingdom forever? Would we see the risen Christ in our midst? Then Luke tells us how the kingdom comes. Blessed are the poor. Yours is the kingdom because your poverty does not exclude you… Blessed are the hungry because you will be be filled. Blessed are you who weep. You will laugh.
Being saints is neither a mountaintop vision, nor the ability to describe God’s power and love in high-sounding language reserved only for holy talk. The kingdom of God belongs to poor people, hungry people; people so tired and weary that they weep. The kingdom belongs to people who are frustrated and excluded and put on the outside where they can only look in. The kingdom belongs to people in grief, bearing inconsolable loss, in despair like unto death. The kingdom is demonstrated in people who love their enemies, who turn the other cheek, who do not protest when they are separated from their wealth. The kingdom is demonstrated in people who treat others as they themselves would like to be treated.
Most of us have romanticized our loved ones who have embodied at least some of these ideals, and we rightly think of them as saints. These are the people who were examples of Christian living. We think of them being around the throne of God. We remember good things about those people, and we rightly believe their sins, whatever they were, are all forgiven. They are with God. We are right to thank God for them.
We remember loved ones who saw good in others, who were devoted to a community of faith so that they bore each other’s burdens and for each other shed a sympathizing tear.
Saints are that great family in every time and place who cling to God for renewal of baptism, who hear the redeeming Gospel story, who cluster around the table, great or small, where the presence of Jesus Christ is found in bread and wine.
If our sainthood depends on becoming like those people Jesus describes in the beatitudes, we’ll be disappointed. So maybe the saintliness of the people we call saints is less a matter of what they did, and more a matter of who was calling them to be his people. Since God was the one calling, they were not saints because of how good they were but because the mercy of God is so great and compelling.
It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Jesus’ description of saintliness — being poor, either in fact or in spirit, or hungry, or weeping, or able to love your enemies or praying for your enemy — is simply impossible. After all, it is not perfect conduct that wins God’s approval for sainthood and salvation. Our saintliness and our salvation do not depend on our performance.
Rather, we become godly for no other reason than that God is the one calling us.
John writes in his little epistle, “See with what love the Father loves us, that we should be called the children of God, and that is what we are.” Leading a perfect life does not make us saints, but we are saints because we hear God’s call of love to walk toward his kingdom.
Nor have we failed until we stop getting up and trying again. God gives us strength to get up one more time than the devil knocks us down. God gives us hope by which we rise for a new day, and we’re not talking about daylight, of course. When I have stood in front of most congregations, to lead the opening confession, I have always seen saints. I doubt that today is any different. I see people who struggle with insurmountable odds in life, and yet who keep on moving forward to the light that comes from the Father’s candle in the window.
I see people who are working to become what they can only dimly dream of becoming.
I see individuals who hunger and thirst to rise above the wreckage of hopes, and in their hunger and thirst they become greater than if they had achieved their first ambitions.
I see families who suffer as they try not to come apart, individuals who bear burdens of loss and hurt and vanished dreams, people with problems not possible to mention.
We pray for them and ourselves in those predicaments when we whisper their names to God. Such are the saints of this time and place, those who are continually humbled by the new birth that God gives us all in Jesus Christ.
I see saints putting something in the offering plate that is offered to God and then used in the life and mission of this congregation and the world-wide church.
I see saints holding out a hand for bread and wine, receiving Jesus Christ himself, body and blood. I see saints accepting responsibility as church members, as leaders and as followers, as helpers to make congregational life work — knowing that each congregation is the body of Christ in its own place.
I see saints who during the week are conscientious about the work they do because they are serious about their religion. A cleaning woman said when she became a Christian she didn’t sweep dirt under the rug anymore.
We are always in the act of becoming more of what we already are, the people of God.
So when we think of God’s kingdom and whether we might someday overcome the four great beasts and receive the kingdom forever, forever and ever, let us think not only of resurrection and heaven, nor only of those sainted faithful who are already with God in eternity.
We are called by God to be the unsung saints, the common garden variety of people who struggle through life without a single miracle to our credit, whose faces will never be illumined with the glory of a mystical vision, whose biographies will never be written nor long remembered.
We are called to be what we are, ordinary people who follow as best we can an ordinary track in an ordinary life, who love God and our fellow humankind as best we can, who pray God that he will help us in our unbelief.
The saints are not just the great heroes of the faith, but we are the saints who bless God for his gifts and who keep on going when we’d like to give up. For so to live is to find all kinds of blessedness, and in doing so, to discover that we have already entered the kingdom of God.
Let us think of ourselves as saints on earth, saints below.
This is our day. And we are all saints.
God of might and mercy, of love and forgiveness, grant us so to live with those around us that they will see us acting like your children – for so we are. Be patient with us when we go astray, and empower us to bring forth fruits that reflect your grace to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.