Vintage Lives

“Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now,’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

—The Gospel of John

When we are born into this world all of us are like clear, small streams sprung from the earth.
A baby boy or girl is crystal clear.
Like liquid spirit.
From that moment on, however, anything can happen to the stream of our lives, and much of it is beyond our control.
As with nature’s watery streams, our own lives pick up bits and pieces of the world.
Our streams flow where gravity takes them.
And gravity always takes us, as it does all streams, toward tributaries.
We encounter the streams of others.
People we meet in life and with whom we form relationships. People whose clear, crystal streams strengthen our own.
And we grow toward the strong and good river that we can become.
But our streams can also become polluted by others. Contaminated.
There are people who are more like a hit-and-run accident in our lives. They run into us, dent us, scratch us. Perhaps even break us in some way. And then they drive off, drive away, and we are left only with the scars.
Good, bad, ugly and beautiful streams join our own, just as we become tributaries to the streams—to the lives—of others.
The passing of years has an undoubted and cumulative effect. No matter how much we to want to believe that the stream of our life is as crystal clear and pure as it was when we first flowed into the world, the truth is that life has muddied us in some way.
Muddied us all.
There is no way to avoid it.
Some of our pollution is our own fault.
Some is the fault of others.
But no matter how muddy and polluted life makes us, that mud and that pollution is not the end of the story.
If we keep on flowing.
If we don’t allow the world’s pollution to dam our stream and keep it from the sea of God’s love.
If we keep flowing around the next bend of our life’s river and believe that we will find Jesus waiting for us.
Where Jesus will turn our water into wine.
Where Jesus will draw out the water of our lives and, with mercy and love, offer us a taste of a pure vintage that we never knew was inside us.
Where Jesus will show us how the dents and scratches and scars of our lives—even where we are broken—can fit miraculously into the dents, scratches, scars and broken places in the lives of others.
And how that miracle can heal us all.
Jesus turning the water of our lives into wine, a communion of God’s love and grace for each of us.
Saving the best for last.

Beyond The Dreams Of Avarice

“So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God”

—The Gospel of Luke

Please forgive me if you find me swanking about the place as if I owned it. But, you see, I had forgotten that I’m a millionaire. Just rolling in the stuff. Got in sackfuls. The lucre’s just busting out everywhere.
I feel, in fact, as if I am writing this week’s meditation for Forbes Magazine. You know, from one millionaire to another.
Because I mean, dash it all, that what with one thing or another, some of you may have forgotten that you are millionaires, too.
What, not true? Not millionaires?
Au contraire.
The take-away from Luke’s reporting of the words of Jesus requires a Brink’s truck and a good vault at a bank.
Or, no, it doesn’t.
Our capital gains have nothing to do with the stock market. Neither Dow nor Jones—what crazy, amped up, knee-jerking reactionaries those two Wall Streeters are, eh?—can diminish our wealth one little bit.
We fear neither bull nor bear.
Jesus said so.
Someone asks Jesus to tell his (the speaker’s) brother to divide up the family inheritance rather than hogging it all. “Take care,” Jesus responds, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’
Then Jesus tells the parable of the rich man whose farm lands gave him so many bumper crops that the granary should have been made by Ford or Chevy. So large a harvest does he get that his existing barns can’t hold it all and he decides to tear them down and build bigger and better ones for his grains and goods.
“And I will say to my soul,” the farmer continues, “‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry.’”
But, God doesn’t endorse this fiscal policy and calls the man a fool because “this very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Pertinent question. God’s usually are.
“So it is,” Jesus goes on to explain, “for those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Rich toward God.
What a phrase, and one that can be interpreted several ways. It can mean, of course, that we should share our time, talents and treasure to bring the kingdom of heaven closer for people in need.
But, as I read the lesson, it struck me more forcefully that acting rich toward God means acting like, well, we are rich.
Not because of our own fiscal accumulation but because the wealth that matters to our soul is the love and grace freely given to us by God. And God is not stingy with that love and grace.
We got it by the Brink’s truckload.
But “being rich toward God” means acting like we know it, opening our hearts and souls to the deposits of love and grace that God has for us.
“Toward God” means pointing ourselves, inclining our heart, mind and soul in that direction, and moving toward that love and grace. It means acting like the millionaires we truly are.
It also means being generous millionaire philanthropists and sharing that love and grace with others to bring them closer to the kingdom of heaven.
Sharing it like we’re just rolling in the stuff. Got in sackfuls. The lucre’s just busting out everywhere, falling from the pockets of our soul.
Because we do, and it is.

What Other Child Is This?

One of our most beloved Christmas carols asks a seemingly simple, straight-foward question:

“What child is this?”

Well, it’s Jesus, of course.

But the deepest answer to this straightforward question hasn’t proven to be either simple or straightforward for many people down through the ages.

Indeed, based on the likelihood that Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his public ministry, it even took him some considerable time to fully grasp what child he had been, laid to rest in Mary’s lap that night in the manger so long ago.

And so our own answer to that question may take years to fully unfold.

While we have our liturgy and creeds to go along with our bible and Book of Common Prayer, meaningfully answering that question—what child is this?—will vary in subtle ways from person to person.

My experience will be different than yours, though they are, at their very foundation, the same.

Our lives are journeys over ever-changing terrain and where we are at a given moment provides a different angle to our relationship with Christ—our relationship with that child—and our feel for God’s love and grace.

Clearly, answering the question, What child is this? isn’t a trite multiple choice option that provides the opportunity of a lucky guess. Nor is it a fill-in-the blank possibility.

The answer to this question is an essay, and we write the essay, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph, with our lives.

Some of the deepest parts of the answer can be found in the darkest days of December.

And so, here we are. Advent is drawing to a close. Our wait is nearly over. Christmas Eve rises with the sun tomorrow. And with the tidal wave of light at dawn on Christmas Day will come a son even brighter than the one in the sky.

A great light in the darkness. A light that will turn the darkness, itself, into light.

The darkness around all of us.

The darkness inside all of us.

If we let him.

True light from true light. Begotten, not made.

To drive out the darkness as if he were a super-hero warrior out of myth and legend.

But he’s not that sort of savior.

He’ll wear no armor. He’ll grip no swords. He’ll throw no spears.

He’ll be armed only with light.

Armed only with light and love. Because that is the only way that he—the only way that we—can win.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. observed, taking his cue from this “love your enemy” carpenter’s son: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

That is why darkness flees at the approach of his footsteps.

What child is this?

Only a child, on the face of it. Just a baby boy. That’s apparently all, at that moment in the manger, but that will clearly be enough. Because that moment is going to grow to unbelievably meaningful dimensions.

That one moment will become eternity.

The son of Mary and Joseph. The son of man. The son of God.

And we—those that our hero has come to save—are, ironically, his only kryptonite.

Because Jesus is so vulnerable to our own doubts about the light that he will bring into the world, into our lives, into us, and through us, if we let him.

In the brightness of that light we might be blinded to the truth that Jesus is not alone in the manger straw, not alone in his mother’s lap.

And that is a truth that he tried so desperately to teach us.

There is another child waiting with him for our arrival, waiting to be fully born, with Jesus, into this world.

But who? What other child is this?

If we return to the manger with fresh eyes and, more importantly, a fresh heart, the answer that Jesus gave as he preached the good news about the Kingdom of Heaven is clear and bright, like the Star of Bethlehem, itself.

To answer the question about the other child, begin by breathing deeply:

You may smell the straw and the strong earthy presence of sheep and cattle.

You may hear the gentle voice of Mary whispering. The gentle voice of Mary whispering in your ear.

“Listen to what my son is telling you,” she urges us.

“Feel the truth of his words inside you,” she says, as the livestock crowded around the manger give us warmth.

“My son has called you friends. My son has called you his brothers and sisters. He taught you to pray ‘Our father’ for a reason,” Mary tells us, as we look up into her eyes and want to believe that what she says is true.

“Know that you are loved truly and deeply by God, and by my son,” Mary tells us.

“You are,” she continues, as Three Wise Men enter, “a child of God.”

“Take good care of that child,” Mary cautions us, as the shepherds exchange glances with one another. “Love that child,” she says. “Raise that child with gentleness of heart and strength of purpose.”

“Give yourselves entirely to that child,” Mary tells us. “Truly become that child.”

“And let that child be the best Christmas present you could ever give my son on his birthday,” she says, and the smell of frankincense is everywhere.

“That present is the only gift he wants. For you to become your child of God self,” we hear her say, as Joseph rests his hand upon her shoulder and nods.

“Please let him unwrap that present some day very soon,” she says and then begins singing us a lullaby. “What child is this who lays to rest in my arms?” she sings, her voice feeling like a warm, soft blanket on a cold night. “Where shepherds watch and angels sing..”

And then she falls silent, just watching, just looking deeply into our eyes.

What other child is this?

Mary’s right. This other child is you and me—our child of God selves. And, without Jesus, we never would have known.

So, yes, let’s make Jesus’ birthday wish come true, and become—as truly as we can—our child of God selves.

Fully human but able to love our neighbors as ourselves,

able to turn the other cheek,

walk the extra mile as blessed peacemakers and so become, as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, sons and daughters of God,

hungering and thirsting for justice,

loving our enemies and so disarming them,

turning sword words into plowshares,

letting Jesus turn the water of our lives into wine so that others might find communion in God’s love for them,

giving ourselves as loaves and fishes.

But, no, it won’t always be easy.

The greatest challenge is refusing to allow the darkness to make us doubt that we are a child of God. The darkness has many voices. All of them are human. And sometimes that voice is our own.

They talk to us in the present and from our past. They are persistence voices that diminish and can damage our child of God selves.

Sometimes those voices from our past are worst of all and can make our child of God self retreat so deeply inside us that we can no longer feel or find it. We need to shake their dust from our feet. Past and present. All of it.

Thankfully, the light also has many voices. They, too, are all around us. They nurture. Encourage. Affirm. Guide. And love. Listen to them. Let your light shine.

You might just be surprised by how far it can go.

“My son,” Mary tells us as we turn to finish our Advent journey, “said that you are the light of the world. Please, believe him.”

“If you give Jesus the present that he really wants,” she explains to our wondering hearts, “when he blows out all of his birthday candles the flickering flame of love will remain and the world’s darkness will have retreated just a little further into the distance.”

“You will have opened the gift,” she softly declares, “that he has been trying so hard to give you.”

Our “Texts” For Today

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her cell phone and its many apps, its email, texts, downloads, alerts and websites.
As Jesus spoke of God’s love, Martha was distracted by a news headline about more unrest in the world.
When Jesus spoke of God’s grace, Martha responded to the “ting” of a text message, looking away from Jesus to see who had texted her and what they had said. It might be, Martha told herself, an important message.
Jesus was speaking about turning darkness into light as Martha checked her email for any “alerts” from the various news services to which she subscribed. Something bad might have happened in the world, she told herself, and she needed to know about it.
While Jesus was explaining about the kingdom of God being near, Martha answered the musical ringtone of her cell phone. She had decided not to put the phone on “silent” while Jesus was there because she was afraid of missing any phone call that might require prompt attention.
Her sister, Mary, meanwhile, had left her cellphone in her bedroom. Mary wanted to hear everything Jesus had to say. My, what a blessing it is, she had told herself after Jesus had walked through the doorway, to have the Lord in our home.
The texts and emails and apps and alerts can wait, Mary had decided. They are going nowhere. They will be waiting for me later. I do not need to worry about them now, she told herself.
But Jesus will be leaving us, Mary knew, because the Lord was traveling to many villages, and so I want to hear, yes, she told herself, but also feel everything he has to say.
There was a look of tranquil peace on Mary’s face as she simply sat at the Lord’s feet, drinking in every word, every syllable, as if they were sips of the coolest, purest water from the deepest most refreshing well.
Martha was astonished by her sister’s indifference to everything else going on in the world. Doesn’t she care? Martha asked herself. And doesn’t Jesus care, Martha wondered, that Mary is paying no attention to the horrible headlines that were surely being emailed and texted around the world at that very moment?
“Lord,” Martha asked Jesus, “do you not care that my sister has left me to read all of the texts and emails and website headlines about the world’s troubles? Tell her then to help me.”
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Just as we, you and me, can choose the better part.
We can put the “Martha” part of ourselves away at least once each day and allow the “Mary” we also have inside us to lead us to the still waters and green pastures of communion with our Good Shepherd.
We can—indeed, we desperately need to—find time each day to sit at the Lord’s feet, to create quiet time in the morning or the evening to pray and contemplate, to read what Jesus has to say to us in the New Testament but also through our communion with the Holy Spirit. Find a time that fits you best and sit there at the Lord’s feet. Any time will do.
Because Jesus is there, in all of our homes. He has crossed our threshold and wants nothing more than for us be like Mary, just once a day, and put away our cellphones, with their Pandora’s box of distractions and worries. Put away the turmoil in the world and just sit and listen to the Lord with our hearts and our minds and our souls.
Only by fortifying ourselves with the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, do we stand a chance of doing anything to address even one of the world’s many needs.
When, like Mary, we choose the better part, it will not be taken away from us. And it is then that we have the power to share that “better part” more deeply with the corner of the world in which we find ourselves.

Voices In The Wilderness

“He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

—The Gospel of Luke

The region around the Jordan River isn’t the only wilderness.
Each of us has our own “wilderness” and our own “wilderness moments” in life.
Around us.
And within us.
Places with fearfully tall mountains that we feel we cannot possibly climb. Or, once they are scaled, that it would be impossible to descend without falling from their great height.
Places with deep, dark valleys of shadows that we fear passing through or feel lost within.
Crooked places that twist us up in knots and where we lose our sense of self and direction in their maze-like zig-zagging.
Rough places that wouldn’t understand the meaning of smooth even if they were surrounded by velvet.
In the passage above, Luke is talking about John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way for Jesus.
But John the Baptist isn’t the only one crying out in the wilderness.
Each of us has had times when we, too, cried out in the wilderness. And we will have them again. That is life.
But there is another voice, too, crying out in our lives.
Another voice in the wilderness crying out around us.
Another voice in the wilderness crying out within us.
And that voice is the Holy Spirit of God and Christ.
That voice is Jesus with us.
God with us.
Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel.
And Emmanuel comes.
Emmanuel is there. Is here.
Emmanuel will find a way to make our paths feel straight even if they remain crooked.
Emmanuel will find a way to make every mountain feel as if it has been made low even if it still rises.
We climb.
We ascend.
We reach the summit.
And we do not fall off on the way back down the other side on our continuing journey.
Our rough places have been made smoother, even if they are still rough.
And we see, and we feel, the salvation of God.
We feel the salvation of God so strongly that the only response we can think of is to try and make crooked paths feel straight for others, to take their hand as they cross over their mountains, to shine a light as we travel through their dark valleys with them.
To be a voice of love and compassion in their wilderness.
And a voice of love and compassion when their wilderness is gone and there is nothing left at all but Emmanuel.
Emmanuel all around. In every footprint and every heartbeat.

Sun Days

Surprisingly, not until well into my adulthood did I look at the word Sunday and realize the dramatic and theological importance of those first three letters.
They had been staring me in the face my entire life.
Sun Day.
The day of sunshine.
Rain or shine.
The kind of sun that weather forecasters cannot overcome by any prediction of raining thunderstorms.
Not even a 100 percent chance of rain can stop this sun from shining.
Sun Day.
The day of light.
The day of light overcoming the darkness.
The sunshine day of God’s love.
The sunshine day of God’s grace.
Sun Day.
The themes of light and darkness can be found throughout the Bible and most emphatically in the Gospel of John.
“In him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it. There was a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to all was coming into the world,” John’s Gospel tells us.
The Voice translation of John’s Gospel is even more powerful:
“His speech shaped the entire cosmos. Immersed in the practice of creating, all things that exist were birthed in Him. His breath filled all things with a living, breathing light—A light that thrives in the depths of the darkness, blazes through murky bottoms. It cannot and will not be quenched.”
A light such as that depends on no weather forecaster’s prognostications. The light of God’s love and grace that we celebrate together on the perfectly named day of the week—Sunday—will find us no matter what the weather is doing in our lives.
No matter how hard the rain.
No matter how biting the sleet.
And no matter how deep the snow.
Or how dark the night.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus left Nazareth and began his ministry in Galilee to fulfill this passage from the Prophet Isaiah:
“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
One of the great miracles of what we celebrate on Sun Day was articulated by Jesus during his sermon on the mount.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.”
And that God-given light within us is alive and cannot be extinguished because it was placed in our soul by God.
In that sense, every day is “Sun Day.”
Let them all—and you—shine where there is the greatest need of light.

One Last Perpetual Chance

With God and with Jesus, it is never too late.
Never too late for love to triumph over hate.
Never too late for light to rise above darkness.
Never too late for that which is torn to be mended.
Never too late for goodness to make evil cry “Uncle!”
Never too late to find passage through the narrow gate that leads to the wide, open, green pasture that our Good Shepherd has waiting for us.
That is one of several messages in Luke’s recounting of Jesus has appointing seventy of his followers to travel ahead, in pairs, to every town where he intends to go.
And his instructions to those emissaries are quite specific. Carry no purse, he tells them, carry no bag, no sandals.
Furthermore, whenever you enter a town and the townspeople welcome you, Jesus instructs them, cure the sick who are there and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near you.”
But, Jesus adds—after letting them know he is sending them out like lambs into the midst of wolves—whenever you enter a town and its people do not welcome you, go out into the streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.”
Wow, pretty dramatic stuff right there. Wiping even the dust of such a town off their feet sends quite a messages to the townspeople. But a message to his disciples, too, who suffered what would have been an aggressive lack of hospitality.
“Don’t let it get you down, don’t let that experience burden you,” Jesus is telling them without saying it. “Wipe it off your feet.” He knows the physical act of wiping the dust from their feet will make its point in a powerful way to any disciples who find themselves leaving indifference, or outright hostility, behind.
But even such towns and the people who live in them are left with one last perpetual chance. Not simply one last chance. One last perpetual chance. Because that is what God and Jesus offer us—one last perpetual chance, a last chance that is going nowhere. A last chance that will follow us around, perhaps even tapping us on the shoulder from time to time, as if to say, “Hey, remember me? I’m still here.”
Even after all of that dust-wiping, Jesus informs the seventy disciples, there is one last thing they must do before they leave such towns and their people behind. Words they plant. Words that might still one day grow.
“Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
Those are the last words and while they might seem to be part of a final rebuke they can equally, and perhaps even certainly, be regarded as a marker Jesus has his disciples lay down. Because, going back to the beginning of Luke’s lesson, sharing the news that the kingdom of God has come near you is the precise message Jesus told them to share with townspeople in towns that welcomed them.
So the blessing is the same, no matter what.
A perpetual signpost.
The open hand of Jesus left behind, offering the kingdom of God to any who wish to receive it.
A mustard seed that one day might sprout in the hearts and souls of at least some of those townspeople who think, and re-think, about what Jesus’ disciples had meant when they had told them “the Kingdom of God has come near to you.”
That is the message Jesus sent the seventy off to deliver and he has them share it even in the towns that are callously indifferent to them.
Not a final threat, not a final curse, not a final “this is what you missed.”
Instead, it is a final offer of God’s love. Or, “this is what you can still have.”
A final offer that will live forever somewhere in the memory of those who heard it, no matter how the town welcomed, or did not welcome, the disciples.
There each day, there every day, simply waiting for acceptance.
Because, with God and with Jesus, it is never too late.

A Different View Of The Widow’s Mite

“A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed from their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

—The Gospel of Mark

These are not the words that I was planning to write. I was going to write about the Widow’s Mite, noting her total generosity of spirit. I was going to call this meditation “The Widow’s Might,” noting that any act of generosity comes first from the mind and from the heart, and how mighty must have been her spirit of generosity to give every bit of money she had.
And then I did some research on the mite, itself, wanting to learn a little more about this coin of such small monetary value. It was while researching that on line that I stumbled on a commentary that pointed me in a completely different direction. I will never think of this heretofore beloved parable the same way, ever again.
What I found on line was the observation that Jesus never holds the widow up as an example to be followed. He never says that she did the right thing. He simply states the fact that the rich people made a big show over their generosity and gave some of their abundant wealth away, while the poor widow gave everything she had to live on.
That got me thinking about what else Jesus does and, just as crucially, what Jesus doesn’t do in this story. First, Jesus is intentionally sitting in the temple opposite the treasury, specifically watching all of the people make their financial contributions. That’s all he’s doing. An odd thing to do, it seemed to me.
What he doesn’t do is this: He never makes a financial contribution, himself. He sits there watching, and gives nothing, even after seeing the poor widow give everything she has. Nor does Jesus urge his disciples to make a contribution to the temple’s treasury.
Furthermore, even though he knows the poor widow has given everything she has to live on, Jesus does not give her anything at all, nor does he suggest that one of the disciples give her a coin or two so that she has something to live on.
He just sits there watching.
And I think he keeps getting madder and madder. I believe it fuels his desire to cleanse the temple of such oppressive money-making, profit-centric, get-rich scheming by the temple authorities.
In the passage from Mark, not quoted above, Jesus has already warned his listeners to beware of the scribes. “They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearances say long prayers,” he tells them.
So, perhaps the widow isn’t giving from a spirit of generosity at all, but from a sense of guilt that is weighed down upon her by such religious authorities as the scribes. Perhaps after giving the temple treasury her last mite she will lose her house to them and they can sell it for a profit. The poor widow would probably pass any kindly donation to herself straight on the temple treasury. Perhaps that’s why neither Jesus nor his disciples give her anything.
I think it’s important what Jesus does next. I believe that it gives us an insight into his thinking as he watches the financial transactions in the temple. As he is leaving, without making a contribution, someone marvels over the magnificence of the temple. “What massive stones,” they say.
Jesus is not impressed. None of them will be left standing, he flatly replies.
Systems of domination and oppression will not last forever. They have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of Heaven may be near, but it is far away from the temple treasury.
Distant, still, from those who walk and rule the earth today with a temple treasury in their heart.

Saint All Of Us

(Note: I am sharing this meditation with my home church this week, but it applies to everyone)

Great. Wonderful. Just right. But look around you and see for yourselves.
We’ve all got our costumes on. We’re wearing our All Saints Day Sunday outfits. Yes, you and you and you. And even me. All of us sitting in these pews or, for those who are reading this digitally, wherever you are sitting or standing.
And the really strange thing is that they’re not really costumes at all. We’re wearing the stuff we wear every Sunday or every day of the week.
That’s the point. As hard as it is to believe.
Me? A saint?
Not hardly. Couldn’t be. I know myself too well to stake any claim to sainthood. But the rest of you? Absolutely.
I know. Each of you is shaking your head, as well. You have the same doubts as me. You don’t believe for a moment that you’re a saint. You know yourself too well to stake any claim to sainthood.
But, that’s really the point. Saints aren’t perfect. The actual canonized, hall-of-fame, stained-glass-window saints weren’t perfect at all.
Look at Saint Peter and Saint Paul, for crying out loud. They were as flawed as anybody. You and I can’t walk on water. But neither could Peter, even with Jesus there reaching out to him.
And, gosh, how about Paul?
During the time he went around calling himself Saul, he was an accomplice to many acts of violence, and at least one death—he was there holding the cloaks of those who stoned Saint Stephen.
None of us has done anything like that. Still, we doubt our saintliness. So, consider this:
Jesus has called each one of us the light of the world.
To me, being thought of by Jesus as the light of the world is more amazing than being a saint. But it’s true. Jesus said so. We’ve all been lit up by Jesus in our lives. We’ve all been kindled by God to shine evidence of heavenly love and grace in the world.
If we’re good enough for Jesus, and good enough for God, that should be good enough for anyone. Good enough, even, for ourselves to realize how loved by God and Christ we really are.
Loved as individuals and collectively as a church family.
And how brightly that love shines through us out into the world, filling corners of darkness with light. Because that’s what saints do and, trust me, none of the saints ever thought of themselves as saints. Only we think of them that way. But saints, in spite of their human foibles, give people a glimpse of God’s presence in the world.
Or maybe, just perhaps, it’s actually through their—through our—fractured places that God is most able to shine into us, and out through us into the world.
A second way to look at All Saints Day is to consider how all of us together are very much an obvious saint in this world. All of us together have been canonized, in a sense, because we are—you and me—St. Anne’s.
Each one of us is a part of everything St. Anne’s is doing in this world.
And that means that each of us is a part of so much, from the food pantry to the clothing exchange, from the grocery bags full of Thanksgiving feasting to the Angel Tree, and from the space in Rose Hall that we share with others to that small, freshly-painted wooden box of non-perishable foodstuffs set on a pole next door for anyone in need at any hour of any day. And that is only part of it.
There is so much that we do collectively and individually, small moments of compassion that change a minute in someone’s day. But that changes an hour in their day, and so alters their day. That, in turn, changes their week and so redirects their month. Which changes their year and so transforms their life and, very truly, changes the world for them.
And so, too, changes the world for us.
All saints together.
Giving, and receiving, God’s love and grace through each other.

A Deeper Vision

“Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”

—The Gospel of Mark

One can read a piece of scripture many times and feel complete familiarity with the words and their message. Then read it one more time and find a new kernel of revelatory truth. That happened to me with this passage from Mark.
What hit me right between the eyes—this time—was that, rather than go to the blind man, Jesus instructed that the beggar Bartimaeus be told to come to him, instead.
I thought that was just a bit insensitive. It would have been much easier for Jesus to go to the blind man. But Bartimaeus had no difficulty at all. “So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus,” the Gospel of Mark tells us. No problem. And that is a crucial point.
Despite the potentially confusing presence of the disciples and the “large crowd” leaving Jericho, a man who cannot see was able find and stand face to face with Jesus, not having to hunt and search by trial and error, person to person. Surrounded by the darkness of being blind, the man was able to zero in on the light of Christ.
It was as if he had a homing signal. As if his soul had radar and sonar capabilities that led him unerringly to Jesus.
Jesus, of course, heals the man, telling him that his faith has made him well. But the events leading up to that healing are relevant to everyone. As is the healing, itself.
We all suffer from some form of at least momentary “blindness.” There are events and circumstances (both past and present), fears and anxieties, any and all of life’s challenges that can make us feel that we are surrounded by darkness, suddenly blind to the light of Christ and his message of God’s love and grace.
When that happens—and at some point in our lives it happens to us all, at least once—it is best to follow the example of Bartimaeus and shout with our soul for Jesus to come and heal our blindness.
And continue shouting with stubborn persistence, no matter how much the darkness that has blinded us tries to keep us silent, as those around Bartimaeus had attempted to silence him. Because: when our yearning soul persists in crying out for Jesus, we will be found by Christ.
Our eyes will be opened to his light.
And in that light we will understand that Jesus never went anywhere. He never left us behind, outside the walls of our own Jerichos. In our blindness, we couldn’t see that he was right there beside us all the time.
In our moments of blindness, it is our faith that truly is a homing signal for our soul, radar and sonar that will unerringly lead us to the truth of the ceaseless presence of Holy love in our lives.
But there is something else we need to remember:
We mustn’t forget to throw off our cloaks, just as Bartimaeus did. That cloak had become a cocoon of imprisonment. That cloak was the “skin” of Bartimaeus’ former, blind existence.
Throwing it off, as he sprang up and came to Jesus, he became like a butterfly pulling free of its chrysalis.
Spreading the wings of his new life of sight.
So, too, can we realize that vision.
Because the deepest “sight” we possess has nothing at all to do with our eyes.