The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
The Feast Day of All Saints
Scripture: Luke 6:20-31
Today, we observe the Feast Day of All Saints’. We remember those people we have lost. And I know there’s been some loss in this community. I know some of our children here have lost parents. I know some parents here have lost children. There has been tragedy and people lost too soon. There has been quiet, expected, but still devastating death.
It’s never easy, no matter how it happens.
Often, these departed saints made us feel connected, loved, less alone in this world. By being their beautiful selves, they helped us to know the beauty in this world and the beauty in ourselves.
Sometimes, these saints reminded us how hard connection can be. Maybe they were guarded people still learning to love themselves before they could let you in. Maybe they struggled with mental illness or depression or anxiety, holding you at a distance because they didn’t know how else to hold you.
Maybe you have memories of their unguarded smile, their unbridled laughter. And maybe you also have memories of the times they didn’t return your phone calls, the mean things they said in a fit of anger, the ways they pushed you away. Most likely, it’s a swirl of both. The beautiful things, the hard things. The shadows and the light. Death can be complicated.
But no matter how they live on in us, these saints always remind us how much we love and long for connection, how deeply we desire to know one another and to be known. How much we love having people in our lives who really see us, and who let us really see them.
Together with our own saints, our church also celebrates saints throughout history who have done this same work of connection, of seeing others and letting themselves be seen, of illuminating what it means to be in deep relationship with God and one another.
A lot of these saints took the Beatitudes we heard today quite literally. They took vows of poverty, adopted ascetic lifestyles, and lived their faith even if doing so brought them in conflict with the people around them.
I’m talking about people like St. Francis, who we talked about a few weeks ago. He and his followers refused to wear anything but their monks robes and would only eat what they were able to beg from others.
I’m talking about St. Joan of Arc, who decided that her faith was more important than ascribed gender roles. Who because of her boldness inspired the French army to victory in the name of God—which is of course problematic in its own way, but I do love when God inspires women to do whatever they feel called to do, despite what society thinks. And I do love when the Church actually thinks it’s cool—at least in retrospect. But at the time, Joan of Arc was tried for heresy for dressing like a man and was burned at the stake.
I’m talking about St. James Baldwin who wrote clearly and powerfully and beautifully not only about racism he encountered but also about his experience of being a gay man at a time when both put him in conflict with the world around him.
I don’t think these saints were valorizing being poor or hungry or reviled. I think it should be a human right that everyone has a roof over their head, food to eat, healthcare, and a living wage. I think we all deserve dignity and respect, and I don’t think God heaps on bonus points when people hate us.
Jesus never said blessed are people because they are poor, blessed are people because they are hungry, blessed are people because people hate them. I think it’s a jump we often make in our mind, but that’s not what he’s saying. What he’s saying is, I see you.
You poor folks sleeping on the sidewalks, those that others try so hard not to see—I see you.
You starving children in Yemen and Haiti, whose faces are no longer in the news, whose plight others push from their minds—I see you.
You people who are hated for challenging oppression or who are reviled because you don’t dress the way others think you should—I see you.
The world might refuse to see you, they might divert their eyes and distract themselves, but Jesus sees those who are suffering. And something changes when Jesus sees us. Don’t you think? Jesus seeing the hardest, most challenging parts of my life gives me strength to be who I am, to claim what I need, to fight for justice. Not only that, but Jesus’ gaze directs our gaze. He’s telling us, I see these people and so should you.
Jesus seeing us can be a blessing, but half of the beatitudes are woes.
You folks stockpiling resources, taking more than you’ll ever need, even as others don’t have enough—I see you.
You who think your own laughter and comfort is enough, who look away from the suffering around you—I see you.
Yeah. Sometimes Jesus lifts us up, and sometimes Jesus calls us out.
I see you. I really see you, Jesus tells us. I see your challenges. Your gifts. Your sins. Your beauty. I see it all, and I love you. And because I love you, I want so deeply for you to recognize that great love of mine that lives in you, and to give that great love of mine that lives in you.
That is at the heart of the Body of Christ.
I sometimes get asked, what is your strategy for growing the church. I’m always a little puzzled by this question. I question its assumptions. First, the assumption that growing the church is up to me. Second, the assumption that churches grow because of some certain communications strategy or a flashy program that we just need to figure out and implement in order to bring more people in. And don’t get me wrong, we do need to communicate well, we do need compelling programs.
But I don’t think those are going to grow the church.
At least that’s not what you’ve told me.
Two weeks ago, Kathy Douglass stood up here to talk about her stewardship journey. The first words out of her mouth were, “I started coming to St. Luke’s 11 years ago because I was invited. Simple as that.”
Last week, I was meeting with our Welcome Team—who by the way do more good work in this place than you’ll ever know—and the main thought that emerged was this: they love it here because they feel a sense of belonging, a sense of really being seen in this community, particularly in some of the groups that meet.
Just yesterday, one of our Sacred Ground groups met, and someone there said that they’d been to a lot of churches, but this was the first one where she felt seen, known, where they felt like they belonged.
As far as I can tell, we’re here because we feel seen here.
Maybe someone saw a need in you and invited you here. Maybe someone saw that heavy look on your face the first time you came and asked how you were doing. Maybe you shared something hard about yourself in the Universal Christ book group or in Sacred Ground, and people heard you and held you, and you felt safe.
From what I can tell, we keep coming back because the people here are willing to see all of who we are—when it’s pretty and when it’s not so pretty—and to love us into our best selves. Just as Jesus did.
I think others are longing to be part of the Body of Christ as it manifests in this community, to be seen the way Jesus sees us. It’s a great gift of this community. Your vulnerability. Your openness. Your curiosity. It’s what drew me here. It’s what we support when we give our pledge and our time and our skills.
This life can be hard. Complicated. We lose people we love. This place holds us through our loss. Our grief. Our devastation.
This community sees us at our best, at our most broken, in all sorts of ways, and I’ve seen this community respond over and over again with love. The way Jesus taught us.