All Means All Y’all

All Means All Y’all

Well, everybody… it is All Saints Day. Which means that November is here, and we are decidedly in that time of year where I get to wear flannels in the morning and by noon I cannot stop sweating. Thanks, Texas! It means that we are getting to the end of our liturgical year, that it’s coming to a close, and soon it will be Advent and we get to start the whole thing over.

And it also means that this sermon, which I have, of course titled, “All Means All Y’all,” is going to be about All Saints Day. And the question I want us to consider together is, “why do we celebrate All Saints Day?” The short answer is, because we’ve done it since Pope Gregory IV instituted it as a feast day in the 9th century, and we just sort of held onto it after the Reformation.

But, the longer answer, which, I’m gonna get into, cause I need, you know, SOMETHING to say up here, requires that we take a look into our own theology and belief around Saints.

In the Apostles creed, we affirm our belief in the “Communion of Saints,”; this idea that comes from today’s readings in Matthew and Revelation, and some other spots in the scriptures, like where Hebrews 12 calls them a “great cloud of witnesses”. And a great cloud of witnesses is exactly what they are: They’re our Christian siblings, our family in the faith who have come before us and can show us how we are to follow the way of Christ.

It also means that somehow, in some way, that even though these people who have come before us, some of them thousands of years before us, they are still, in some sense, alive. In Matthew’s gospel, in a debate with a group of Resurrection-denying Sadducees, Jesus says “…as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus identifies Israel’s Patriarchs as those who are biologically dead, but because of their trust in their God, they are still, somehow, someway alive. Because if they were not, God would not be God, as He’s the God of living, and not the dead.

But all this begs the question, what is a saint? And what makes a saint, a saint? Are they only the people who have performed miracles, and feats of endurance and strength and healings? Are they only the people who have shown such fervor in the face of death, that they’re now paragons of the faith?

Now, denominationally speaking, while there may be some requirements for sainthood, in the anglican communion, our tradition, and (I would argue,) in the Biblical witness, any person, ANY person, at all, who puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ is a saint.

We believe that any person who has “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” from Revelation this morning, they will be found “standing before the throne and before the Lamb,… singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’” We, who have put our faith and our trust in Jesus Christ, are they of whom Revelation speaks.

We. are. all. saints.

But, here’s the thing: we also live with ourselves. We know that while this may be the truth of the situation, more often than not, this feels, at best, aspirational, or at least, a long way off, well into eternity, and not a reality for right now.

Martin Luther, the reformer, identified these sort of dual realities as: Simul Justus et Peccator. It means “at the same time” or “simultaneously, Saint and Sinner.” These simultaneous identities, these dual realities, are real because we are human beings, who have put our faith and our trust in God, yes, but this side of eternity—before all things, including us, are made new—, we are also still humans, and that means that we are subject to the realities of sin and death.

We’re sinners because we’re human, yes, but we are still saints. Because, the thing that makes a saint a saint is not some sort of might or vigor, as it is easy to think when we look at the annals of history and see the canonized. It isn’t, as Rev. Fleming Rutledge puts it, “a triumph of the human spirit” that makes someone a saint, but “a triumph of the Holy Spirit.” // And yes that is about as corny as it gets, but we’ll remember it!

And because we are saints positionally by the working and provision of our God, it’s also a guarantee of our destiny! Just as the attaining of our Saintly identity was not of our own power, but the working of God, our ultimate destiny and the retention of the Saintly identity is not of our own power, but the working of God. Again from revelation, We will be raised up and “hunger no more, and thirst no more;”   and “the sun will not strike [us] nor any scorching heat;” because “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be [our] shepherd, and he will guide [us] to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.” This is the promise of our eternal destiny because of the power of our God.

But, this is is not a license to abscond our identity as saints in God’s family. If anything, it’s an encouragement to live up to the high calling that God has given us! When we look at the saints in the history of our church, we can find encouragement to do the things that God is calling us to do.
And, while the likelihood of us ever being called to be martyred for our faith, like Saints Perpetua and Felicity, or to preach the gospel AFTER having our heads removed like St. Denis, or being called to get into a boat with no oars and just let it take us wherever the seas wishes, like St. Brendan, is very low, AND while that has the potential to make us feel like we aren’t actually living up to the calling of our identity as saints, the reality of the situation is that most of the saints that have ever lived on this earth have not been recorded.
They are people who quietly live their lives everyday, submitted to the working of Christ, living out the fruits of the Spirit, and showing us, the vast majority of Christians, the vast majority of SAINTS, what it looks like to follow the way of Jesus.

In the eyes of the God that we serve, there is no difference. Mother Teresa was once asked if she perceived her inability to “save more souls” as a failure, and she responded by saying something along the lines of, “to God, there is no success and there is no failure, there is only being faithful to that which you have been called.” And Saints, known or unknown, are those who have been called by God, to do the work of God, and have been found faithfully following that call.

These are the sorts of Everyday Saints who have shaped us and formed us into the people that we are. Like my own mother, who is the most faithful person I have ever known. Or my Bible Professor from college, who was so convinced of the radical love and power of our God that he lost his job, rather than be unfaithful to that which God had called him.

These are just two of the Saints who formed me, and like the writer of Hebrews says, “time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,” time would fail me to tell of all the saints in my life, of Dexter, of Diana, of Cale, of Paige or Rachel, or Eric, or Tabitha who, have helped shape and form me into the person that I am today. The Saints whose faithfulness has spoken more of a sermon and testimony than 12 minutes in a pulpit ever could. The Saints whose faithfulness might never be known to history, but is known to God.

So, why do we celebrate All Saints Day?

We celebrate it to remember; to remember the Saints in the long line of Christian History who came before us; to remember the Saints in our own lives, who though their faithfulness have helped make us in to the people we are today; and to remember our own identities as the Saints of God, not by a “triumph of the Human Spirit, but a triumph of the Holy Spirit.”

So, today, on this All Saints Day, I encourage us to take some time to remember the people who came before us, in the grand scheme of history, and in our own lives, and to remember our identities as Saints. And in that remembrance of our identities, to look forward to the day when we, with all God’s Saints, as all God’s Saints, because “All” means “All y’all,” will be raised up and be numbered among the faithful, and all things will be made new.


Virtuous Peace

Virtuous Peace

Are any of y’all familiar with the phrase “We are what we repeatedly do?” Famously misattributed to Aristotle, this phrase is still a near-perfect distillation of his concept of Virtue ethics, and, paired with the second half of the phrase, “excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit,” is most often seen, not in treatises of moral philosophy, but, in my experience, on the social medias of people who are eager to let you know how well they’re doing in this life. These are folks who want to make it known that they fought and clawed and got all the private jet rides, every bit of physical fitness, all the money and trappings, all the STUFF, on the virtues of their own power and ability, and, for them, success and excellence has become a habit.

Now, just because I personally find that a little cringey and something I don’t like, does not mean those are bad folk or even that they’re, necessarily, doing anything wrong; my purpose in sharing that quote and some of the places it shows up most often is to demonstrate, in some small way, how distorted, for the Christian, virtue can get.

We’ve spent the last few weeks, at some level or another, in the letter to the Philippians, right? Typically when we’re dealing with one of Paul’s letters, we get to see a little bit of drama. Something has gone wrong in a community and Paul is writing back to the them to correct something, out of love and a desire for reconciliation. But Philippians is a little bit different. Yes, they had their problems, we see that in our reading today, Eudoia and Syntyche, two women about whom NOTHING but their names are known, are fighting about something, and Paul encourages them to find common cause and remember who they are to each other. But other than that, Paul is writing this letter out of an overflowing sense of Joy, out of real love for these people, because he misses them. They don’t have the fear and lethargy that plagued the Thessalonican churches or the wild factionalism and rampant immorality that beset the Corinthians; all tolled, the Philippian church was actually doing pretty well!

Paul’s writing to them to tell them that he misses them, he thinks the world of them, and to encourage them in the good work that they’ve already been up to. Not a whole of correction, just a whole lot of exhortation. That’s where we’re at this morning. Here at the end of the letter, Paul is wrapping up and saying some of the most important things he can put on paper for a people that he loves, and what does he tell them?

He tells them to Stand Firm in the faith,  encourages them to Remember who they are to one another and not to let the little things destroy the community that God has brought together. He tells them to Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice, and finally, PURSUE THE VIRTUES.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable.” True, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable. “If there is any EXCELLENCE and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” That word, excellence, can also be translated as “Virtuous.” If there is anything VIRTUOUS, or worthy of praise, think about these things, “keep on doing them.”

In the Zoom Book Club that’s been meeting for the last few weeks on Tuesday nights, we’ve been talking a lot about virtues, clearly a very interesting and popular topic for our modern world. But we’ve talked about what some of them are, what makes a virtue, a virtue, and how we practice virtuousness. [I will grow tired of saying the word “virtue” over and over again, so bear with me.] We’ve talked through the cardinal virtues: Temperance, Courage, Justice, Prudence, and what the author of one of the books we’ve read has called the theological virtues:  Hope, Faith, Love. We’ve struggled to define what a virtue is, because there has been a difficulty in our modern age to agree upon a set moral standard, which, truly, is neither here nor there, as my own personal working definition of a virtue is simply, “a verb worth pursuing,” or a “verb worth doing.”

The big idea about virtue ethics, this set of ethics first set down on paper by our good friend Aristotle, the thing that makes it different from a ethical framework that says “if the ends are noble, then the actions taken to meet that end are reasonable,” or one that says “this is the set of rules and standards and we have to act accordingly,”; the thing that’s different is that in the scheme of virtue ethics, we do the right things because we want to become people who do the right things. “We are what we repeatedly do.” We repeatedly act as people who have courage and we become people who have courage. We continually act in faith toward a faithless world, and we become faithful people. Over and over and we act in a loving way as we walk through this life, and we become loving people. This is the whole concept of virtue ethics, and it’s what Paul is handing us on a silver platter this morning, but with the  smallest of twists.

Instead of seeing a virtue for its own sake, a good deed as its own reward, Paul is telling us that if and when we practice this way of virtuous living, this way of living excellently in the world, pursuing a true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable way of walking through this life, we don’t just end up as true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable people. Of course, we will end up that way, that’s the entire thesis of virtue, but in addition to that, “the God of peace will be with you.” “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in the knowledge and love of Christ.”

Peace. This is the promise of God for his people today. Acting in a Christlike way, pursuing Christ-like virtues, pursuing the fruits of the spirit of God, somehow, someway brings us peace. And we know that! We feel it, somewhere behind our chest and we know it somewhere behind our face, that acting like this is true, because it is true, changes the way we approach the world! It changes us and who we are, at a core level. It takes what is not natural and makes it habitual, and it takes what is habitual and makes it natural, and it takes what is natural and makes it fundamental to who we are.

The God that died so that we might live did not go to the grave and come back just to make us better people, or to give us an example to follow. He died and came back to give us the chance to become NEW people, to become fundamentally different people, to take dead people and bring us back to life, to make us new and to grant to us the life eternal that is his alone to freely give. From Isaiah this morning, “the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.”

Peace. Abundant, overflowing, generous peace that alone is the Lord’s. The peace that passes all understanding. The peace that makes NO sense, the peace that isn’t logical or rational, but is somehow above all that, the peace that’s somehow, someway REAL. The peace that we instinctively and intuitively know when we’ve walked with the Risen Christ.

This peace, the greek is eirēnē, is not simply a lack of conflict, or a zen attitude when everything goes wrong. That’s part of it, sure, but the closer definitional meaning here, is something like a “harmony that makes and keeps things safe and prosperous.” Peace as a harmony that makes and keeps things safe and prosperous, for all. A peace that makes life safe, safe and prosperous for every person living in the war zone that has become the holy land; safe for every state-fair goer. A Peace that makes sure that everyone in East Fort Worth has enough to eat. Think about how that squares with our own internal definitions of peace, what peace does and should mean to us.

I think, hidden here at the end of Philippians, at the end of a list of virtues that will bring us to it, is the call for us to follow the God of peace, the God who made peace, to follow in making and keeping peace, a harmony that makes and keeps things safe and prosperous, for all.

Safe and Prosperous for all. Now, yes sure, this is about money, or can be about money, it is stewardship season after all, and I did use the word prosperous not 30 seconds ago, but the reality of the situation is that this is about so much more than money, or time or talent, or anything else. This is about the ways that we live our lives, pursing virtues that help us become people that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable; a people of peace. We have the opportunity, given to us by God, to become a people of peace, a people who make peace in a chaotic world that thrives on its lack. That is the call for every Christian in this passage.

By living a life that lets our “gentleness be known to everyone,” by living a life of virtue, we join in the work of God, already inaugurated, in shaping this world into something that it’s not, but something it could be. A world of peace, where, as Isaiah said, “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people will be taken away from all the earth…and it will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God.” This is our God.

The God who would live and die as one of us to bring us back to himself, and would rise from the grave in the promise of a new life, a new world, for every one of us. This is our God. By becoming what we repeatedly do, pursuing a life of peace and virtue, witnessing to a world of peace, we make the claim that this is our God. By living a life that states, unequivocally, with our time, our talent, our treasure, our families, our work, our hobbies, our communities, our EVERYTHING, that this is our God, we join the work of that God, our God, in making all things new.

Even at the Grave

Even at the Grave

Even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.


We are fortunate enough, this morning, to bear witness and participate in the second half of a liturgy begun 24 hours ago. Yesterday morning was the funeral and memorial service for Edith Angel, and this morning we, as a community, are going to baptize Henry Jordan, Edith’s great-grandson, into the death and resurrection of her lord and our’s.

We’re joining a liturgy already in progress, we’re rehashing what happened yesterday, because baptism and burial are, in essence, essentially, the same, or at least they’re two sides of the same sacramental coin. The words we say, the symbols used, the white garment, the fire, everything we do in these liturgies shows us that they are both getting at something Paul says in Philippians this morning, getting at the essential truth at the heart of everything we believe: we have been made Christ’s own. We ARE Christ’s own.

In the Anglican tradition, the tradition in which we squarely sit, our tradition, we believe that the sacraments are outward, visible signs of an inward, invisible grace. They’re signs pointing to the grace that’s already there. In the epistle this morning, Paul gives his laundry list of qualifications, his own list of outward, visible signs that point to…what? His abilities, his bona fides, his accolades and he counts them all as loss, rubbish, refuse, even. They’re nothing in comparison to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ.” And that’s what yesterday and today, our combined and continuing liturgies of burial and baptism, are all about.

Knowing Christ, being united with Christ, being Christ’s own, forever… THAT is the whole point of this life. Burial makes clear what we proclaim in baptism: that our lives are not our own, they are Christ’s own. Burial is the consummation of the promise made in baptism: the promise Christ made in John 10 that Alan referenced last week, that Christ came to give us life, and give it abundantly, a life only he could give, because it’s HIS life to give. It’s not a life we can or could build on our own by being whatever our equivalent of Paul’s “Hebrew of born of hebrews,” or “a pharisee under the law” but something that is the free gift of grace, made possible in our covenant with Christ, forged in his blood; We are Christ’s own.

In baptism we become members of the family, of the household of God, and this morning we see members of a family by blood become members of a family by water and the spirit, God’s family. We know the phrase, “blood is thicker than water,” and there is something to that, absolutely, but there’s another, longer, slightly different conception of that phrase that may or may not have more historical roots, that reads “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” and I think that version reveals to us a truth about baptism. The blood of the covenant, our covenant, the blood that makes us Christ’s own by baptizing us into His death and resurrected life, IS Christ’s own blood. In baptism we cease to be our own and we become Christ’s own; we die his death and we are raised to this new life, HIS new life, with a new family, even as we walk this new life with our family of origin.

And this is why, at the end of our earthly journeys we say in the burial rite, that “even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Because we are Christ’s own. Because it’s not on us to make us new. Because it’s not our job to save ourselves. Because it’s not up to death to have the final word, that’s God’s job. The Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has a line that has shaped my thinking around death more than just about anything, where he says “For the Christian, death is no longer the final horizon, God is.”

At our burial, we approach death knowing with a full confidence that God is beyond that death that we die, and at our baptisms, we begin the slow trek of eternal, abundant life toward that horizon where death no longer reigns, no longer has dominion. In our baptisms, we begin our journeys to that final horizon where God is, to that horizon that IS God, where there is no more sorrow, no more pain, no more tears, no more death, and where eternal life is found.