A Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, November 6, 2022

By: David May, Rector


Maybe a week and a half ago and I was standing in the parking lot where we had outdoor church during the pandemic reading the gospel passage for this morning.  There was a wonderful breeze blowing and the pin oak out there was releasing its leaves into the wind in swirls and waves.  And the funniest thing happened.  This passage from Matthew is one of the best-known and best-loved passages in the Bible: the Beatitudes, Blessings for God’s happy ones by Jesus.  But as I stood there reading the words, it was like I had somehow forgotten about these words, like I was finding something that I hadn’t realized I’d lost.

It reminded me of a day when I was up in the attic in our home in White Stone.  I was packing to move up here.  And I found a box that I discovered had several letters and notes from years ago that I had forgotten had been saved.  There was a breathless love-letter from middle school.  How could I have forgotten that?  How could I have forgotten her?! And a letter of encouragement from my grandmother she wrote when I was going through a rough patch written in her perfect school teacher cursive handwriting.

It was like that as I read this passage from Matthew.  Like a letter that has been saved, that I had forgotten about – is that possible?!  Like a love-letter from God you find, a word of encouragement to hear and remember that God knows there is hardship in this world—we grieve, we feel left out, we feel empty.  We feel powerless in our righteous indignation over a world that seems hell bent on being, well, hell bent.  But, not forever.  God’s best hopes for us will come to be.  Our trust in him will not be in vain.  We will know mercy, we will know his peace, and we will see him.  Hold onto that.  Keep the faith.  And as you do, you are already the happy ones, upon whom God’s blessings rest.

On the Feast of All Saints that we celebrate today, we remember all those happy ones, all those blessed ones who held onto their faith in God’s faithfulness to his promises.  We remember all those who have gone before us who remained dissatisfied with a world that is less than God will have it, and who reached for the virtues of the kingdom:  mercy, righteousness, and a whole-hearted love for God.  Maybe they didn’t reach those virtues in this world, but they didn’t stop reaching out to make them their own.

And we do more than just remember on this day.  Because all those happy ones who have gone before are alive to God, and so are surely alive to us too.  We are a communion, a family, a holy fellowship.  And every time we break the bread of life and drink from the cup of salvation, we are surrounded at that feast by all the saints gathered by the Great Shepherd of his flock.  It is not only the presence of Christ that is real at the Holy Eucharist, but all the faithful gathered are a real presence.  They are ours and we are theirs in him, a great cloud of witnesses gathered around the Table of Jesus.

This holy fellowship of the Spirit, this blessed Communion of Saints is like a miracle of nature we see this time of the year.  All over North America these days: the geese are heading south.  They’re traveling from as far away as the Arctic Circle to places like Florida and Louisiana, and even further south to Mexico.

Last week, I heard them coming before I saw them.  I heard them honking.  And then the honking was overlaid with the sound of rushing wind.  Finally, when they passed low overhead, you could even hear the sound of their powerful wings beating.  I always imagine their honking is goose-talk urging each other on:  keep it up, you can do it!

They are surprisingly large birds, upwards of 18 pounds.  And though the normal cruising speed is about 40 miles per hour, if alarmed, they can top out at about 60 miles an hour.  This group was low-flying, but they’ve been spotted at altitudes approaching 9,000 feet.

One of the most beautiful things about geese in flight is the way they form up into a distinctive flying-V.  Any NACAR fan knows why they do it.  The same reason cars race bumper to bumper at Talladega or Daytona.  They are drafting off each other.

The lead bird breaks up the air ahead, and the following bird tucks into a kind of vacuum and doesn’t have to battle so much air resistance and can move ahead with less effort.  But unlike racing at Talladega, geese don’t line up, they fly slightly to the side, so they all can still see forward.

The lead bird is usually a large experienced old bird.  Pretty regularly, though, the lead bird lets out a distinctive honk, and switches places with a goose further back for a rest.  The new lead bird takes a turn breaking through the air.  They are able to do this without losing speed or time. In this way, geese journey safely together, sometimes for distances as great as 4,000 miles.

It’s probably much further than that between this hell-bent world and the coming of Christ’s peaceable Kingdom.  But we travel, surrounded by a flock of saints who go before us.  The living experience of their faithfulness going before, breaking up the heavy air, and giving us lift.  The witness of their lives lifts us to see from a great height, to see the big picture.  We are not merely one small church or one shrinking denomination or even one worldwide ecumenical body.  We are surrounded by a great cloud—a mighty flock of witnesses which includes Mary and Martha and Peter and Andrew and Dietrich and Rosa and Martin and every unknown, unsung saint who ever gathered around the Table of Jesus clinging to hope.  And every one yet to come…

We are a part of such a great holy family.  One quick story like the honking of a goose in flight to encourage us on.

In November of 2021, one of the saints of this parish, Jan Betts, was in Scotland visiting her sister Elizabeth.  Jan was working on knitting a baby blanket for a new life in this parish who was soon to be baptized.  One of Elizabeth’s neighbor’s heard about this and decided she’d join in and crocheted a baptismal baby blanket for Jan to take home.  At Easter time the next year, Elizabeth was at a luncheon where she talked about these baptismal blankets knitted here at St. Mary’s.  A Presbyterian minister was at that luncheon who passed word about this to their church’s knitting group (called the Knitters and Knatters) who took up their knitting needles with a special purpose.  So that, in September, eight baptismal baby blankets arrived here, the work of a group of saints in Scotland for us to have for this morning.  The card that goes with these blankets reads:  We welcome you, precious child, as the newest member of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.  Knitted by hand and threaded with prayers of love and hope, this shawl is a gift for you.  May it bring blessings of comfort, gifts of warmth, and the knowledge that you are loved.

In just a few minutes, (at 9AM: Lucie and Jack; at 11AM: Miles and Brian   and Jimmy) will be baptized and will take their place in the flock, tucking neatly beneath the wings of the Lord Jesus whose mighty life goes before them and whose great wings of grace will pull them forward.  They will become heirs of God’s promised Kingdom.

On this day, the great Feast of All the Saints, it is not honking we hear, perhaps, but it is the cry of all the saints urging us on, whether it is ladies in Scotland or the saints in glory, reminding us that they were never alone and neither shall we be, it is the cry of their voices and the rush of the wind of the Holy Spirit that we hear crying out to us:  Keep the faith, we are with you.  Hold onto your hope in God’s promises.  Dear People, you are the blessed ones.  You are the happy ones of God.  Amen.