For several years I worked as the Christian education teacher at an Episcopal day school. I went into work early on Fridays to set up for the all-school eucharist. Having to come so early meant I came in without my kids in tow. So, for 10-15 minutes every Friday morning it was quiet in my car, and I was able to actually listen to the radio. My timing meant that I managed to hear StoryCorps on NPR, a brief segment with just two people talking to one another. This was a huge highlight of my week.
StoryCorps began in 2003 with a sound booth set up in Grand Central Terminal in New York City for people to tell their stories to each other. The mission of StoryCorps is to help us believe in each other by illuminating the humanity and possibility in us all — one story at a time. This sounds to me an awful lot like part of what we do here every Sunday.
Each Friday morning, I listened to two people. One asking questions of the other about a particular event or situation. The daughter interviewing her father who knew he was slipping into dementia. The student asking his teacher just what she had seen in him and how she had managed to help him get into college. The grandmother recounting to her grandchild what life was like in the Jim Crow South.
Every Friday morning this beautiful slice of humanity was laid out for me in the quiet of my car, by people who I would never cross paths with. But their stories of love and loss, regret and redemption, humor and solace forged some kind of connection. Most Fridays by the time I pulled into the parking lot at school I had already tested the limits of my waterproof mascara and my heart had been broken open.
Today we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday — the day we remember the saints and all those who have gone before us. It is the most human of our holy days when we recall those who have left their imprints on us, who have left imprints of God’s love on this world. It is a day that we hold up for each other the wonders of people whose lives have been a blessing, one story at a time. It is also a day that reminds me why I wear waterproof mascara and it most certainly breaks my heart wide open.
“God gets stuff done through flawed human beings,” pastor Nadia Bolz Weber says. The saints we celebrate today, the famous ones who have done good deeds of great note and the ones known to us only in the most tender places in our hearts, are just people, not perfect people, not perfect stories. Just people through whom God gets good stuff done. And if ever there was a time to hold up for each other the work that God can get done through people it is right now. Today.
Lines drawn. Boxes checked. Guns pointed. Bombs dropped. Human beings being summarized into categories and columns and charts. It seems to me that the stories we are hearing about other humans rarely begin with what we share, but rather how very far apart we are from one another.
This story of separation we are immersed in makes it fearfully easy to forget what the lives of the saints teach us. That God gets stuff done through flawed human beings. Not perfect people. Not the people who seem to have it all together. Not the people with the best teeth or the best ad buy. Not the people whose authority rests in powers and principalities. Not the people at the front of the line. Not necessarily the people we agree with.
Although we may be drawn into thinking that power, influence, riches, and perfection are the means to glory, Jesus teaches us something very different today as he begins teaching the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins his teachings not by telling anyone what they are doing wrong, but by proclaiming their blessedness. Blessings in places where we humans might least expect to find them. These blessings for the poor and hungry and persecuted people standing in the crowds as Jesus spoke these words were not just for that day. These blessings are for today. We are not so very different here now than the original hearers of the Sermon on the Mount were. We are flawed humans. They were, too. People through whom God can get good things done.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those at the end of their rope. At the end of their bank account. At the end of the last loaf of bread. God is there with you.
Blessed are those in deep grief. Those who feel that all is lost because what is most dear is gone. God will hold them.
Blessed are the meek, the ones who know that their worth lies in their belovedness to God and nothing more. They inherit the earth because they know their place in it.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, those who want to see God’s mercy and love poured out into this world. They will find themselves full as they empty their lives out for others in the name of God.
Blessed are the merciful because in extending mercy and forgiveness they find themselves forgiven and connected and whole.
Blessed are the pure in heart, who know it is not perfection that God seeks, but only that God is the dearest treasure. And to treasure God like that brings clarity.
Blessed are the peacemakers, the crazy ones who insist that there is a different way to live, a way that respects the dignity of every human being. They know their place in the family of God.
Blessed are the ones persecuted because of their courageous love for God. God holds them fast even as they are harmed while proclaiming LOVE.
Blessed are you when you stay true to God, refusing to let your worth or anyone else’s be defined by anything other than the LOVE OF GOD. That might make people uncomfortable. Let them be. Because in heaven there is a great cloud of witnesses who have done exactly that, singing your praises. Jesus is revealing the character of God. He is showing us how surprising and accessible God’s blessings are.
The saints are people, some rich, some poor, some with power, many without it. People who led mostly straight and narrow lives and people who had some major detours. But each of the saints in different ways has been able to live a life that reflects and responds to these blessings for others and for themselves.
This day is as holy a day as was the day Jesus taught the Beatitudes. This ground under our feet, it is no less holy than the ground that was under those listening to the Sermon on the Mount. No less holy than the ground that the saints before us have stood upon. The water that will be poured over the heads of those baptized today, as holy as the Jordan River. God has not withdrawn from us. God has not stopped blessing the poor and the meek and the humble. God has not given up on us. God is in our very midst. The saints are not only people who lived in ages past, long ago heroes whose likes will never be seen again. There are saints here today, showing up and getting good stuff done for God.
What are the stories of the saints that you want Weston, Hattie, Harper, Molly, and Fritz to know? How might God ask us to show up for these children, for all our children? So that, like the saints before us, our lives of faith may be a blessing to them?
StoryCorps is the single largest collection of human voices ever gathered. Amazing. It is the largest collection of human voices recorded. But I believe today as we come at this font and to this table, a far larger collection of human voices gathers, voices more numerous than the stars, all of the saints, all of the company of heaven, with us now in this place at this time. Each one witnessing to us, witnessing with us that God’s blessings abound. Voices reminding us that we too are a part of this story. On this most human of holy days may we know the blessings of God and find the strength and courage and love to show up to be the saints we are called to be. Amen.