by Bill Carroll
Part 2: The Sunday After All Saints’ Day (November 6, 2011)
The lessons appointed are here
When he was here with us last Sunday for a workshop, Donald Schell alluded to something controversial that our Presiding Bishop said a couple of years ago As often happens, her words were taken by detractors and used out of context. It caused quite a stir at the time.
And, as I was thinking about today’s sermon for All Saints’ Day, I decided to look up her remarks and see what she actually said. I found that they were part of her opening address to the 2009 General Convention. The theme of that convention was Ubuntu, an ideal present in many African cultures, perhaps made famous by Desmond Tutu and other heroes of the struggle for liberation in South Africa. Ubuntu means that “I am, only because you are.” For the Ubuntu philosophy, the community is always prior to the individual.
And I think that’s what got our Presiding Bishop into trouble. Because in that sermon to the General Convention, she spoke about “the great Western heresy, namely “that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.”
And she spoke with great passion about the implications of that heresy, which we see all around us. Implications for how we care for the earth and how we care for one another in a global economy rife with greed and violence and injustice. As we put ourselves and our desires at the center of the universe, without regard for our neighbors, the common good, or the purposes of God, we become guilty, she said, of a form of idolatry. We turn in on ourselves, so that our desires and our wants become our gods–the only objects of our worship, the things before which we would sacrifice all other values and persons.
It is a grim picture, one that points to an even grimmer reality. We see it all around us. We see it in lengthening breadlines, in overwhelming unemployment and foreclosures, in stagnant wages, and in desperate, hopeless people. We see it today in Europe, with the debt crisis giving way to general strikes and rioting in the streets. And we see it in a groaning creation stretched to the point of breaking by human overreach. We see it in growing cynicism that anything we can do will change the future or make a better life for our children.
Now, I’m here to tell you that our Presiding Bishop was right. On this All Saints’ Day, I am here to tell you that we are saved together–or not at all. When God calls someone, God always calls that person into a community. And, in the Bible, again and again, God is calling all of us into a universal community. Not just the privileged few. Not some. Not even the 99% that we’ve been hearing so much about. But ALL of us. Because all of us are made for community with one another, and we are redeemed as a People—set free by the living God.
And so today, as we celebrate the communion of saints—that great cloud of witnesses, living and dead, bound together in Christ. Today, as we celebrate those whose rest is won as well as those who still labor and struggle here on earth. Today, we are given hope, because we hear in the Scriptures that the final chapter of the human story has not yet been written. In the words of John the Apostle, it does not yet appear what we shall be. And so, we wait in hope for God’s future–with a militant patience. And we know that when Jesus is revealed in his glory, we will be like him. For we shall see him as he is. And each one of us, each in his or her own unique way, will be like him. Indeed, we are already on the way. For we have drawn near to Jesus in faith, and by his Spirit at work among us we are being made holy.
Brothers and sisters, the image of God into which we are reborn is SOCIAL. Like the Trinity, the communion of saints is one without destroying personal differences. In Christ, we are joined each to each in a community of equals, without ever becoming the same.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus points out some of the great obstacles to the unity of the human race. In the blessings he gives us, these obstacles are removed, one by one, as the poor, the merciful, the hungry, and the peacemakers find themselves sharing in God’s abundance.
As a result, we don’t have to live out of scarcity in a kind of Hobbesian war of all against all. Rather, we are brought to eternal peace by the blood of the Lamb. And we are caught up in a cosmic symphony of praise by a love that breaks down every wall that divides us from our neighbors. And so, with John we behold a great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
They are here with us now—these holy ones. They are present at God’s Table, praying, singing praises, and giving thanks to God and to the Lamb. And neither poverty nor war nor death itself can stand before this victorious band of apostles, prophets, and martyrs. For, in them, Jesus and his love have triumphed. In us, they are about to triumph. He is our Shepherd, who brings us to the springs of the water of life. Who shelters us and feeds us with his own Body and Blood.
And we have been made into a community of brothers and sisters, children and heirs of his generous Father.
We are members of a single Body, a single blessed fellowship divine, with Christ himself as our Head.