Message for All Saints, Year C (11/6/2022)
We’re so familiar with the gospel story that we’re likely to take for granted that Jesus is an itinerant teacher, traveling from place to place in Galilee, Judea, and even Gentile territory, and finally making his fateful trek to Jerusalem. He could have just as easily settled in one place and founded a center for learning and healing, as many spiritual leaders do. Nazareth would have been a fine spot, or, better yet, Capernaum by the sea.
Think of the advantages. By locating his ministry at a particular site, he could have established a reliable reference point for seekers and a home base for disciples. He could have promoted the reign of God on his own turf, far removed from his powerful detractors. He could have set up his own competing religious hub. But, of course, he didn’t do any of that. Instead, Jesus called students to follow him wherever he went – and even to the cross – then to set out again with resurrection hope, from Palestine to the ends of the Earth.
I think it’s important to keep that fact in mind on All Saints Sunday. We may tend to think of the church as a place – a beloved gathering place, yes, but a place nonetheless. It follows that the saints are those who find themselves at church. Your church is there, mine is here, but essentially sainthood means joining that assembly we call church, wherever it may be situated.
Consider how different that is than the first assembly of Jesus’ disciples. No sooner had he drawn people to him than he took off again. If they wanted to know what he was up to, they had no choice but to be mobile, quite literally following him on the path he trod. It’s no coincidence that the earliest generations of Jesus followers were called “people of the Way.” They eventually settled in communities, of course, and established gathering places, but for centuries they understood the faith not as a system of belief, but rather a spiritual path. For them, Christianity was the way of faith in spite of uncertainty, the way of hope in spite of hopelessness, the way of love in spite of fear.
Joining the people of the Way was a journey in itself. “In many cases, and unlike contemporary practice,” writes Father Richard Rohr, “the process of becoming a Christian took several years, an extended time of teaching spiritual inquirers the way on which they were embarking. Christianity was considered a deliberate choice with serious consequences, a process of spiritual formation and discipline that took time, a way of life that had to be learned in community.”
That sounds more like Confirmation these days, doesn’t it? In any case, the purpose is the same: to set out on a journey of discovery and discernment, to become more fully the person God has made you to be, and to be found always among your fellow travelers. In fact, that’s a good description of the life of faith at every stage. In the end, the church is not a place at all, but a movement; sainthood is not a static fellowship, but a pathway, a pilgrimage, a long and winding road that we take together.
Sometimes, being found among the people of the Way feels like a celebration, like joining a parade. I hope today is one of those days for you, Isabelle, Emma, and Hannah. Even as you stand up this morning and affirm your baptismal promises, even as you make a commitment to continue along the way, we’ll bless you and cheer for you and take pictures with you and eat cake with you. It’s a joy to watch you take this step on your journey.
But sometimes, the way of Jesus feels like a slog, a struggle to put one foot in front of the other. He never promised that the path would steer clear of trouble, only that he would travel it with you. “Blessed are you who are poor,” he turns and tells his followers in our Gospel from Luke today, “for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” To be Christian does not mean to be #blessed, that is, to live a charmed and carefree life, at least on social media. On the contrary, the way of Jesus contends with the hardest questions about the world and your place in it; it brings you face to face with injustice and hunger and grief, demanding that you bear the burdens of others, and share your burdens, too. The path will not always be clear, and there will be times when hope is hard to come by, and you’ll want to give up.
Nevertheless, the promise is that the way will ultimately lead “toward redemption,” to borrow Paul’s phrase in our second reading from Ephesians. In baptism, you were “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit,” the mark of belonging as a beloved child of God. It’s an “inheritance,” an assurance that will go with you throughout your journey, no matter the peaks and valleys, and even through the valley of the shadow of death. The psalmist’s famous song rings as true today as it ever has: Lord, “you guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.” Come what may, “you are with me,” so I need not fear. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
Someday, friends, the way will come to an end in God’s radiant presence, and in the presence of all the saints of every time and place. And, when the saints go marching in, I want to be in that number, don’t you? Until then, let me invite you to heed the advice of one pilgrim, whose path has led him to at least a little wisdom: “Take the time and care to let the [way] reveal itself, respect the pace, and have one ear attuned to the elements, another to the groans of your body. [And, above all,] listen,” listen for the voice of the one who beckons you onward.
 “People of the Way,” cac.org/daily-meditations/people-of-the-way-2019-01-21/.
 Psalm 23, Evangelical Lutheran Worship translation.
 Timothy Egan, A Pilgrimage to Eternity, 254.
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