1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
She was always there. I cannot remember ever being at St. John’s Lutheran Church without seeing her. From Sundays mornings to those times during the week when my little brother and I would tear around the fellowship hall while my dad wrote sermons in his office, she and the church in which I grew up are basically one entity in my mind. Now none of the work that she did was all that extraordinary, buying doughnuts, making coffee, cleaning up when even my father, that is the pastor, had already gone home, or organizing the food and clothing pantries, sorting through second hand goods and canned foods, hardly tasks that receive much attention. Hers was a life that one barely noticed, and I think the church basement was indeed her most natural home. I remember once, visiting her in her small trailer on the north end of town when I was a teenager. I was there with my father and for the sake of full disclosure, the whole thing made me horribly uncomfortable. I did not like the faintly sour smell of the place or what it meant that she lived alone there, her husband having died several years earlier. I just wanted to leave. And since we are telling the truth, let me say this, I don’t remember ever feeling as though she was a particularly warm or caring person, even though she always gave my siblings and me a card full of money on our birthdays. Such is the fickleness of young children. And again, because we are here telling the truth, let me make a confession. When my father told me that she died a few years back, it hardly made an impact. Sure I thought about her for a few brief moments and said a prayer of thanksgiving for her life, but that was basically it. In spite of her devotion, her incredible care for the church, she did not merit much more than a passing thought. And realizing this only makes me sad.
And today, as we gather in remembrance of all the saints who have gone before us and now wear the robes of glory, I think we would do well to think through this concept of sainthood a bit. No doubt, when we hear this word, saint, we immediately think of women and men who have lived extraordinary lives for the sake of Christ’s gospel. We think of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Dorothy Day who started the Catholic worker movement. Or perhaps our minds drift towards those early confessors and martyrs in the church whose faith in Christ cost them everything. And while there is no doubt that all of these would certainly fit the category of saint, we do ourselves a great disservice of we think only in terms of the extraordinary. For hear again these words of Jesus as he gathers his disciples: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness , blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” This reads like a laundry list of the downtrodden and the excluded, those who simply do not have enough, enough time, enough money, enough gas left in the old tank to set the world ablaze with their piety and devotion. These are the ones on the wrong side of history, those who have been left behind, whose lives are barely visible amongst the rubble of disappointment and expectations brutally rebuffed. Now what Jesus is doing here is not voicing some hopeful expectation, but rather he is creating blessing, creating sainthood in the least likely of places. For when Christ speaks, he creates. He is sainting the ordinary and the unnoticed, those whose humble lives of Christ-filled hope are real and genuine, though they may go as unvalued as a woman in a church basement. For really, who compiles stories about, who remembers the meek and the broken-hearted, the miserable and those who suffer in silence, simply hoping that tomorrow will be a bit more bearable than today? Who names and remembers the anonymous? Who would dare to call these saints?
Well, the answer to that question, is as simple as it is radical. For the answer to who remembers, who cares for the poor and the unnoticed, for the ordinary as well as the heroes of our collective histories, is the same as the one who has made them saints to begin with. For it is Christ who remembers and cares for all, including the unnoticed and the ordinary, and because of Him, their memory, their presence, is inscribed into our gathering, for he bears them to us. It is Christ who gathered the poor and the lonely, the desperate and the fearful, yes, who brought all these to himself and gave them the blessing of the Most High. Yes, it is Christ who takes us, and takes what we may believe to be too ordinary, too mundane, and makes of them lives of sainthood. It is in the gentleness of Christ, in the love that he has extended to us all, in his deep yearning that all would come home to the Father, yes, it is only in this comprehension of Christ’s love and care that human sainthood can begin to make any sense. Indeed, before sainthood is anything else, it is the faith that clings to Christ in his goodness, the faith that recognize his presence in the small undignified moments that together make up this life. Sainthood is the recognition that we are loved and remembered by Christ, not just in moments of incredible strength, but most especially in moments of weakness, fear and pain, in moments when our poverty of spirit threatens to overwhelm us. Sainthood is the sure knowledge that though our lives are awash in the ordinary, they are also the place where Christ is active, calling us to himself and to those mundane needs of our neighbors.
And that, that changes everything. For sainthood means not storming heaven with our own self-created goodness, but staying here, staying in the church basement, staying here in the complexity and ordinariness of life, for that is where Christ and our neighbors are. It means that you have been sainted in your baptism, and that you are being made pure by the hope of ceaseless glory that awaits you. It means that any act of love, no matter how small or how hidden from the world’s gaze, is indeed the act of a saint. Yes, the saintly act of caring for a grandchild or a lonely student, the saintly act of giving a meal to the hungry or welcome to the stranger, or an act of unacknowledged generosity, the saintly act of inviting someone into the grace of Jesus Christ, the saintly act of loving without expectation or agenda. And you, you are these saints, for you have been purified by what poet Emily Dickinson called that thing with feathers, hope. And your hope is certain, for when Christ Jesus is revealed in the fullness of his love, a love that spans eternity and yet grips even the smallest of moments, you too will become what you already are: saints of the Most High, beloved of Christ Jesus. And oh that woman, her name was Dorothy Hill, and she now basks in the eternal splendor of the Father. In Jesus’ name, amen.