Pr. Michelle Sevig
November 2/3, 2019
Saints Who Struggle
When I first started out as a young pastor in South Dakota I was the youth pastor for First Lutheran Church, which meant going on lots of youth trips—sleep away camp, backpacking, horseback riding and lock-ins. You know…all the things I love.
There was one guy in the youth group who was…let’s say a stinker. He’s the one who was often causing trouble. Telling jokes he shouldn’t have told in church, farting on purpose in the back seat of the van on a long trip, not listening or participating in discussions. You know the type. Maybe you were (or are) that type.
Anyway, even though he was often a pain, we all still loved him. And the whole town grieved deeply and wept uncontrollably when we learned he had died in a car crash one evening after a fight with his mother. It was absolutely the most traumatic funeral I have ever done. The teenagers stood by his grave for hours weeping and hugging until finally the parents had to tug them back to the safety and security of their own homes.
About a month after the funeral I was at Bible camp with a younger group of kids; where this guy’s best friend, Jeff, was one of the counselors. I’d taught them both in confirmation class and been with them both just the previous summer on a backpacking trip to the Boundary Waters. These two were inseparable.
As Jeff and I talked about his grief, the fond memories and the deep pain he was bearing, I told Jeff that his friend was a saint…surrounded by a great cloud of saints who are now with God. Jeff shook his head and simply could not believe that I, of all people, was calling Scott a saint. He was such a terror!
I explained that in baptism God makes all of us holy people who belong to God. Jeff looked at me with disbelief, shook his head and smiled, “I never really thought of Scott as a saint before. That’s nice.”
I’ll never forget that conversation with Scott’s grieving friend. It was a holy moment, made more extraordinary by the presence of God’s spirit and God’s voice speaking through me to bless someone who was struggling and in pain.
Often, I’m just like Jeff, and don’t think of my friends or the person sitting next to me in the pew as a saint. It’s especially difficult when the person is not very “saintly” in the traditional sense. We’re more likely to describe as a saint someone who does good deeds, goes above and beyond to help others and is a blessing to those in need.
Yet, on this feast of All Saints we recognize the gifts of all the faithful, not just the ones whose image is revealed on an icon or who have their own feast days. We gather this day to give thanks to God for the saints of every time and place, both living and departed. We bring photos and light candles to remember especially those we love who now live in the nearer presence of God. We sing, “For all the saints who from their labors rest.” We join the sacred names of our own beloved dead with saints of every time and place, and we too are gathered, healed, and re-membered (put back together) into God’s loving relationship with all creation, past, present, and yet to come.
Today as I pray and give thanks for the saints of God, I’m praying for all of you, the holy ones among us now. You, who are not robed in royal clothes or wearing a glowing halo. You who are struggling to find hope and healing. You who can name your blessings easily and you who can more easily list your woes. You are the holy and beloved ones of God.
And believe me, I know, it doesn’t always feel like a “saintly” life. There is struggle. Martin Luther, in the middle of his reforms said that where there is faith, there is always struggle. And for this struggling saint, that’s good news. Doubt, feeling overwhelmed, wondering if God is out there are the marks of every saint, including my friend Scott from youth group. When we feel our most low, and wonder if we’ve lost our faith, God names us as the most faithful. Blessed are those who struggle.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus declares a blessing that was not only for those who were listening at the time, but for us as well. Jesus blesses all kinds of people, especially those who we don’t normally think of as blessed: the poor, the hungry, those who weep. While the world may give them little regard, Jesus calls them blessed—blessed now, not that one day they will be blessed. Because God’s blessing isn’t like a flu shot. Blessing isn’t an immunization that keeps us from pain or loss, and it’s not a guarantee of safe passage through this life. Rather, it’s a sense of fullness, contentment, joy in the presence of God.
This morning, surrounded by photos of our dearly departed who were also blessed in this life, we remember that God sees us. The Holy One knows the losses and struggles that weigh us down. The depression and addiction. The exhaustion from caring for others. The disappointments at home, work or school. The worry about a loved one who is ill or preparing to die. God sees us and honors us. God blesses us and accompanies us.
Together with all the saints of every time and every place we come together at this table to share in a feast that knows no boundaries of time and space. Gathered with us in memory and feasting in the presence of God are angels and archangels. My mom and Julie’s dad, our children’s grandparents. Elvina, Judy, Claire, Joyce and Jim beloved members of Holy Trinity. Scott and Jeff, inseparable still. And your beloved holy ones too. All of them. All of us. Saints—claimed by God’s loving embrace and promise, to never let us go.