Sara preached this sermon on All Saints Sunday. Our worship opened with the community praying and singing the Litany of All the Saints.
Almighty God…give us grace to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living.
I love this feast day. (Yawn. She says that every year, about so many feast days.) But it’s true. I was officially welcomed into the first church I joined in Portland on this day in 1986. I love the saints, the great cloud of witnesses. Questions about saints are among the most common I get from people new to the Episcopal Church, and I love to answer those questions. And I’ve done many baptisms on All Saints Day, all of which come with special memories.
All Saints is one of four baptismal feasts in the Church year. Now, I always ask this and I’m going to ask One Last Time: who can name the other three baptismal feasts in the Church year?
As I said to a group of parents and godparents two weeks ago, baptism is a sacrament of vocation, it is a sacrament of identity, and it is a sacrament of belonging. It is a sacrament of vocation in that it is like ordination for all Christians. When our previous bishop, Bishop Itty, was ordained in 2003, the preacher (former presiding bishop Edmond Browning) talked about what a grand event it was, the Episcopal Church at its ceremonial best, and how it was going to be in all the papers the next day, and he was right. Then he reminded us that really, we should make an equally huge deal with every baptism. Baptism is the sacrament of our vocation, our calling to be followers of Jesus.
But…enough about baptism! I know you’re all waiting to learn who the Saint of the Year is. Lindsay, may I have the envelope please…..? [Drumroll]
This year’s Saint of the Year is….every single one of you!
- The 2009 Vestry who took a huge risk and said sure, we’ll spend all our savings and we’ll let you try any crazy stuff you want. You’re the saints who stand here beside me, beside us.
- Those of you who came last week or this week for the very first time, when walking through the doors of an unfamiliar church can be a daunting task. We hope you’ll stand here beside us.
- The children being baptized on this day: Marion, Lucia, Matilda, Theo, Clara, Jane, and Eleanor. Stand here beside us.
- Their parents and godparents who stand with them and behind them. Stand here beside us.
- All the people who have shown up week after week for a whole month or a year or a decade or half a century to pray and share blessed and broken bread, stand here beside us.
- All of you who make all of this possible by offering your time and your treasure, you who have filled out pledge cards already and you who will fill out pledge cards this morning, stand here beside us.
- The altar guild, ushers, readers, Eucharistic ministers, prayer-sayers, Coffee-makers, bread bakers, clay shapers, tambourine shakers, and all those whose presence and work is part of our worship each Sunday, stand here beside us.
- The choir and musicians and our astoundingly talented leader, Ben, stand here beside us.
- The piano students, artists, music teachers, therapists, dancers, stilt-walkers, preschoolers, fiddlers, pickers, yoga practitioners, saxophonists and cellists who grace our building with their presence, stand here beside us.
- Those who teach Sunday school and those who learn, those who help out and those who hang out, nursery moms, dads, kids, and staff, stand here beside us.
- Jumble-sale planners, pricers, writers, drivers, sorters, buyers, sellers, bakers, takers, sign-makers, and miracle-makers, stand here beside us.
- Money-counters, check-writers, bill-payers, room-schedulers, building cleaners, leaf-rakers, weed-pullers, kitchen towel-washers, and fridge-cleaners, stand here beside us.
These—including all the ones I’ve forgotten—are the saints-with-a-small-s who may or may not ever be remembered for what they’ve done but they will always stand here beside us. Every community is built—continually building—upon the great cloud of witnesses, the royal priesthood of which each one of us is a part.
Baptism, as I said earlier, is a sacrament of belonging. Think about “Stand here beside us” as both a prayer of belonging and an invitation to belonging. Standing beside one another is how we belong. On this holy day, we promise to stand beside Eleanor, Jane, Clara, Theo, Matilda, and Marion as they grow into their Christian identity and vocation.
When Amy and I first talked about Jane’s baptism I asked whom she and Sarah had chosen as godparents. Amy said: “we don’t want godparents because we think of the whole community of St. David’s as Jane’s godparents.” I invite all of you to think of yourselves as godparents, to these children and to one another. Stand here beside us.
Baptism is a sacrament of identity. Baptism is how we become Christian. Christians have had a bad name for the last forty years or so. Some might argue we’ve had a bad name since the Crusades. I’ve always refused to cede the C-word to Christians who don’t speak for me in the press or in the public square. I am a follower of Jesus as much as anyone else. And so are you. Here’s an exercise. It’s going to make some of you squirm, I promise. Turn to the person sitting next to you, or in front of you, or behind you, and practice saying “I am a Christian.” And then turn to the person on the other side of you and say it. When someone says it to you, say “Hey, so am I!” or “me, too!” Just do it. We won’t tell. (I do know that a handful of you are Jewish or Buddhist, and that’s okay, too. Here’s your chance to claim that out loud.) Okay…now go.
So how do you live out your identity as a person of faith and a follower of Jesus? When we celebrate baptism, we celebrate a sacrament of vocation. As I hope my local All Saints Litany shows, our vocations as followers of Jesus differ from person to person. The bones of this calling are spelled out in our baptismal covenant, the covenant we will affirm together in a moment. As we renew our baptismal covenant, think about what flesh you will put on those bones. How will you stand beside us as one of the saints of God?