Monday, October 31, 2016

Now and Later

It's Halloween. It's Reformation Day, too, but that isn't an official liturgical observance in the Episcopal Church. Next year, on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther publishing his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, I'll probably write on it anyway, but, today, I want to write about the Halloween candy that perfectly expresses the theology of sainthood that the Episcopal Church has never seemed to figure out: Now and Laters.

Image by Evan-Amos - Own work, Public Domain,

Who are saints? Saints are God's holy ones--those who, through faith in God, are made holy by God. They are anyone and everyone who shares in the promise of new and abundant life in Jesus Christ. That's you. That's me. That's all of us who follow Jesus as forgiven, redeemed, transformed children of God. And among us are those who, by the grace of God, live in this life with such a clear connection to and confidence in God's promise that their witness strengthens our faith in that same promise.

These saints of note aren't any different from us in their holiness. Just like us, their holiness (i.e. "sainthood") is a gift from God. In their case, however, the church has taken notice of their witness and has decided to hold it up as an example of the power of faith to bring God's kingdom forward into this world more fully. Is your grandmother a saint? Actually, yes, if she is a disciple of Jesus, she is a saint, too. Should we remember her in our liturgical calendar? Well, maybe, if her distinctive witness draws the whole church closer to God. But, whether these saints are known only to God or known also to their immediate families or congregations or, in rare cases, known throughout the world as the holy people of God, as followers of Jesus their lives must embody the "now and later" mindset of God's kingdom. In that regard, all of us are called to sainthood.

On All Saints' Day (November 1) or All Saints' Day Obsv. (November 6), we will hear Luke's version of the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-13): "...Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled...Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry." Unlike Matthew, Luke adds these woes to his list of blessings. I think the same is implied in Matthew's version, but Luke draws that point out more clearly. Those who suffer in this life will be redeemed in the next, and those who enjoy plenty in this life will have naught in the next. Don't get too hung up on the temporal, physical, measurable nature of that proclamation. It's that, too, but start with the big picture. Ask yourself, "Do I believe that this is it, or do I believe that there is more ahead of us?" Those who have no faith that God's justice will come have no need to live for the future. Whether you suffer immensely or enjoy riches in this life, that's all there is. But those who have faith that God will bring all things to their completion--their perfect end--know that today's suffering or blessing is not the end. There's more.

Saints are those whose belief in God's future is real--real enough to know that that belief has implications in this life. Am I suffering now? Even if I am, I am still blessed because I believe that God will redeem me. Faith in God changes how we experience that suffering. It redeems it. Am I rich in this life? If so, I must share those riches with those who suffer because I know that I am a part of God's redemption. That's God's call for all of us. If we are followers of Jesus, we believe that our hope is not in this life, but, because we believe that God has a different future in store for us, we also believe that we are called to live and work as agents of that future while we are in the present. Our experience of the kingdom, therefore, is now and later.

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