All Saints' Sunday
In the name of God who made love, Christ who is the way of love, and the Spirit who is the power of love. Amen.
Recently, in our home, we’ve been seeing a lot of Sally Field. It started with our latest “binge” series, Brothers & Sisters – the evening drama, bordering on soap opera, that was on ABC several years ago, in which Sally Field played the mother to all these brothers and sisters. But also, last Sunday afternoon, scrounging around for something to have on TV that didn’t require too much attention, we landed on Steel Magnolias – another Sally Field staple.
I love watching Sally Field in these dramatic roles because sooner or later, you’ll get one of those classic scenes of her feeling all of her feelings right out in the open. She’ll go into some emotional tirade that will traverse laughter, tears, rage, contrition, and whatever other emotional response she can conjure at the moment in the span of just a few breaths. I often think of how draining that must be for her as an actor because you can see that she pours her whole self into it. It’s not like some other actors where the story pulls you along – when Sally Field is in these intense scenes, she is pulling you. It feels real.
And part of why it feels so real is because we’ve all experienced those times. Those times when the power of our emotions took control and we could no longer mask ourselves with social standards of politeness, or strivings for beauty, or illusions of power and control, or whatever else we may often hide behind to seem “together”. The emotions become raw and exist not as a part of some broader scheme, but solely for themselves.
That’s how I imagine the love of God. It’s love that pours out, not like from a pitcher into a crystal glass, but like from a broken dam. It’s love that pours out recklessly - wildly. It’s love that tears down whatever stands in its way because the way of love is more powerful and more important.
Love like that isn’t for show. It’s not a part of some broader scheme. It exists solely for its own sake. It doesn’t pour out with the expectation that the dam will be refilled – it simply pours out because it has to pour out. The truest expressions of love grow when love is offered without obligation or expectation. It’s offered because – well, what else would it do? It just has to be.
In that way, love is at once both the most selfish and the most selfless thing that can be. It’s selfish, because it exists only for itself – it exists because it has to, not because anything or anyone bought it or sold it, but because it grew. But it’s selfless, because it’s desperately needed and can’t be “repaid”.
Today, as we remember the both the saints of the church and the saints of our own communities, each of them is remembered because they had and gave some measure of that kind of love. They didn’t love as a part of a transaction, they loved because they loved. And we loved them back – not because we were obligated to, but because we did.
That’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about in his sermon that we read from today. Love from God not given because we’ve earned it, but because God gives it. And hoarding the good things in this life will not buy us some favored position. In the end, we all are God’s beloveds – not because of our jockeying, but because of God’s grace.
Throughout the story of human history, people have longed to try to take on the nature of the gods, as they understood them. From ancient Greece, even into our own tradition of eating from the forbidden tree of knowledge. People have been trying to be like their understandings of God – but not always in the most honorable ways. Longing for power, prominence, security, longevity…
Even today, our cultural gods are wealthy and powerful. The ones our culture worships are the ones who work in the skies – high atop skyscrapers, or in the highest levels of government, or the most elite realms of entertainment. They are the ones who have opportunities and advantages far beyond our wildest dreams. We lift them up like ideals and build our lives around striving to be like them – striving to hold some version of their power and advantage as our own.
But being like the one true God – not the gods of our culture, but the God who created the heavens and the earth and who is creating us still – being like that God is actually something that’s reasonably attainable.
We become like that God when we create something new. We become like that God when we live graciously – allowing for humanity in ourselves and in others. But most of all, we become like that God when we love.
The saints of the ages live on because they were like God in those ways. They created something new. They lived as embodiments of grace. Most of all, they lived as vessels of love.
The commemorations of All Saints and All Souls are certainly about remembering the people who have gone before and shown us the way. They are certainly about remembering the love they shared and the love they inspired. But just as much, these commemorations are about remembering ourselves – remembering the path of love that we’ve been called to live, just as much as they were. It’s about remembering where we came from and remembering the responsibility we share as the saints of the future for whomever it may be that is coming up behind us now.
Most of all its about reminding us to love. Not because we owe it to anyone. Not so we can catch a glimpse of what it’s like to be God. But because it is who we are and who we were made to be – uncontrollable, uncontainable, embarrassing vessels of love. In other words, “the image of God.” Amen.