All Saints’ Day: The Dead

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Primary Text: The dead, our lives
Nominal Text: Matthew 22:34-46

The dead rise up out of our lives
like mist ascending off water at dawn.
Up they rise from the work of our hands and heart,
animate the travel of our feet, and
fill the corpuscles of memory.

The dead are proof that no one is self-made.

The dead are proof
that we have come this way before
and learned from the experience.

The dead are proof
we are not alone and never have been.

Ghosts, spirits, or not
they haunt and bless our lives as do the living,
yet our awareness of them thins in their absence
and so they parade invisibly
through the din of our busy-ness.

But here they are, the dead,
having had a hand in building us
one cell at a time.
There is not a single strand of DNA
or thought
or action
or value
or belief
or idea
or hope
that does not have the dead written upon it.
We are a composite of them,
and we are the living dead.

There is nothing spooky or morose
or even grievous about it.

We are an amalgam and extension
of those who came before
and simple humility begs us know it.

Often we recall how the dead wounded us
or infected us with lame ideas,
or were old fashioned
and never learned new math,
or some other thing that the dead never were.
But WE are what the dead were, and then some:
a dash of this
and a tablespoon of that,
a 1/4 teaspoon more here
and a whole piece with the skin left on it over there.
All baked by time
until it ends up as a dish like us.

So All Saints’ Day comes along
and it is thanksgiving:
thanksgiving for ALL the saints.
ALL the saints –
the ones with a capital “S”
and the billions more that were saints
with only a little “s.”

It is worth remembering
that in The Episcopal Church
the only dead we award the title of saint,
with capital “S,”
are Biblical characters.
Even the really big dead, like
Francis or
Theresa or
Julian or
Martin Luther King, Jr.,
are only small “s” saints,
just like you and I will one day be saints with a little “s.”

The dead may not be remembered equally
but all the dead are equal.
So today is thanksgiving with a small “t.”
A day we set aside to give thanks
for ALL the saints, and equally important,
to remember that we are a composite of the dead
and very little else.

We are not self-made,
we are not the masters of our own destiny,
and we are not a radically new creation.
We are the living dead
and we will go on living after we are dead,
through the living.

It’s a pretty cool system.

Another pretty cool thing is that Jesus announces
those we think of as wretched,
are blessed.

It shouldn’t be all that surprising, really.
But because we commoditize everything,
including God,
we often assume that anyone
who does not have the good stuff
and is suffering from the bad stuff
is missing out on the blessing.

To our way of thinking,
there are those who are blessed
and those who are not

as if the economy of God
operates on the principle of scarcity
instead of abundance.

Blessings are a scarce commodity
the way we talk about them.
Either you’re blessed or you’re not,
and if you are not blessed
then you are probably one of the wretched,
or at the very least, the very boring.

But the economy of God
is guided by the invisible hand of abundance
unlike our economy,
which operates on the principle of scarcity.
In God’s economy there is only blessing.

Think of the story of manna in the wilderness.
It was after Moses and the ex-slaves
escaped Pharaoh’s army,
and they end up hungry in the desert.
According to the story, there were thousands of them
and the only food they had
was what they could carry with them in a hurry.
It wasn’t long before that food ran out
and there they were in the wilderness.

So God gives them a hand.
God rains down upon the earth in the morning dew
a substance called “manna.”
And manna had special properties, very special properties – holy properties.

God tells them there is enough for everyone,
and everyone gets enough.

Then God instructs them
to take only enough for each day.
No hoarding, God says.
Of course some do try to hoard it
and they discover another property of manna:
it only lasts one day before it gets wormy and gross.

Manna is not only a sacrament in the economy of God,
it is a metaphor for how to manage abundance.

There is always enough to go around
and everyone gets enough,
and anything that really matters
can’t be collected, amassed, or hoarded.

Thinking about the Beatitudes from Matthew then, blessings cannot be something some people ‘get’
and other people lack.

We have all been blessed; we are all blessed.
No one gets more manna than anyone else
and no one gets more blessing than anyone one else –
we have ALL been blessed.

So we need to stop commoditizing God
by imagining health, success, wealth or beauty
are blessings.

If the people we think of as wretched
are actually blessed,
then blessing must not have anything to do
with getting the good stuff
or being cursed with the bad stuff.

Blessing must be something else altogether.
But what?
What is better than the good stuff?
What the heck is blessedness?

Hmmm, I think it is mysterious
and demands humility on our part
rather than certainty.
But here is one thing I do intuit about blessedness:
Blessedness is connected to stewardship.

Ooh, you probably knew that was coming
but got lulled into unguardedness.

“Stewardship” comes from the Greek word, oikonomia, which literally means, house management.
But the biblical concept
is better conveyed in the 21st century,
by the notion of an executor –
as in the person named to administer an estate.

So, we all know we are going to die
and we may need someone who survives us,
who will oversee the sharing of our treasures.

We can’t take it with us after all,
unless we have pyramid to put all our stuff in
along with our casket.

But our estate will not belong to the executor,

it will belong to our heirs
who need stuff cared for and managed
between our death and the dispersal
of all that we bequeath.

That is stewardship.

Stewardship is not about money.
If blessedness is not about
how much of the good stuff we have or don’t have,
then stewardship cannot be about
how much money we give away or not.
Stewardship is NOT about commodities.

Here is a thrifty little definition of stewardship:
caring for and nurturing
that which has been given us to share.

Let me repeat:
caring for and nurturing
that which has been given us to share.

People that do well caring for, nurturing, and sharing
that which has been given into their care…
are blessed.

There is the connection.
Those who have learned to be good stewards,
are blessed.

That is an inference from Biblical wisdom.

In other words, one way to think about the
relationship of stewardship to blessing,
is simply this:
When we are caring well
and nurturing
what is ours to share,
then our lives are truly blessed –
our life becomes a blessing in itself.
WE become a blessing.
We are blessed.

That makes sense to me.
Whatever your manna is,
it has been given to you to care for and share.
How are you doing?

If you have a lot of money, are you sharing it well?
Are you sharing enough of it?
It is not yours to hoard,
it is yours to distribute – if indeed
you have more than enough.

If you have a specific talent or skill,
are you sharing it?
Will the living give thanks when you have died
because you showed them how to live better?
Or will your survivors discover
you were hoarding wisdom, or worse,
never have an inkling that you knew something
that would have benefited them?

Are you good at encouragement?
Don’t hold back.
Is teaching your gift?
Then do it.
If you’re beautiful, be beautiful.
If you’re kind, let it shine.
We can always use more people who listen well,
so don’t stop trying.
Do you see a world of things
to which the rest of us are blind?
Then by all means, open our eyes.

The big stewardship question
is not “How much” but “What?”

Now there is a different angle on stewardship!
The big question of stewardship
is not “how much” but “what?”

What has been given into your care
for nurture in order to share?
How well are you caring for it?
How well are you sharing it?
Like manna, it is a daily question
not a once and for all kind of thing.
One day at a time,
sometimes one step at a time.
What has been given to us to care for and nurture,
and how do we share it?

Those that do it well are blessed,
which means that blessing has been given to all of us.

And now, let us open our hearts and our minds,
and the deep well of our memory,
to give thanks to the dead.
We give them thanks,
our deepest and most profound gratitude,
because they made us who we are.

And as we give thanks for them,
let us also ask God to empower us,
and make us wise
with the blessings we have been given to share.