Halloween costume —Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Inside that monster
there is a lovely child.
You know that.
Inside every monster
is an adorable child.
Do you know that?
Beneath this suit, that nice outfit,
beneath that street-soiled mess,
is a precious child.
The costumes run deep, of course,
and become convincing.
But you know better, right?
You’ve learned to ignore them, right?
When do you take yours off?
Just be lovely?
In this ribboned world,
its feathers and fabrics
and patchwork humanity,
everything you see
is the costume
of the Lovely One.
—October 31, 2017
This week, about 350 children came to our door — we had zombies and astronauts and various critters and ghosts and ninjas and superheroes and Jason from Friday the 13th and witches and fairies and soldiers and disney characters of all kinds. And underneath every costume was a child… whether a teenager or a toddler…a beautiful child. Wondrous. Gifted. Full of possibilities and promise….but also an imperfect and struggling child, with their own hurts and their own darkness and their own fears. A child of God…a lovely one…a saint — but also a sinner.
This Sunday, we honor the saints. Traditionally, the church honored THE saints…you know, St. Matthew, St. Paul, the virgin Mary, St. Ann, St. Theresa, St. Francis, St. Augustine… the 810 or so people who the Roman Catholic church has declared to be the ones “closest” to God, most like God, and those we could pray to so they could advocate on our behalf. But one of the changes that came with the Reformation was Luther’s deep conviction that we were all Saints..but we were all Sinners, too. Luther did not believe that the traditional “saints” of the church were any more holy that the “saints” who plowed the fields and tended homes and children. In truth, he knew that the stories of the “saints” often revealed deep darkness and struggles..just like our own stories. Only recently, that was brought home to us all when the personal journals of Mother Theresa came to light. She was a woman who was clearly a saint — who gave her life to caring for those who had no one — the sick and dying homeless on the streets of Calcutta. But she was also a very real woman who struggled with depression and anger and doubt and resentment. She was a saint…but, just like the rest of us, she was also a sinner. To be human is to be both.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a pastor who came to the church as an adult. And one of her “aha” moments of faith came when she went to class to learn more about the Lutheran faith and the pastor talked about how we are all simultaneously sinner and saint…100% of both …all at the same time. She said it was the first time she heard someone finally explain to her how it was that she could have an enormous capacity for destruction..of herself and others…but also have an enormous capacity for kindness too. Finally, someone named what she knew to be true about herself. And isn’t that what we know to be true about ourselves, as well? About our neighbors? The baffling complexity that is our own heart? We do not do the good we want to do and we do the evil things we do not want to do. That’s how Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans. And Paul is a “saint”, right?
But In Paul’s letters…the “saints” are simply the members of every church — imperfect, petty, and divisive by Paul’s own accounts….but yet, beloved and beautiful children of God. Friends, these are the “saints” we remember today. The “Saints” we honor. The “saints” we give thanks for…who touched our lives…who loved us and whom we loved. The beautiful and broken people who brought light into our world.
One of my favorite stories is of a little girl who was asked what a saint was. She was quick to answer …’they’re the ones the light shows through”. You see, she went to a church with magnificent stained glass windows, depicting some of the traditional “saints”. But her answer was more right than she knew. Saints are the people that bring light into our darkness. But they come in the most improbable forms at times. They are the ones who show up at our door in wild costumes on October 31st. But they are also the ones who wear various “costumes” every day — the suit, the nice outfit, the street soiled mess. There was an article in the paper last week about 3 homeless folks in Spokane who were hit by a car as they huddled together next to a building. Two were killed. In the paper, the survivor and the families and friends of the other two shared their stories. They were stories of deeply broken people, of addicts…but they were also stories of people who welcomed cold strangers under their blanket, and who brought smiles and kindness to the streets they walked. These are the saints who the light shows through.
You’ve probably heard the saying that… it is because we are broken, the light is able to shine through. I think there is a deep truth in it. I don’t know about you…but “perfect” people make me uncomfortable…or people, I should say, that want others to think they are “perfect”…who give the impression that everything is smooth sailing. I much prefer to be around people with bumps and rough edges…people who know something about darkness …people who know how deep their own capacity for destruction is…of themselves and others. Because they don’t expect perfection in others. They accept me just as I am. I find it’s the people who know they need grace…that understand it best and give it to others most freely. Perhaps that’s why Jesus’ list of the “blessed” ones we read this morning is so odd. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who know they will never be righteous but want to be… blessed are those who are suffering, who are hated, who long for peace”. They don’t sound “blessed” to our ears. But yet, it is our need…our longing…our emptiness…that makes room for God’s grace. It is indeed our very broken places that God’s grace shines through.
Yes, these are the saints of God. The, are the ones who are muddling through this great ordeal of life, all of them….all of US….scarred and broken… yet beautiful and beloved…the ones the light shows through..
This morning, we light candles in memory of those whose light shone in our lives…the saints who we have known and loved who have died. We aren’t lighting them in honor of perfect people…but people with bumps and rough edges…who brought a glimpse of grace into our lives.
And we light them, trusting in the light of God, which NO darkness can overcome. Not even death. We light them, trusting in the glimmer of God’s light that shines within every person..no matter what monsters may appear, at times.
Yes, we light candles this morning, trusting in the light of God ..and claiming together the promise that these “saints” are now in a place where they will hunger no more and thirst no more…where God will wipe away every tear from their eye, and where they will truly and fully know that they are blest of God.
We light our candles this morning for those we have loved, and trust the light of God that still shines in this world…through saints and sinners all around us. Through all God’s lovely ones in all their various costumes. Even through us. Amen.