Well, as I mentioned at the top of the service today, we are celebrating All Saints Day. It is a time for us to honor and to remember all of our loved ones who have died, and to remember that their light, their spirit, is still very much alive with us.
I loved our beautiful Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, which Mike read so beautifully for us, about that cemetery on All Saints night that was all lit up with those beautiful red votive candles on each grave, and how the cemetery looked so beautiful, how it was so festive and celebratory and alive.
And it reminds me of course of Día de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, which our Mexican friends are celebrating right now. If you go to any home in Mexico right now, you'll see altars set up in all the homes. And on the altar there are photos and memorabilia of loved ones who have passed. And during this time, their favorite foods are prepared in the house, and their favorite music is played throughout the house. It's not a morbid time. It's not a sad time. It's a time of celebration and joy. For we are remembering that those loved ones that are in heaven are still very much alive, just in a different form. But they are still with us. Now on All Saints Day tomorrow, we're not only remembering and celebrating those saints in heaven, we're also reminding ourselves that we as Christians are called to be saints.
I know most people think saints were these exemplary people, these people who lead such perfectly holy lives that we could never possibly reach their level of sanctity. We put these people up on pedestals. But the saints, my friends, were human beings, ordinary people just like us, who had an extraordinary love for God.
And they had an extraordinary love for one another.
And that, of course is what we hear in today's Gospel reading, in which Jesus is asked, What's the greatest commandment? Instead of giving one, he gives two new commandments: Love God, and Love one another.
With those two new commandments, Jesus is giving us the instructions for how to be saints. When we love God, and love one another, we are preparing for sainthood. Now, that doesn't mean that we become some other person, that we become this perfect Holy Roller. What it means is, when we love God first, when we put God first in everything, and when we love one another unconditionally, when we serve one another, and we forgive one another, we die more and more to the ego self, the false self. And we awaken more and more to the true self, the Christ self, the divine self.
So becoming more saintly doesn't mean you're becoming someone else. It means you're becoming more and more of who God created you to be. You may remember a while back, I gave a sermon on the 10 commandments. And I told you that the 10 commandments aren't really difficult for me to follow. I mean, I don't really struggle on a regular basis with, you know, with remembering the Sabbath and honoring my father and mother. I don't really struggle on a daily basis with the urge to steal something or to kill someone.
But you may remember that I said that the commandment of Jesus, the greatest commandment that Jesus gives us to love my neighbor. That is one that I struggle with on a daily basis, especially the past few years during this very divisive time in our nation. I find it very difficult to love those who think more about themselves than the health and wellbeing of others. During this time of the pandemic, I really struggle to love those who cause so much harm in the world.
But you know, if I'm really to say that I love God, I have to love those individuals. I think that's why Jesus gave us two commandments, because they really go hand in hand. Some of you may be familiar with Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day was the 20th century social justice activist who started the Catholic Worker movement. And she said, “I really only love God, as much as the person I love the least.” I really only love God, as much as the person I love the least. That is really a call for us to say, Yes, I have to love those people, especially those people I really struggle to love, if I really am to say that I love God, and that I put God first.
Now, I also think Jesus gave us these two commandments because he was saying to us that we need to be people of both contemplation, and action. It was on Halloween that back in 2016 that twenty of us, on Halloween, went to New Mexico, and we met with Father Richard Rohr at a center he founded there. And the name of the center is the Center for Action, and Contemplation.
The mission statement of that center reads in part, “We need to have a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action.”
Now we in the United Church of Christ, like many mainline Protestant denominations, we’re so good with action, we're so good with helping the poor and the sick and feeding the hungry, and helping the refugees. We're really good at action. But we haven't really been that good with giving people the tools they need to become more contemplative.
And I think Jesus is really saying with “Love God, and love your neighbor,” is that we need to have both of those in balance, to be contemplative, and also to be people of action in the world.
So what does it mean to be contemplative? What does that mean? Well, it means that you are attuning yourself to God's voice. Now we in the United Church of Christ, you know, we have a motto, “God is still speaking,” and that is the truth. But are you really listening? Are you taking the time to listen? Are you tuning yourself to the master's voice?
Those of you who have dogs know, your dogs can follow your commands, your commandments. They are tuned to your voice. Now, Jesus didn't use the dog analogy. But Jesus uses the sheep analogy. Jesus said, “The sheep follow my voice. I know theirs and they know mine.” That's what it means to be a contemplative, to attune yourself to God's voice and to let that guide you. And the only way you can do that is in the silence.
The late father, Thomas Keating, who taught us Centering Prayer, said, “Silence is God's first language. Everything else is a bad translation.” If you really are going to attune yourself to God's voice, you have to get quiet and still, that's why I talk all the time about developing a personal and daily prayer practice, a prayer and meditation practice so that you can attune yourself to God.
Now, that quiet time then brings us out into the world to know how to serve. Again, we need a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action. In other words, we need to go within
In order to know how to reach out. They go hand in hand.
And so my friends, that's what I'd like to invite you to do this week. I'd like for you to find time each and every day, for both contemplation and action, to find time each day to be quiet, to be still and know, to attune yourself more fully to God's voice.
That voice is always leading you to put more and more love into the world, to put more and more love into action. And on this All Saints Day, let us remember those saints who have come before us, those contemplatives who put love into action, who put love into the world, and who inspire us to be the change that we want to see. For all of us are called to be saints and to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven, right here on Earth.
Reverend Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
by Christian Villa
Every year on November 1, All Saints Day, I remember Sacred Heart cemetery in the town where I grew up. It was a huge Polish cemetery situated on a long sloping hill next to a busy intersection. Starting at dusk on November 1, the eve of the Catholic All Souls Day, the entire cemetery would be lit up with thousands of red votive candles on nearly every grave. It looked like the dead were getting ready to have a party and had turned on all the lights in the house. It sounds weird to say that the cemetery looked festive, but that's exactly how it looked. Lit up like Times Square, it looked more like life than death. It confused the categories of living and dead. It made the dead seem less separated from us, and not so different from us. When I was a child, those candles burning all night on all those graves used to make me think that it must make the dead people happy. Of course that's a childish belief with no theological depth, but now
I wonder: why not? If death is not the end, then it's not the end of celebration or joy. And not just the theoretical, pie-in-the-sky kind of celebration and joy, either. The real thing, the exact same happiness we know now, the kind that makes us light Advent candles and put up Christmas lights. The kind of happiness that makes us wish it could last forever. And possibly, it does.
What did you think?