The Soul Food of saints

A reflection for All Saints’ Day: Luke 6:20-31 and our pledge in-gathering Sunday for which the theme is “Our Recipe for Hope” and our ministries described as “Soul-Food”

 

Saints have always been part of my faith reality, in large part because as a child I attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Christian tradition defines saints as people who are more like Jesus than the rest of us, they are almost perfect and they perform miracles.

As a child I wondered what kind of person was so perfect in their faith that they could perform miracles like Jesus did.  For example, do you know anyone who, like Jesus in the Gospel of John,[i] can mix spit with dirt and make a mud compress that heals someone of blindness? I couldn’t heal the broken places in my family although I prayed hard to have enough faith and tried hard to be perfect in every way. But I failed at healing my parents and I failed at perfectionism. It took me a long time to understand that I can’t be perfect no matter how hard I try. And, I’ve learned to love others for being who they are.

On the one hand, a saint is Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene – two almost perfect women who stayed with Jesus through everything. On the other hand we have St. Peter. The disciple Peter earnestly defended his love of Jesus, but then at a critical moment Peter ran away and denied he knew Jesus. Jesus called this broken man “the rock” upon which the church was built. Jesus asked Peter to feed the sheep – which means you and me. We are fed by a broken saint who reminds us that even in our broken selves we too are saints.

I get pretty confused about sainthood  when I read the beatitudes – this series of Blessed be’s in Matthew and Luke – that make it sound like I could be a saint if only I let people beat me up, and just turn the other cheek. Surely Jesus did not mean this in the same way we hear it today – that we are to take abuse, submit to oppression, and tolerate the perpetrator of violence? Because if that is what makes one a saint, then I will never succeed, and I hope you don’t either. The God I know and the Jesus I love reminds me that we are to love. And love never hurts another person. Ever.

So the beatitudes must mean something else, must point us toward some other kinds of saintly behavior. Not some grandiose behavior that none of us could live into, but basic ordinary dirt and spit kinds of behavior. Ordinary like ensuring that everyone has adequate clothing, food, shelter, education, safety, a job with a living wage. Like doing our best to be compassionate, or at least decent, even when someone really aggravates us – turn the other cheek, wipe the dust off our feet, walk away. At the very least try praying for the person.  Pray for ourselves too.

Saints are ordinary everyday people doing everyday things. Like the people in this church who tend to our altar – making bread, setting the table, and washing the dishes. People who sing in the choir, or people who sometime in its forty year history have sent their kids to Chapel Day Preschool or have served on the board of directors. People who lead our Christian Formation for kids and youth – from the Prayer Room to Weavings, to Rite 13, J2A and the YAC group, and the occasional adult forums. People who work with the Evangelism Commission or Ushers, helping people find their way into Christ Church and get to know us. People who take care of the property and ensure that the building and grounds are maintained and kept beautiful. People who offer and partake in our martial arts, stretching, and dance classes. People who tend to our finances and investments and ensure that we are being good stewards of the money entrusted to this parish for our mission and ministries. People who work with the Stewardship Commission and remind us to think about God, generosity, gratitude, and practicing our faith. People who serve in Parish Life – providing coffee hour and meals, and extravagant desserts and Lenten soup suppers. People who plan our worship and lead our worship and serve on Sunday mornings as acolytes and Lay Eucharistic Ministers , people who read the lessons for us and people who take communion to people in their homes. The Vestry who, along with the clergy, discern, formulate, articulate and hold before us our mission in the world and help us plant, water, and nurture our mission fields – our soul food: Blessings in a Backpack which feeds hungry kids, building a school in Liberia, hosting an annual Holiday Market to support local artists, and sharing this building with countless people who come here every week – from AA to Creating Hope International (which is an organization that educates women in Afghanistan) to League of Women Voters to Voice Lessons,  recitals and concerts, and many other things in between  –we share our building with people who otherwise would have no place to go. All of us here are practicing our faith by tending to our mission fields.

What I hear in the beatitudes is a reminder that we are blessed when we live an active faith by tending to hungry, poor, and naked people – those who are literally hungry and naked and those who are spiritually hungry and naked. We can’t will ourselves to be generous or grateful.[ii] We have to practice it. We have to practice living an active faith, practice in our mission fields, practice loving as God loves.  We practice faith and mission and love even though we may never see the end result.

Money is just a tangible way that we Americans take notice of end results and good hard work. Jesus reminds us to use that money well, not in the service of hoarding it, but in the service of others by practicing our faith and tending to our mission fields.

When we walk to the altar in a few minutes and place our pledge card on the altar we are acknowledging that our gift of money is a sacrament – an outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible grace of God’s love in our lives. I say “our” because I too am a pledging member of this church. I believe in the work we are doing here and support with gratitude the mission fields of this church.  Placing the pledge card on the altar is our commitment to doing God’s work in the world through our mission and ministries at Christ Church.

I hear a song of the saints of God, and it plays through each of us: sweet and harmonious, uplifting and inspiring – each and every one of us are saints for the love of Christ. Blessed be the gifts we have been given and blessed be our efforts to share these gifts extravagantly, generously and with gratitude. In doing so, we become chefs creating our recipe for hope.  We become the ingredients for our soul food, feeding spiritually and physically hungry people. Our efforts may be just spit and dirt but they become miracles in the world.


[i] John 9:6-11

[ii] Anne Lamott, “Help, Thanks, Wow” kindle version: “We can’t will ourselves to be more generous and accepting….”

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About Terri C Pilarski

I am an Episcopal priest serving a delightfully progressive, interesting, creative congregation. I have been married more than half my life to the same man. We have two grown children, plus two dogs and two cats, although the number of four legged household members changes from time to time. I love to garden, knit, read, and play on Facebook or with my blog. I have been a practitioner of daily meditation since I was nineteen. I practice yoga five days a week and walk every where I am able too.
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5 Responses to The Soul Food of saints

  1. Esperanza/Monica says:

    I like how you name the ordinary activities of life in the church as stewardship and saintly. And I can’t help but like the “spit and dirt” refrain 🙂

  2. revalli says:

    Nice job with “I hear a song” at the end. Love the part about the Beatitudes. Beautiful. It shows clearly how much you love the congregation you serve.

  3. Elaine says:

    I liked the spit and dirt as well. 😃
    It just flows really well.

  4. Our Greek professor preached this passage in chapel, only with his own translation: Congratulations you who are poor in spirit…and explained that the word for blessing is not used. Then when he talked about the turning the other cheek, he mentioned that it was to make clear who the oppressor was–more of a twist than some of us had thought about before…

  5. Terri says:

    Excellent, Angela! I really like the interpretation of “Congratulations” and, turn the other cheek to reveal who the oppressor is! I could preach on that!

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