One of the more interesting things I learned in seminary is that I’m terrible at poker. I’m not a good liar, and I have way too many tells. It didn’t matter how I tried to adjust, my playing partners would quickly figure me out and take me for my five dollar buy-in. I rarely play poker anymore, but when I do, I have at least gotten better at reading the tells of others around the table. Whether it is popping their gum, slow playing a bet, or sipping their drink, usually, I can start to discern whether someone actually has a good hand or if they are just bluffing. In my decade and half of preaching, I’ve started to notice the tells that our biblical authors have as well.
Take, for example, the Gospel lesson appointed for All Saints’ Day. It starts with Matthew telling us that Jesus was drawing a pretty good crowd. This detail tells us exactly what is going to happen next: Jesus is going to offer some really difficult teaching about what it means to be a disciple. The crowd following Jesus would always swell after a series of miraculous healings. People would come from all over to seek healing for themselves, their family, and their friends. Afterwards, they’d continue to follow him, excited to see what was going to happen next, but Jesus didn’t want to be popular. His goal, believe it or not, wasn’t to seek as many followers as possible. Instead, he came to develop disciples who would repent of their self-centered sinfulness, and follow in his footsteps by loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, loving their neighbor as themselves, and, with God’s help, even going so far as to love their enemies.
Matthew telling us that Jesus had developed a significant following tells me that what Jesus is going to say next will be meant to thin the masses and to determine who really wants to follow the Way of Love. The Beatitudes do exactly that. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted, and the reviled. Jesus doesn’t promise God’s blessing in a way that means we’ll never suffer another painful hangnail, difficult relationship, or global pandemic. Instead, God’s blessing is promised to those whom the world most often sees as weak, marginalized, or particularly troubled, which makes this the perfect Gospel lesson for All Saints’.
Too often, we think of the saints of God only in terms of the spiritual all stars like Mother Teresa or Martin Luther, but sainthood isn’t about becoming famous for your good works. The only criteria that needs to be met to become a saint is to be a follower of Jesus. The saints of God number in the millions, and include the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek and merciful. The saints of God hunger and thirst for righteousness, seek peace, and often find themselves at odds with the prevailing culture of power and privilege. The saints of God are, more often than not, quiet, faithful followers of Jesus who do the little things that slowly but surely build the kingdom of God here on earth. These saints aren’t always obvious, but like me at the poker table, they too have their tells: living lives exemplified by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Jesus wanted the crowds to know that following him wouldn’t be easy, but on this All Saints’ Day, I think it is important for us to remember that the saints of God are just folk like you and me, and even in these most challenging days, we can live lives of blessed sainthood by following the example of Jesus, by loving God, and loving our all of our neighbors. I’m grateful for each of you, and for the ways you make God’s love known to the world around you. Happy All Saints’ Day, my blessed friends! God love you. God bless you. Keep the faith. Amen.