The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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11am Holy Communion      1st November 2020
All Saints Day Sermon 2020
Jan Rushton

Human beings are hard wired to understand and make sense of our world 
through metaphor and story! The best-selling writer of the blockbuster ‘Sapiens’, 
Yuval Harari, suggests that it was precisely this capacity for story 
possessed of Homo Sapiens which enabled larger human groups to cohere and expand, 
and ultimately to outrun and outdo Neanderthals and other human species.
The stories we tell, both myth and history, 
have a powerful impact on our lives, on our well-being and our futures.
Medics have even discovered that telling our story differently 
can radically change both our mental and our physical health!   
And of course the Church has always known the power of story and role models. 
Precisely what All Saints Day is all about!
All saints!  We commemorate not only the stories 
of those who have achieved great feats way beyond our endeavouring, 
those who are part of that great multitude seen by the visionary writer 
of the book of Revelation, the martyrs of the Church that is,
we remember today the story of each one who has been significant 
in our lives, especially in our Christian journey, 
those with whom we share our spiritual life, and those who support us right now!
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
This set of strange sayings, known as the Beatitudes and our gospel this morning, 
these sayings turn our usual expectations on their head! 
They open Jesus’ extraordinary teaching recorded in the Sermon on the Mount.
The Beatitudes assure the poor and the lost of God’s blessing 
in a world where traditionally - indeed, as also today, 
prosperity was seen to be the sign, and signal to others, that your life was pleasing to God!
Behind what can seem at times bewildering statements from the mouth of Jesus, 
behind them is an acute understanding of human psychology!
For most people, most of us, when our lives are full of good things, 
we have no need, indeed are reluctant to take the risks of reaching out into new vistas, 
to risk that sacrificial care for our neighbour which God asks of us.
We are reluctant to do the work required for personal spiritual growth.
Content as we are, we don’t want to rock the boat!
Whereas having little, little to lose that is, can afford us enormous freedom.
With little to lose we all the more readily venture forth into yet unknown new possibilities. 
Take hold of the New Way which Jesus calls us into: 
profound generosity of heart and love in action.
Stories of the saints, as Harari suggests, hold the community together.
Inspire us and encourage us as individuals in our own endeavours on the Way of Christ.
In the rhythm of the Church Year, we particularly remember the Saints on the first of November, 
and on the second of November, All Souls, we remember the beloved departed, 
as we will do in Hampstead later this afternoon.
But the lives of the saints are not about perfection. They like us, are a work in progress!
A work of endeavour, a growing in love and peace. 
A work accomplished in the main, through the challenges we encounter.
A saint for our times!  On Tuesday coming a momentous decision will be made 
for the whole world by a 250 million potential electorate.  
With continued endeavours to deter and prevent certain classes of people from voting, 
at the last election this 250 million became 140 million who actually voted.
I hope we are all praying for courage and for determination 
for the people of the US this Tuesday, to get out there and vote!
Vote for a President.  Vote for a Senate.
As we thank God for the record numbers who have already queued long hours to cast their vote!
Twelve years ago an elegant and gracious man of great maturity and deep Christian faith, 
desiring the best interests of all citizens of his nation, 
- and delighting everyone he met with an infectious grin,
against enormous odds, and despite his name resembling so closely 
that of the terrorist who had masterminded the destruction 
of the twin towers, despite the prejudice of many against him,
this man was elected President of the United States.
In 2008 it had seemed so highly unlikely, however highly educated, accomplished, 
able, he might be,it had seemed an impossible dream that a young ‘black’ man 
might become the most powerful man in the world! 
Studying at Columbia University in New York 
(home school of  the Trappist monk Thomas Merton), 
Barack Obama witnessed first hand this dazzling city’s vast excesses - and its fierce divides, 
and the middle ground he had hoped to inhabit, collapsing before him.
Uncertain of his identity, struggling to understand who he was, he began fasting on Sundays, 
and for long hours walked alone the streets of Manhattan. 
Activities the friend he had arrived with, shared accommodation with, found incomprehensible, 
abandoning him with the scathing accusation that he had become a ‘bore’.
On graduation he worked a couple of years in New York,
before taking a job on the notorious South side of Chicago,   
as director of the Developing Communities Project. 
A church-based organization seeking to improve opportunity 
for the district’s disadvantaged inhabitants.
The same organising foundation as that of our own London Citizens.
Inspired by his Jewish boss Obama worked tirelessly for change.
From time to time he went to worship in different black churches.
Now he quickly saw that it was the churches who did more than any other organisation 
to build community in black neighbourhoods.
Little by little he was drawn in deeper by a powerful sense of calling.
In his autobiography, Dreams of my Father, he writes:  
"I submitted myself to God's will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.
I'm on my own faith journey and I'm searching. 
I leave open the possibility that I'm entirely wrong." 
A strength of committment and an open mind. Two powerful saintly attributes!
Of his conversion he continues: “No. It wasn't an epiphany, 
a bolt of lightning didn't strike me and suddenly I said, 'Aha!' 
It was a more gradual process that traced back to those times 
that I had spent in New York wandering the streets or reading books, 
how finally I came to see that the meaning I sought in my life, 
the values that were most important to me, 
the sense of wonder that I had, the sense of tragedy that I had -
all these things were captured in the Christian story.”
Over the last few days we have had opportunity 
to see once more that broad grin out on the campaign trail.
Whatever our thoughts, the sentiments 
of one letter-writer to the New York Times surely pertain this morning:
“What cannot be erased is the fact that for eight years 
our country had a president untouched by pettiness or scandal, 
who tried to make America a fairer, more generous place. 
For that effort alone, he deserves an honored place in history”
Are we, like Obama, willing to persevere until the answers begin to emerge?
To pound - metaphorically - those streets alone in prayer.  
To sit still and remain there, listen until we get an answer.
To gather together with the worshipping community, 
that we might hear the voice of God in Scripture, learn from the experience of others.
How good it is to be inspired by magnificent lives!
We may also look around us, close to home!
Our sense of joy in life will be greatly enhanced as we take time to recognise those saints 
whose lives personally touch ours.
To notice with gratitude the small ways in which our personal saints enrich our living! 
Get into that habit of noticing - and telling! 
And when they upset us - as they surely will from time to time! 
try flipping the story a different way!  Search for a new angle.
Doing these things will transform our own lives - as well as the lives of those we love!
And then, how can we be that saint for others? 
I love this little book - food for meditation!  (Saints are ....  Redemptorist Press)
What impact do we hope to leave on our world?
How do we want to be remembered?
It is not what we do that people will recollect, 
rather, it is how our presence in their lives has made them feel! Amen.

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Sermons from previous years are here | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005