Saints are those special people who make a difference throughout our lives. Sometimes we find them – or they find us – when we least expect it. They are those faithful children of God whose Christian identity to be the Body of Christ is a gift. And today, they’re the ones whose lives we remember and they’re the ones whose lives continue to inspire.
The words of the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel remind us that we are bound to God in Christ by our commitment to servanthood and care for God’s children. They remind us of the essence of this community of faith. But all that hasn’t been without a cost. Just a bit of history about our congregation, about this special Family. It was on All Saints Sunday 35 years ago that something changed here at Faith. It was Pastor Mac’s first Sunday with us. Right from the start, there were questions about him. Doubts about this young city kid – about what he could possibly know about this comfortable, suburban life here in Murray Hill. Some thought – and more than a few said it out loud – ‘there goes the neighborhood’ and did their best to run him out of town.
We just got back from vacation. A wonderful trip to Italy where we saw and experienced so much history. Ruins of ancient cities and civilizations. Some found intact by archeologists for us to view – to experience – thousands of years after their destruction. Giving us a picture of the world as it was.
In our lesson this morning, Isaiah’s words reveal God’s presence to his people in the past and in the present. A real God, who is with his people in their pain and confusion. God who cared for his people in the wilderness and who cares for his people today in their own wilderness, providing refuge and shelter, satisfying their hunger, caring, providing for those in need.
Paul’s letter from prison to the church at Philippi – finds the church and people in ruins. As Paul writes, he continues to teach – calling those who follow Jesus’ example to follow his own as well. To do the things they have learned – to do things that they have seen him do. To live faithfully to the call of the “God of peace” who is alive in their midst, recognizable in their fellow travelers. And he writes, anxiously waiting to be with them again – to feast together with his friends.
A sharp contrast to Matthew’s Gospel, where we’re told of people who are dismissed, physically bound, and thrown out because they crashed the party and haven’t dressed the part. Another illustration of a devastated community. A city in ruins.
My father liked to say – “You can’t tell a player without a scorecard.” While that’s true and important in baseball, there are people who like to keep score, regardless of the game. Particularly in life.
Our Gospel reading this morning takes us to a place that many of us might not be comfortable with. Rather than equal pay for equal work, we’re told that the workers are paid the same regardless of how many hours they’ve put in. And, let’s face it, that’s not necessarily what we’re accustomed to. But is this really what Jesus is saying? If we look at it a bit differently, instead we see a loving, generous God who gives each of us the gracious gift that we don’t deserve, but get anyway. We see God at work. We see God doing his best work. Jesus challenges us to see through God’s eyes – to see what God sees. After all, we’re made in God’s image, but do we actually see others in his image? Do we look for fairness and equity for God’s people…and seek justice on their behalf? Or do we instead see what we’re missing? The story also invites us to look at where we see ourselves – and is a reminder that thankfully God doesn’t have a balance sheet – keeping track of what we do. God loves us and forgives us and cares for us – and at the same time shows us how to care for others.