Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.[b] 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.[c] 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12 NRSV)
The funeral was painful. He had suffered cancer for two years and died peacefully. Surrounding him at his death were his closest friends and his family. Anyone who knew us would have viewed the dichotomy.
His family knew his brokenness. We knew him to be an angry man who tried to handle it and, at times, managed to do so. But, we also remember the rages and the humiliation at his hands. He was a brilliant man, but his narcissism ultimately controlled him.
His friends only knew a man who was funny, talented, caring and knowledgeable. They were younger than him, and he mentored many of them. They had many stories to share with us. His friends loved him and listened to his wisdom while teasing him. His family loved him while tiptoeing around him.
The funeral was painful because no one was willing to speak up for the painful side of him. No one permitted family to speak about his brokenness. We weren’t allowed to share the story of his daughter’s wedding day when he felt the presence of God and worked diligently to convert to Catholicism. We weren’t allowed to grieve the loss of this broken, hurting man. Instead, we buried a pillar of the society who could no wrong.
That’s why All Saints’ Day is important for me. Traditionally celebrated on November 1st, it’s a time to remember those who have died in the faith. These are the saints who have gone before us.
We remember them because they taught us or modeled their faith. Like the woman who got tired of seeing the children playing in their yards instead of going to church. She gathered them up and brought them to Sunday school.
Like the elder who took a young, newly married man and mentored him through his early 20’s.
We remember those who told their stories boldly. The World War II Veteran who ran behind a hill with his fellow Lieutenant when the bombers flew over. When the bombing was over he turned to see that, though he came out unscathed, his comrade had died. Why?” he asked. “Why not me, I wasn’t married with a family like this guy.”
We remember those who suffered long illnesses with grace; the musicians who showed up every Sunday morning; our Sunday school teachers; our Youth leaders. We also remember those who showed up, broken and alone.
Jesus is still in the temple in Jerusalem. The religious elite are done arguing with him. Jesus knows, however, that this reprieve will be short. Within a few days he’ll be betrayed, tried and crucified. Before he goes, he has some more teaching to do. So he turns to the crowds and his disciples to begin the teaching.
“Do as the religious leaders say. They are learned men and they do a good job interpreting scripture. Don’t do as they say, though. They don’t walk their talk.”
When we are put in a position of power, it becomes all too easy to believe our own press. Ministers and pastors run into this often. They are seen as men and women with Biblical authority. They are intelligent and speak truthfully. And they get used to being treated with deference. The more beloved they are, the greater the honors given them. Before long, they arrive at a banquet and head for the best seat in the house like a metal is drawn to a magnet.
After a while, no one dares argue with them. No one confronts them. And they fall easily into a state of being loved, not for who they really are, but because of their authority.
There are a few who go further. These are the ones who aren’t particularly comfortable in their own skin. They make sure you know that they are the Rev. Dr. Jones from that tall steeple church. They pretend humility. They pretend everything.
They are the hypocrites. The ones who deceive themselves and others into believing they are something they aren’t. The ones who cover up their sins behind pretenses of pietism. The phonies and fakes. The fearful and broken. The proud and damaged. The loving and lovable. The caring and cared for.
In fact they are all of us.
We are the saints who say one thing and do another. We say, “yes” to the Beatitudes until we see the latest news. We speak of racial equality while ignoring our white privilege. We strive to serve the poor but can’t seem to find the money or the time to reach out ourselves. We pray for peace and demand vengeance.
It’s all of us. We are confused and torn by what we honestly believe and how we carry out that belief. We look for the Kingdom of Heaven and see very little, if anything. We are worn out by compassion for hurricane victims and threats of war in the world and violence in our nation. We are sick and tired of those who seek their ten minutes of fame. We’re tired of arguing and bickering; of agreeing over nothing.
Where’s the good news?
The good news is found on All Saints’ Day. In many churches across the world, it was celebrated this past Wednesday. Others will celebrate it today. There is much good news to be found in this remembrance.
We remember that a Sunday school teacher may have been a great person, but they were also bigoted; that the wonderful choir director was an abusive husband; that each of these saints weren’t perfect.” Saints are Christians. And they were Christians. But, they were also broken in some way, just as you and I are broken in our ways.
On All Saints’ Day we remember those who have gone before us not as perfect people but as people perfected by our Lord. This is a reminder that our Lord is perfecting us right now in this minute and every day.
Embrace your brokenness and let it go. Give it to God. It won’t be easy. For some of us, it’ll take a lifetime. But you can begin, if you haven’t already. Give to God your pain and desire for revenge; your broken spirit; your fear; your burdens. Let it go.
It’s a gift to God who will embrace you even as you let go. God will fill that void left by the anger or fear. Perhaps not today, but soon. God will work with you to transform your life, to perfect you.
As I sat at that funeral, I was angry and, sadly, everyone knew it. But in the years since then, I’ve learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I’ve looked back on my life of abuse and realize that God was present with me to make me stronger.
Most of all, I give thanks that when he took his last breath, I believe with all my heart that he fell into Jesus’ arms and sobbed out a lifetime of pain.
Do we have the courage to do the same on this side of life?
All glory and honor be to God.