In the town I live in, nestled in the mountains of North Carolina there is a Christian bookstore. This store is known for its artwork and one piece of cliché art makes me want to gag every time I see it. The picture is of Robert Edward Lee holding a small child in an arm chair reading them the Bible. It’s titled “the Christian General.” I’ve often wondered where Robert Lee of the Confederacy is right now and what he would think of the squabble we’ve found ourselves in during this particular moment in history. It would be easy for me to say that Robert E. Lee is in the bad place, being tormented for his sins, the great multitude that there were. But ultimately that is not my job to determine or judge Lee’s final destiny. And that’s not your job either. Today is a day that reminds us of that. Today is a day we call All Saints’ Sunday.
If you’re steeped in the low church tradition like I am we were taught that this is a day where we celebrate those who have finished their course before we have. We mark, and commemorate those people who have made a difference for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And while I simply cannot comment on my famous relative’s eternal resting place, I can say this: What we do today matters. Because, 200 years from now history will look back on our moment in time and judge us for how we handled post-Charlottesville America. If you don’t believe me, just look back at how we view things like the Civil War. I mean even in my hometown it is still sometimes called the War of Northern Aggression. This All Saints’ Sunday we have an opportunity to challenge those notions of our past and look to God’s unfolding future for the rest of us left here feebly struggling to make it by.
We continue to challenge and to struggle by engaging in the work of anti-racism, of LGBTQ inclusion, and welcoming the undocumented person in our midst. Simply and directly, we do what Jesus would have done. And I’m not talking about the white Liberty University Jesus that Jerry Falwell espouses, I’m talking about the first century Palestinian Jewish Rabbi who gave us an alternative way of looking at life. This Jesus fellow, the one we worship every Sunday has no place in his kingdom for words like white privilege and white supremacy. These things should and will pass away.
When I was at seminary in the land of the Blue Devils at Duke University, my professor Dr. Stanley Hauerwas taught this big 100-dollar phrase, “realized eschatology.” It is this theological concept that we, the people of God play a role in making sure that things like racism, homophobia, and xenophobia pass away so that God’s kingdom can be enacted here on earth as it is in heaven. I mean did you hear the text from Revelation today? Salvation belongs to God, and there are people in this country, the empire we have created that are most certainly going through a great ordeal.
We have only to look at Philando Castile, Michael Brown, or Eric Garner to see that there are people of color who are dying in this great ordeal. The great ordeal we have faced since that “Christian General” surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. We have not atoned for the sin of racism since America was conceived by our founding fathers. Sure we have made strides but this sin is now a festering sore, waiting to explode as Langston Hughes once wrote. So where do we go from here?
We stand. My great-grandmother used to remind me that a saint was a sinner who had fallen down and with God’s help had the courage to stand up again. We stand like the saints of old who had courage to believe that a nightmare could be a dream. We stand up for Jesus and for the sake of his coming kingdom. We say to this world that there is no place in God’s economy for what is going on right now in America. For in God’s economy there is hope for the hopeless, food for the hungry, and redemption and reconciliation for those bound by racism. We must address these issue of our time for the sake of the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Last night an interesting thing happened. A Muslim woman, a gay publicist, and a preacher from the Piedmont of North Carolina went to see the Book of Mormon at the Kennedy Center down the road from here. Now this sounds like the start of a bad joke but it wasn’t. The whole plot of the play for those of you who haven’t seen it revolves around conceptions of paradise and how to make it there. For all of us in that room, including my friend Ruwa and my friend Ory, we all have different conceptions of what the hereafter is about and what it means for the salvation of the world. But it didn’t matter in that moment and let me propose to you that in that particular moment we caught a glimpse at what the Almighty is after. Laying our swords and shields down by the riverside and seeing what might actually happen if we came together as Revelation foretells. In this particular instance the monikers and labels that society had given Ruwa, Ory, and myself didn’t matter because there is hope in the here and now and the then and there. We must make All Saints’ Sunday as much about the earthly plan God has for us as much as we make it about the heaven we all seek. Or, as Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you do no earthly good.”
In these instances of faith we see the saintly work ahead of us. We must dismantle racism, xenophobia, and homophobia in the church for the sake of the church’s future. If the church wishes to be an anchor of change in this world then we must be willing to move the dial on these issues in the days, weeks, and months to come. Because if you’re like me, you know that things can change drastically. The vision of Revelation is one we can have now as well as there. For we can gather around the table and sing the song in the heart of God. We can say Salvation belongs to God who is seated on the throne.
In these moments before we come to the Lord’s Supper may we be reminded that this holy meal may look odd on the outside but is the crux of our faith, especially on All Saints’ Sunday. It is where a piedmont preacher and a church on a mission can come together and find hope in a Eucharistic feast. We feast because we have hope. And if we have lost hope we are as Paul said a people most to be pitied.
This stuff we do and how we take the Eucharist into the world matters. When you leave this place after partaking of the body and blood of our Lord will you take that message to the streets? Will you show the people of Washington, D.C. that there is potential for us to come together in spite of our varied differences?
When I was 16 I lost a dear friend to a car accident the day before All Saints Day in 2009. That particular year my friend Abbey was supposed to come hear me preach because that is what she did oftentimes. She was so supportive. So every year I sing our closing hymn with a little more gusto for her and for her sainthood and I encourage you to do the same with the people in your life who you have lost. Let them be witnesses to justice and to faith. Let them be witnesses to hope and to grace… For we cannot finish the mission we have been given to end evil in this world without the saints cheering us on.
And while I said before I cannot tell you where Robert E. Lee is for his final destiny I can tell you now is a moment where we can all decide ours. Will we stand on the right side of history and speak for those who are oppressed? Or will we remain complicit in the silence or actions of our ancestors? We only have one time on this earth and we must make it holy. For in holiness a Muslim woman, a gay man, and a preacher whose ancestor is Robert E. Lee can come together and laugh like there is no tomorrow at a very inappropriate play. But in that moment we can know that it is holy and it is good. These are what saints are made of—so to future Saint Ory, and future Saint Ruwa, I give thanks that God did a mighty work last night to help us laugh in spite of what society would say divides us. I caught a glimpse of the kingdom of God and I hope you all will too in the table made ready since Jesus instituted this meal long ago—look for the holy moments friends, look for the moments of justice. It is between holiness and justice that we feast today. In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.