All Saints & Proper 26B 2003
Matthew 5:1-12; Mark 12:28-34
The Gospel for All Saints Sunday is Matthew 5:1-12: When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat
down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before
But the Gospel properly appointed for today is Mark 12:28-34, The Great Commandment:
One of the scribes came near and heard the Sadducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well,
he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?"
Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You
shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there
is no other'; and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love
one's neighbor as oneself,'--this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."
When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that
no one dared to ask him any question.
I have chosen to link this Gospel reading of Jesus great Summary of the Law, properly appointed for today but often displaced
by All Saints, because it has everything to do with being a saint.
On an InterNet sermon site I found this story:
A few years ago, a radio station ran a contest. Disc jockeys invited their listeners to tune in their clock radios. "Just
for fun," they said, "when you wake up to the sound of FM-106, call and tell us the first words you spoke when you
rolled out of bed. If you're the third caller, you'll win $106."
It didn't take long for the contest to grow in enthusiasm. The first morning, a buoyant disc jockey said, "Caller
number three, what did you say when you rolled out of bed this morning?" A groggy voice said, "Do I smell coffee
burning?" Another day, a sleepy clerical worker said, "Oh no, I'm late for work." Somebody else said her first
words were, "Honey, did I put out the dog last night?" A muffled curse was immediately heard in the background,
and then a man was heard to say, "No, you didn't." It was a funny contest and drew a considerable audience.
One morning, however, the third caller said something unusual. The station phone rang. "Good morning, this is FM-106.
You're on the air. What did you say when you rolled out of bed this morning?"
A voice with a Bronx accent replied, "You want to know my first words in the morning?"
The bubbly DJ said, "Yes, sir! Tell us what you said."
The Bronx voice responded, "Shema, Israel ... Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love
the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might."
There was a moment of embarrassed silence. Then the radio announcer said, "Sorry, wrong number," and cut to
It would be interesting for us to reflect on what our first thoughts and words are as we greet each new day that the Lord
has made, wouldn't it?
Some of us might remember the Morris West novel, Shoes of the Fisherman. The movie version starred Anthony Quinn and Laurence
Olivier with John Gielgud and Oskar Werner as supporting actors. It was a fictional story about Kiril I, the first Russian
pope. It was supposedly about a world on the brink of nuclear war and destruction but I remember best this scene:
Pope Kiril, tired of Vatican bureaucracy and infighting and politics, dressed one night as a simple parish priest and
wandered the streets of Rome. On one street he heard loud wailing and walking into the upstairs flat, he found a family sitting
around the bed of a dying men. Kiril immediately started to pray for the man and offer the last rites.
The family thanked him but told him that they were Jewish. Kiril immediately launched into Hebrew and the Jewish rite
and liturgy sometimes said with a family at the bedside of a dying person sitting Kiddush, I believe its called. Kiril had
learned to do this during his years of imprisonment in the Siberian gulag, where he had served as priest and confessor to
Roman Catholics, various branches of Greek and Russian Orthodoxy, Muslims, and Jews. He was the servant of all and minister
I remember this story particularly because I was once privileged to be invited to sit Kiddush with a family and their
rabbi and to be present when the liturgy was said. It was a powerful scene in The Shoes of the Fisherman and a powerful scene
for me at that hospital bedside twelve years ago.
The rabbi read the liturgy a paragraph at a time, first in Hebrew and then in English. Having just finished a basic course
in Hebrew my ears perked up when I heard the rabbi intone Shema, Israel. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." Saint Mark adds
and with all your mind. Jesus connected it with loving our neighbors. And then Jesus said this, which we often forget: There
is no other commandment greater than these.
From the beginning we have forgotten and still forget -- forget that last part. There is no other commandment greater
than these. And one thing is clear: When Jesus said that, our Lord meant exactly what he said. It's hard to get any closer
to the pure Word of God than that.
And what Jesus meant by love is expressed in the Greek used in the Summary of the Law. The term is agape. And in using
it, Jesus meant that the new children of God, those who call themselves Christians, are to show love without expecting it
to be returned, lend where there is little hope of repayment, give without reserve or limit. Jesus brought forgiveness of
sins as part of Gods infinite love for humanity and to which humanity is to reply with grateful love, and toward other human
beings should respond with an unconditional readiness to help and forgive. Jesus creates a new people of God who renounce
all hatred and force and whose unconquerable resolve to love treads the way of sacrifice in the face of all opposition. (1)
There are two wonderful stories from sermons in Voicings on this text:
The first one is about Queen Victoria on a visit to "Balmoral," her castle on the River Dee in Scotland. It
was on a weekend, and she spent all day Sunday being rowed around the river.
A pious woman who saw this happening was horrified. She said to her minister, "Isn't that dreadful!"
"What's dreadful?" the minister asked. She said, "The queen's rowing on the river on the Sabbath!"
The minister said, "But you must remember that Jesus was on the Sea of Galilee on the Sabbath." The woman drew
herself up and said indignantly, "Two wrongs don't make a right."
And there's this one:
Legend has it that back in the time of Jesus, a young divinity student went to the second most famous Rabbi in Jerusalem
with a problem. He said that the 667 Old Testament laws were too confusing for him. "Can't you give me a summary of the
law in the time that I can stand on one foot?" he asked.
The Rabbi picked up a big stick, started beating the young man with it and finally chased him out his study. The Rabbi
considered the young man's question as an act of impertinence. He had spent his whole life studying and interpreting these
hundreds of laws and it was an insult to be asked to summarize them so briefly.
The young man then visited the most famous Rabbi in Jerusalem and asked him the same question. The Rabbi said, "Stand
on one foot." The young man obeyed, and as he stood on one foot the Rabbi said, "Do not do to anyone else what you
would not have done to yourself. This is a summary of the law."
It seems to me that the great summary of the Law, whether one puts it like the most famous rabbi in Jerusalem or in the
words of Jesus himself, that we who call ourselves Christian are saints to the extent that we understand and follow what Jesus
The famous contemporary poet and writer Maya Angelou has an interesting perspective on all of this:
In an interview on the Today Show, Bryant Gumbel asked Maya Angelou what was on her "Wish List." With all that
she has accomplished in her life, could there be any more "objectives," any more "conditions unfulfilled?"
"Oh, my Lord, yes," she exclaimed. "I want to become a better writer. I'm very serious about it. It's what
I am. It's how I describe myself to myself, and [I want to be] a better human being. ''I'm trying to be a Christian, which
is no small matter. I mean it -- I'm always amazed when [people] walk up to me and say, 'I'm a Christian,' I always think,
'Already? You've already got it?' My goodness." (2)
The Gospels are at the heart of the Bible. And at the heart of the Gospels, the Good News, are these things: the crucifixion
and resurrection of Jesus and his Summary of the Law -- the Great Commandment. If we lost everything else and had only these,
not much would change for those of us who call themselves Christians. The kingdom would be very near us and we might be among
the saints celebrated on All Saints' day.
(1) Kittel et al., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, I, pp 46, 48.
(2) Maya Angelou interview, Transcript of the NBC Today Show, March 8, 1995 (Burrelle's Information Services, 1995), 48,
as found in Homiletics On Line.