That is a moving little story which takes us close to the heart of what it means to celebrate All Saints today. For, as our Gospel reading from St Luke puts it, in words which could have been designed for the travelers in the Pope’s true story: ‘blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh.’ The blessed ones, that is the saints, in God’s eyes are those who typically struggle in various ways. For God loves such people so deeply and calls on us to love one another similarly, just as the taxi driver does in that story. To celebrate All Saints is to share this love, and that deep communion with others, especially the poor and outcast.
The ‘blessed’ sayings in Luke and Matthew’s Gospels are often referred to as ‘the Beatitudes’ and Matthew’s version, at the beginning of chapter 5, is quite beautiful. Luke’s version in contrast is shorter and much more raw. Indeed, Luke notably reports Jesus as saying ‘blessed are the poor’ not ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ as Matthew does. That is a much harder declaration to try to over-spiritualise and wish away. When we hear Luke’s Beatitudes we really cannot avoid the challenges of actual, as well as spiritual poverty. If we are truly to be followers of Jesus, we must start relating fully to those who are outcast, like the barefoot man and the migrant woman. As Pope Francis commented, in telling the story, when we, like that taxi driver, first meet such challenges, we too may be tempted to refuse to relate to such others, because they make us feel a bit uncomfortable or awkward,. Yet, as the Pope puts it, ‘in the end, carrying out an act of mercy or assistance makes the soul smell sweet and makes us change.’
So, what will we do to recognise all God’s children as potential saints, as blessed in the eyes of God? What will do to share that blessedness ourselves? What will we do to make real the communion of all the saints amongst us and our world today? Luke’s Gospel certainly brooks no opposition. For, in a typically Semitic contrast favoured by Jesus and similar Jewish preachers of his day, Luke goes on to add a series of ‘woes’ upon the rich which do not appear in Matthew’s much more restrained version of the Beatitudes. ‘Woe to you who are rich,’ Jesus says in today’s Gospel passage from Luke, ‘for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.’
Wow! That is a powerful challenge to the rich, isn’t it? It is a powerful challenge to our whole Western society too, as it is so rich in comparison to the poor, hungry, and persecuted elsewhere in our world. Indeed, it is a timely challenge to this nation, as, like the taxi driver in the Pope’s story, we remain deeply unsure about refugees coming among us. As a nation, like the taxi driver, can we perhaps learn to hear their stories and to be transformed by them?
Of course, it is not only refugees and migrants who are both a challenge to us and a source of blessedness, of gift, and potential saintliness,. Alongside the last, or latest, Australians, or potential Australians, we also continue to face the challenges of the first Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders among us. Can we receive their persons, and their gifts, as sources of blessedness? Can we live out together the potential for all Australians to grow as a communion of all the saints?
It is to the credit of this parish that together we have been helping to lead the way in making healthy responses. Three current elements are worth particular mention. Firstly, last Thursday, it was a great delight to share in the launch of our diocese’s Reconciliation Action Plan. Please continue to pray for that work. Secondly, a week tomorrow, on Monday 14 November, at noon, we will also hold a lunchtime Reconciliation gathering in St Luke’s Hall, followed by the blessing and installation of the Battle of One Tree Hill memorial cross in the Warriors Chapel. Do pray for and support that too, if you can. Thirdly, today we share in launching this year’s Archbishop’s November Appeal for the Anglican Board of Mission. The focus for 2016 is on supporting the work of Nungalinya College in Darwin and Wontulp-Bi-Buya College in Cairns. These are vital elements of Anglican support for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander church and community leaders. For our support will not only assist vital theological and ministry education, but also provide courses in literacy, numeracy, computer skills, cross-cultural awareness, community development and mental health. Those colleges are amazing communities, bringing together people from all across our nation, especially from otherwise isolated communities in the northern and central Australia, and they are a great blessing to so many people. More information can be found on the ABM website. Again, do support that initiative if you can. In doing so we demonstrate our living participation in the great communion of saints, with the barefoot, the migrants and the taxi-drivers, and everyone who shares in God’s love.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
by Jo Inkpin, for All Saints festival 2016