November 6, 2022, Reading the Pattern, Luke 6:20-31 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell

To listen to this sermon click the link below.

I’ve set myself a project for this winter (and maybe for next winter, too) of knitting a poncho. I learned how to knit in Girl Scouts about a hundred years ago, but I’ve never really worked at it hard enough to get good at it. And I’ve never made anything where I really had to follow a pattern. So even though it’s not a difficult project for the average person, this is a real challenge for me. One of the mysteries of knitting, I am finding, is that you have to focus on one row at a time, even one stitch at a time, but it’s only after you’ve done a lot of rows that the pattern begins to emerge. It was only after I knitted a couple of repetitions of the twelve-row pattern that I could hold it up and begin to see what it’s really going to look like. While I’m working, I’m entirely focused on whether this stitch is knit or purl, and trying to figure out what it can possibly mean when it says “sl 3p wyf.” It’s worse than New Testament Greek! But now, when I smooth it out and look at how it’s all working together I can see, I can feel a pattern emerging – and it’s even beginning to make sense to me.

In our collect today we prayed, “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.” This is the Collect for the Feast of All Saints. Today we call to mind the lives and the good example of the holy ones of God who have gone before us. Here in the Collect we’re claiming that our lives are knit together with the lives of all the saints. That means that your life, and my life – all our lives – are knitted together into one unbroken pattern with our Lord, Jesus, and with his apostles, with the early fathers of the Church: Chrysostom and Augustine and Irenaeus, and the early mothers of the Church: Perpetua, Felicity, and Macrina, with holy men and women like Frances and Clare, Aquinas and Julian, Benedict of Nursia and Catherine of Siena, on and on and on throughout the whole history of the Church. As hard as it is to really grasp it, we are knit, by God, into that one great communion and fellowship of God’s people.

And one of the reasons, I think, that it is so very hard to grasp this truth is that like my laborious and unskilled knitting, we all spend most of our lives focused on carrying out our small part of the pattern day by day, even moment by moment. Every day we’re figuring out how to navigate things we’ve never faced before. Every day we’re growing a little bit older. Every day the world around us changes, sometimes drastically, and the old familiar, comfortable people and places and things of our lives are growing up or passing away or fading out of sight. Most days it’s as much as we can do to put one foot in front of another, to figure out what the right thing is for right now, and to do that one thing. Most days it wouldn’t even occur to us to stand back and try to comprehend the whole of God’s pattern in its beautiful complexity.

But this special day, the day we call the Feast of All Saints, is one of the days when that is exactly what are doing. Today we take at least a small step back to get a clearer view of the whole. Today we call to mind the faithful people of God whose lives have been knit most closely together with our own: parents and grandparents, teachers and elders, friends and guides. We give thanks for the gift of their presence in our lives. We remember the example they set for us in the way they lived out their own lives. And as we consider all these people who have been so dear to us, the pattern that we begin to see might even take us by surprise.

Paul wrote this to the Church in Corinth (my paraphrase): “Just think about who you were when God called you, brothers and sisters: not many of you were powerful and brilliant by worldly standards; not many of you were born in the houses of the rich and famous. But God chose what is foolish in the world to put the wise to shame; God chose what is weak in the world to put the strong to shame; God chose what is low and despised – in fact, he chose the nothings of this world – to put an end to reality as the world knows it.”

Look who God has knitted together, Paul wrote to the Church – not the shining stars of society, not the leading authorities, but the riffraff, the nobodies, the fools. That’s how God has created, and is creating his beautiful pattern. It’s enough to leave the whole world scratching its head in perplexity. And the most surprising part of the whole thing is that Jesus, the Son of God, is the central part of the whole design. He came into the world as nothing – just the carpenter’s kid, a man of sorrows, with no place to lay his head – a man rejected and put to death by the world – but who came to heal the whole world with the power of his love.

When we come to the table today to celebrate Eucharist this morning, we’ll read out the names of our special saints. As we read, consider who these people are that God called to form his beautiful pattern. How many of our parents and grandparents lived victorious and impressive lives according to the standards of the world? How many of our dearest friends were numbered among the rich and powerful? How many of our teachers or pastors lived their lives free of pain? How many lived lives of ease, free from want?

But in fact, what we find is that the pattern of God’s kingdom is absolutely upside-down and backward by the world’s standards – which is to say, it’s actually the pattern of the world, the pattern displayed on television ads and billboards and in shiny magazines, that’s upside-down and backward. When Jesus pronounces the ways of blessedness it’s not at all what the world would have you expect: “Blessed – happy – are the poor – because the whole kingdom belongs to you! Blessed are the hungry – because God himself will feed you richly. Blessed are those who weep now – because you will laugh. Blessed are you when the world despises you, and treats you like nobody – count that as great joy, because that’s the way they treated God’s holy prophets!”

And the other side of the pattern is just as shocking. Woe to you who are rich and satisfied? Woe to you who are filled with laughter? Woe to you when the world puts you up on a pedestal and adores you? Yes. Woe to you. Because you have acquired everything the world has to give, and that means you have nothing.

The pattern would be too hard for us to comprehend, if we weren’t able to see it spread out before us in all its complex beauty in the lives of our loving parents and grandparents, our humble teachers, our quiet, faithful neighbors. To the world, maybe they seemed like weaklings. Maybe they seemed like failures. In the eyes of the world, maybe they just looked like fools. But God has knit these beloved children together into a community that reveals his strength and his wisdom, his goodness and his glory. In their suffering, and in their sorrow, they are lights to us. In their poverty, and in their weakness, they reveal to us the way of joy and strength and hope.

It’s really hard to see that pattern in the tangle of our daily struggles. Most days it just seems like for every step forward we end up taking two steps back. But how gloriously and how clearly can we see the beautiful pattern today, on this Feast of All Saints, when we stop to remember the lives of all these faithful people who have gone before us, all these beloved saints who have shown us the way? Let us give thanks to God this day for the witness of his faithful ones, knit together with us in one community and fellowship in the mystical body of his Son, Christ our Lord. +

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