Two words which say it all. In Africa, a name describes a character, a circumstance, an aspiration. [Examples]. You have the best name at this church. Today I want to expound it, to make you really proud of it. To realise that it says just about everything there is to grasp about being a Christian. And, I dare to suggest, everything people who aren’t here long for but perhaps don’t realise they may find here.
One of the most profound and pervasive questions of our time is about identity. And the conflict over the phrase ‘identity politics’. I want to explain how the two words of your name provide the answer.
The issues when it comes to identity politics evolve around equality, inclusion and authenticity.
Equality is about whether people really are born equal and destined as equals –with equal opportunities in the ultimate sense. Inclusion is about how we organise ourselves – the groupings in which we associate – the politics of community – not least and especially when we feeling equality is not real or we’re find ourselves competing as if there aren’t enough resources to go around. We include some and exclude others out of some sense of necessity – to protect ourselves, to reinforce our corner. We end up promoting and defending ourselves – our identity – over against someone else. Authenticity is about whether the inside of a person matches the outside, whether the person people see is the person we really are. Whether the story we tell or the values we espouse match up to the person we’re found out to be.
All Saints speaks to the story into which we’re baptised and the community to which we belong through Jesus. Into the bewildering conflicts of identity politics, the two words All Saints speak beautiful, transformative truth. All Saints celebrates how God has created each and every one of us for a purpose, a purpose we cannot fulfil without each other. How God loves us all, equally, even as God loves each one of us as if we were the only one. All Saints rests on the notion of the communion of saints, which tells us we have a seat at the table where everyone – rich and poor, black and white, slave and free, men and women, gay and straight, old and young, skilled and unskilled, the housed and the homeless – we’re all invited and included. [I sense you know this already – it’s how you seek to live out your M.A.P here in Child’s Hill]. But I want to make sure you also know that just as this story is taking place now, in the mundane and the limited, so also it is taking place simultaneously in eternity, in the forever, in the full companionship of God. In All Saints you straddle earth and heaven. All Saints transforms our notion of identity by turning our attention from ourselves to God:
from who we uniquely are individually to what God is creatively making us collectively,
from where we each specifically are coming from to where we are together going,
from where we are restless to where we find our rest in God,
from our exhausting and endless quest to define our identity, to inhabiting the identity we are given as a child of God.
All Saints does make a distinction between the equality of all God’s people and the particularity of some. Without being elitist, All Saints reflects the recognition that there are some individuals in whose lives God inspires us when we glimpse that person in whom the inside perfectly matches the outside. Where authenticity seems complete. Those lives are windows from the here & now into the forever of eternity. That’s why we call them saints – because in them we see holiness and thus more fully imagine and anticipate everlasting life with God.
I hope you know some people like that. [Look around?] In my experience, those lives are found in surprising places, probably not only in church life but also beyond. They are the very opposite of celebrities; they’re not usually the leaders.
I think of Eva, a woman who’d been raised by St Bernardos because she was an orphan. She’d never learned to read and had very little self-confidence. I met her late in life. She was preparing to get married yet couldn’t believe someone found her lovable. Her humility made me cry; her honesty was disarming. She’d certainly never heard of identity politics: I only know that she discovered the love of God and then transformed the church she joined by her child-like enthusiasm to discover more and share that love. Every Sunday we confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness as if it’s normal, routine, a right… but she never got over that grace every week, and her acceptance by the community. In her eagerness to imbibe the gospel story more fully she determined – aged 70 – to learn to read. I’ll never forget her asking ahead of time if she could do the reading at the small Evening service next Sunday. Ever so slowly she read the beatitudes we’ve heard today, stumbling over a good few words yet bringing them to life like never before. She remains for me a window into heaven and a testimony to the holy work of Christ.
All Saints church: your calling is to inhabit your name and live into it. In every life there is scope, there are moments, there is the fingerprint of God waiting to work. By lifting the veil between earth and heaven: it might be
in the miracle of birth or the tenderness of death,
in the wonder of companionship or the gift of forgiveness,
in the discovery of love or the embrace of restoration,
in the glimpse of beauty or the kindness of a stranger.
Every single one of us can be a saint too.
We’ve all known the desire to let our true self sing. Many of us have feared that society would not recognise or affirm the self that sang. I suspect all of us have sometimes felt overwhelmed by the cacophony of identities competing for recognition and affirmation. Hear the good news of All Saints. Identity is fundamentally not a discovery to be defended but a gift to be received. Identity is in the end not about recognition by society but embrace by God. Identity is ultimately a story not about our assertion of what we are but about God’s invitation to what we may become. Identity is not about the isolation of establishing there is no one else on earth like me but the solidarity of believing there is a place for each one of us at the heavenly banquet.
All Saints gives us something the quest for identity never can. It replaces individuality with communion; solitariness with relationship; static identification with dynamic transformation; endless self-obsession with eternal belonging. If you’re lost in a sea of identity politics, give thanks for All Saints: because All Saints turns identity into togetherness and politics into praise.
The Right Reverend Dr Jo Bailey Wells
8.00am Said Eucharist
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Morning Prayer Monday through Wednesdays at 9.20am
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Please note that Public worship has been suspended, you can therefore participate in these services via Facebook live stream
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