Hebrews 12:1-3 and Revelations 21:1-7
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
All Saints Day
When you hear the word Saints, who do you think of?
People who lived a long time ago
People who were holy, so holy the church gave them the title of saint
People who we could never be
Actually, throughout the Bible, the word saint is used--not in talking about people long ago, or set apart by the church. The word saint is used in most of Paul’s letters to refer to the common ordinary people, trying to follow in the way of Jesus, then and now. Saints are alive and well in the world today. So where are they?
There are so many examples. I picked three people who were in the news this past week, people who are part of our community.
After the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, the shooter Robert Bowers was taken to Allegheny General Hospital for treatment. As he was wheeled in, he shouted, “I hate Jews; I want to kill all Jews.” The Emergency Room doctor and nurse who treated Bowers were both Jewish, the nurse’s father is a rabbi. In spite of the hateful speech coming out of Bower’s mouth, they treated him as they do every patient and gave him the care he needed. Later, the President of the hospital, Dr. Cohen went to visit Bowers. In spite of the fact that Cohen was a Jew and a member of the Tree of Life synagogue and personally knew 9 or the 11 people who were killed, he asked Bowers if he was in pain and if he needed anything. People asked how he could have done that. He said, “We’re here to take care of people who need our help. Bowers is not the face of the devil; he is just a guy who committed a very (hay-nus) heinous act. You can’t on one hand say we should talk to each other, and then I don’t talk to him.” Cohen’s words and actions were a radical demonstration of humanity in an age of partisan division, racial, ethnic and religious discrimination and hateful speech. Cohen showed us all a different way--a way of moral courage and holiness.
Rabbi Myers was criticized for welcoming President Trump to the Tree of Life synagogue to pay his respects. His fellow Jews said that Rabbi Myers should be removed from his position, some even called for him to be uncircumcised--Rabbi Myers laughed about how that would even be possible. Rabbi Myers preached yesterday in his sermon why he welcomed the President. In the private conversation he had with him, the Rabbi said “hate speech leads to hateful actions. Hate speech leads to what happened in my sanctuary, when people in my congregation were slaughtered.” Rabbi Myers used the opportunity to call on President Trump to help change the discourse in our country--to put away hateful speech and engage in civil and respectful speech. Rabbi Myers showed us a different way--a way of respectful dialogue.
Where are the saints? You don’t have to look very far--they are here among us, even in our beloved city of Pittsburgh…
3. There is one saint whose name has been spoken many times this week, one who lived in the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill--a Presbyterian minister, a friend of children, Mister Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers said so many things worth remembering, but here is a particularly poignant word that speaks to us today: “We live in a word in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem. Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
And I consider those people saints. May the saints inspire you and me today and help us to see a different way to talk, a different way to care, a different way to see people as human beings, a different way to live and a different way to love, and a different way to change the world for good, for God, and for all of God’s people.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely. And let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12)
Thanks be to God. Amen.