Sunday, 25 November 2012

Christ the King


   
Who’d be Pontius Pilate? Perhaps when he was growing up he dreamt of being famous. If that was so, he certainly achieved his dream. His name is one of the most often repeated in the world. That’s because it’s there in the Creed, the Christian statement of belief which is used in worship by millions of people in churches all around the world. “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ…For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate”. As it happens, we don’t use the Creed in this service today, because we substitute a shorter affirmation of faith, but it is there in most of our other services, and even if we aren’t saying it, countless millions of others will today. The rhythm of worship flows on continuously around the world, so I doubt whether there is a single moment when someone somewhere isn’t saying Pilate’s name. He is certainly remembered.

But not in a good way, of course.  

We don’t know much about Pontius Pilate, but we do know that he administered the Roman Province of Judea from 26-36 AD. There are coins bearing his name, a dedication stone at a Roman theatre in Israel, and some Roman historians mention him too. Their writings tell us that he eventually fell from favour with the Emperor because he badly mishandled a Samaritan revolt. It wasn’t the first time he’d got it wrong, and in the end he was ordered back to Rome. He then disappears from the official records, which suggests that it probably didn’t end well for him. Whatever his Roman bosses thought of him though, the verdict of history is really based on this one decision he makes when an apparently insignificant carpenter’s son from Nazareth is brought before him accused of inciting rebellion. Did he imagine this case would matter so much? Probably not, but he got it wrong, and for that mistake he has been singled out for two thousand years of vilification. Like I said, who’d want to be Pilate?

But I don’t think the Gospel writers ever really intended us to dump all the blame on him. In fact, I think it was quite the opposite, and the Gospel reading we heard today helps us to see that. Pilate doesn’t come across as wicked, just someone who was confused, caught up in a situation he couldn’t see a way out of, hemmed in by conflicting pressures. At the crucial moment, he makes the wrong decision, but how can we be sure we would have acted differently? That is the question the Gospel writer is asking us to ask ourselves here. What do we do when things are tough and the way ahead isn’t easy? I’m sure we’d like to think we are rational, kind and reasonable people, but the chances are that actually, like Pilate, we fall back on old ways of coping, old responses, old ways of seeing the world. Even if they never really worked, we keep on trying the same things.

That’s what Pilate is doing. When an angry mob of religious leaders brings Jesus before him he can’t really understand what all the fuss is about. He’s seen far worse than this man – Judea was full of revolutionaries of one sort or another. Sometimes they had armies behind them, but this Jesus seems harmless enough. He has no soldiers, no weapons, and his followers – well - they’re just a bunch of peasant fishermen, not to mention the women, the children, the sick and disabled! But for some reason the Temple authorities have really got it in for this Jesus. It’s probably just one of their ridiculous religious hang-ups, thinks Pilate, but he knows he will have to smooth things over if he can, so that he doesn’t get it in the neck from his superiors.   So he does what comes naturally to him. He starts to analyse who has the power in this situation and what they are likely to do with it, not so that he can do what is right, but so that he can do what is in his own best interests. It’s all about power.

Pilate lived in a world where having power and keeping it was a prime concern. There were no human rights laws, no war crimes tribunals, no real democratic processes. If you were lucky enough to be born to power, or strong enough to seize it, you could often get away with using it however you wanted. A Roman father had power of life and death over his family and his slaves. He could kill them or have them killed if he wanted to. A governor like Pilate, as we see, could dispense summary justice – where’s the counsel for the defence at Jesus’ trial? And over everyone there was the absolute rule of the Emperors, who were often completely ruthless and sometimes quite deranged. If you wanted to survive in this world you had to become very skilled at reading the signals, backing the right horse at the right moment, playing the power games, and that is what we see Pilate doing here.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” he asks Jesus, because that’s what he’s been accused of claiming.
“Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Jesus replies. “Do you really want to know,” is what he means, “does it actually matter to you whether I am King of the Jews or not, or are you just fishing about to see whether I’ll agree to recant, so you can sweep all this aside?”
Jesus has hit the nail on the head; and Pilate is clearly irritated by that.
“I’m not a Jew, am I? It’s your high priests who have handed you over. What have you done?“ The actual rights and wrongs of the situation are neither here nor there to Pilate – the issues are nothing to do with him. All he cares about is defusing the tension so this whole mess will go away.

At this point Jesus could try to explain all the ins and outs of Jewish faith, the theological differences between him and his accusers, the reasons why he believes his approach to his religion is the right one and theirs is wrong – but that is never going to work, and Jesus knows it. Pilate doesn’t need a crash course in Jewish theology; he needs a whole new vision of the world. There’s no way he’ll be able to understand what Jesus is about while he is blinkered by the anxieties and suspicions  that are so deeply woven into his make-up.

This story, from near the end of John’s Gospel, reminds me of another one from near the beginning. Right back at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry another man comes to talk to him. His name’s Nicodemus. He’s a high-up religious leader and he comes by night, under cover of darkness to try to suss Jesus out. Can Jesus really be the Messiah God has promised?  “Truly I tell you,” says Jesus to him, “no one can see the kingdom of God – God at work here among us – unless they are born again.” Nicodemus doesn’t get it – “how can a grown man like me climb back into the womb and be born again?” he asks? But that wasn’t what Jesus meant at all. Being born again, or born from above, as some translations put it, is about starting afresh, seeing the world, yourself and others in new ways, from new perspectives, giving up the prejudices that have blinded you so that you can see the presence of God right here, right now at work around you.

Jesus’ message to Pilate is essentially the same. “My kingdom is not of this world.” says Jesus. He doesn’t mean that it is just spiritual, or about life after death, he means that the kind of life he’s calling his followers to is one which is so unlike the life Pilate leads that it might as well be a different world. Jesus’ kingdom starts from a completely different place. It can’t grow in the world Pilate inhabits, a world of slippery words, careful calculation, backroom deals and fear that keeps you looking over your shoulder all the time. Its values and priorities are entirely different. Jesus’ kingdom – his world - is one where we don’t need to be anxious about proving ourselves all the time, because we know we are already loved eternally by God, where we don’t need to climb over others, putting them down to make ourselves feel more important, because we’re part of a community where everyone matters and is of equal worth – that is a hard thing to say this week, when we are so much at loggerheads in the church, but it is still true and it’s especially important we hang on to this truth at the times when it is hard to do so.

Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom, too, where we can afford to fail, to lose, even to die, because we are held in hands which will never let us go, no matter what happens. That must be very much in Jesus’ mind as he stands before Pilate, the man who’ll decide whether he is executed or not, but it’s clear that Pilate is far more afraid of Jesus than Jesus is of Pilate.

One modern translator of the Bible translates Jesus’ final words to Pilate like this.  "Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice" (The Message).
Of course, Pilate doesn’t recognise that truth. He doesn’t get it, any more than Nicodemus did. He’s as baffled at the end of the conversation as he was at the beginning. That’s his tragedy.

But it doesn’t need to be our tragedy too - that’s why the Gospel writer tells us this story. That voice of truth calls us to ask ourselves what  power games we play, and why we might feel the need to play them, what pressures weigh on us that might make us behave in ways that distort and diminish us and others too. It’s not that we shouldn’t stand firm on the things that matter. Jesus stands firm here for those he has championed, the poor and the outcast. If he backs down now to save his own skin, where will that leave them? They will once again be told they don’t matter, not really, not enough. But this story reminds us that we shouldn’t let fear rule us and push us into anxious manoeuvring, but rather be guided by the love of God who is with us whatever is happening around us. Otherwise we might find we’ve condemned to death the very things that could have brought us life and hope and peace.
Amen

Sunday, 18 November 2012

2 Before Advent: a sermon for Breathing Space Communion by Kevin Bright





In the quiet reflection of this act of worship, as we look for inspiration for the week ahead I apologise for starting on a downbeat note.
Remembrance Sunday can leave us feeling pretty low. We remember acts of love and courage but as we reflect on lives unfulfilled we are also left with the feeling that there are few signs that an end to human conflict is on the horizon.
The current fighting between Israel and Palestine has a depressing familiarity. I was watching a TV report where separate BBC journalists reported from family homes damaged by missiles on either side and neither family looked as if this was a war in their name, they just want peace and safety for their children.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at what we see today as history repeats itself over and over.
At present we may feel that we are lucky not to be caught up in direct conflict, but we have had and will continue to have our times of challenge and it’s then we need to draw on our faith and remind ourselves that despite all we may fear God does not change and that is the only thing that remains constant.
The letter to the Hebrews was written to Christians who had stopped meeting, who were struggling with their faith. The point is made that the priest at the temple offering sacrifices is no longer relevant since the eternal reality of Jesus sacrifice is that through him we can depend upon our faithful merciful God.
At the time of Jesus even though Herod’s temple was unfinished it would have been one of the wonders of the world. Single stones were 45 cubits long (that’s 45 x 18 ins = over 67 ft) and pillars over 37 ft high cut from a single piece of marble.
It’s no surprise that the disciples marvelled at the construction and were shocked to hear Jesus tell them that all this will be destroyed. Naturally their first question is ‘when’? Even though the Romans would eventually turn the temple to a ruin in the future ‘when’ was not important in this context it was the temporary nature of things made by man which can give a false impression of security which Jesus wanted the disciples to consider.
It can seem like this with our homes when we have lived there a long time, even this building which has been here several hundred years. We can become disappointed with those we come to revere in their roles as parents, law enforcers and other positions of authority as weaknesses and failings emerge showing the frailty of human nature. Nothing is permanent except God.


In Mark’s gospel we hear ‘beware no one leads you astray’ and ‘when you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed’. The point is not a dramatic message about the end of the earth but much more a message to us his followers to keep going in our Christian faith no matter what turmoil we have around us.
We are called to live out our faith whether in a place of peace or conflict. It needs to be a part of us that doesn’t change with the circumstances, like the God who offers us hope we also need it to be a constant.
None of us will wish to seek occasions when we are frightened, distressed or in mourning but at such times it seems natural to turn to God. Perhaps the greater challenge for those of us with comfortable lives is to turn to God day by day when all is going well and we feel no urgent need for his help.
Stones have been tumbling for centuries. Most recently stones have been tumbling not only in the two world wars but now in in Afghanistan and Syria. Stones have been tumbling as we lose those we love, face illness and times of personal crises.
At these times we need to draw on our faith, not be deceived that the end is near, and trust in our unchanging God. Believing that our eternal life with God is both now and in the future let’s take the advice in the letter to the Hebrews and ‘hold fast to our hope’… provoking ‘one another to love and good deeds.
Amen

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Remembrance Sunday




November 11th has become a famous date in the calendar for us. Some dates are like that, firmly associated with something special, whether sad or happy. December 25th for example - we all know what happens then. April 1st – April fools day. November 5th – Bonfire night.  More recently September 11th has acquired its own notoriety – we can’t think of that date now without remembering those awful scenes of the destruction of the Twin Towers.

November 11th, for almost a century, though, has been a day for remembering the courage and the suffering of those caught up in war.

But long before that happened this day was already a significant date in the Church’s calendar, and in the popular calendar too – one of those dates that everyone would have known, because it is also St Martin’s Day. In many parts of Europe it is still marked very thoroughly with all sorts of traditions of its own. There are special meals and lantern-lit processions. There are gifts and sweets for children – so they have a vested interest in keeping it going!

In Britain though Remembrance Day rapidly displaced the popular observance of St Martin. And though it is still his feast day in the Church’s calendar, I doubt  whether most are aware of that at all.   

You might be wondering why I am telling you all this. A long dead saint probably doesn’t seem very relevant to today’s solemn remembrance of those killed in war. But actually it is a very interesting coincidence that these two commemorations fall on the same day. St Martin, you see, was originally a Roman soldier, born in the early 300’s AD, and he has long been regarded as one of the patron saints of soldiers, along with St George. Oddly, though, his claim to fame wasn’t his courage in battle or his military skill, it was the fact that when he became a Christian, a minority, persecuted faith at the time, he laid down his arms and refused to fight at all. On the eve of a battle against the Gauls he announced "I am a soldier of Christ. It is not lawful for me to fight." His military bosses accused him of cowardice, but to prove them wrong Martin volunteered to stand unarmed on the frontline the next day, facing certain death. His superiors were very happy to let him – that would show anyone else who had similar ideas what the result would be. That night, though, the Gauls unexpectedly surrendered, and Martin was spared. He left the army and eventually became Bishop of Tours, in Gaul, and served the very people he had refused to fight against for the rest of his life. 

Most of the early Christians would have made the same decision as Martin did in those circumstances. There are many similar stories of soldier saints who refused to fight, and it wasn’t a surprising decision. The Roman army was the body, after all, which enforced the persecution of Christians, so how could a Christian fight for it? And it was an army dedicated to the expansion of Roman glory and wealth, not to the pursuit of justice. This was a world where raw power ruled, where might was right, and that was something which Jesus had stood firmly against, as we were reminded in our Gospel reading. Of course Martin laid down his weapons. How could he do otherwise?

But even if we understand that, we might wonder if Martin is really a suitable saint for this day. After all, even a hundred years ago, his actions would have got him shot at dawn. Has he got anything to say to us today? I think he has, both to those in the armed forces and for the rest of us, as we face the moral complexities of war, and I’d like to give you two suggestions for what that message might be.

The first is that Martin’s life challenges the idea, so often expressed, that “all’s fair in love and war.”  I’ve no idea where that saying comes from, but you often hear people use it when they want to justify dodgy dealing or moral compromises. The problem is that “all’s fair in love and war” is dangerous nonsense in both cases. In fact, it is the times when we are pushed to the limits emotionally – love and war - when it matters most that we know what is right and wrong and stick to it. It’s all too easy at those moments to be swept off course and do things which we regret later. Of course war requires people to hurt and to kill. We ask our armed forces to do things which we wouldn’t dream of sanctioning in civilian life, and it is service personnel who bear the cost of that and are often haunted by it, even if was legitimate and necessary force.  That is why the work of the British Legion, Help for Heroes, Combat Stress and other organisations which care for those we have asked so much of is so important. But increasingly, and rightly, the world has become watchful in war, insisting that force should be proportionate, that wars are fought in a just cause, as a last resort, and that enemies are treated with dignity and compassion in defeat. All is, in fact, not fair, in love and war. Leaders who forget that now find themselves answering for it at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Individual servicemen and women find themselves in a court of law if they misuse their power. This sort of accountability has been a long time coming, but St Martin knew about it 1700 years ago. It mattered what cause you were fighting for, he proclaimed; each person, he said, was responsible for their own decisions. Winning at all costs, glorying in power for its own sake, “my country, right or wrong”; these were attitudes he rejected, attitudes which could never lead to anything good in the long-term for individuals, nations or for the world. They were no part of Christian faith, no part of what God wanted for any of his children.

The second thing Martin’s life reminds us of follows on from this. Laying down his weapons went against everything he’d had been brought up to value.  Martin was a soldier through and through. It was in his blood. His father was a soldier, and he had grown up in army camps. Like children of military families throughout the ages he was shaped by that highly disciplined environment, often on the move, aware of death and danger, but aware too of the camaraderie and pride of military life.  That military ethos was even there in his name; Martin comes from Mars, the Roman God of war. In any case, the sons of soldiers were automatically drafted into the army, so Martin knew what his destiny was. But from an early age he had also felt drawn to Christian faith, moved by its challenge to care for the vulnerable. There is a famous story that a few years before he left the army, Martin had come across a beggar, shivering in the snow by the city gates. He took his precious military cloak and cut it in two, giving half to the beggar. The beggar was very grateful, but the crowd around him ridiculed Martin who now looked pretty silly in his half-cloak. Perhaps Martin himself wondered whether this gesture had been a stupid one, because that night he had a dream. He dreamt he saw the courts of heaven, full of angels arrayed in splendour. In the middle of them all was Jesus, but he wasn’t dressed in cloth of gold but in that half-cloak Martin had given to the beggar. “He is not even baptised yet,” said Jesus, “but Martin has clothed me with his own cloak.”  Martin was reassured and his faith strengthened, but he learned an important lesson that day; sometimes the hardest actions to take aren’t the ones which threaten your life, but the ones which threaten your dignity, which lead to you suffering mockery and misunderstanding for the sake of others.

This was just one example of the growing tension between Martin’s military upbringing and his faith, a tension which in the end must have been unbearable. He knew he faced losing everything if he refused to fight – his family, his friends, his reputation, his identity, as well as his life, but he couldn’t ignore the call of Christ either. I am prepared to bet that standing up against his Roman military mindset was every bit as frightening as the thought of standing on a battlefield, something he’d been trained for from childhood.

The truth that Martin discovered was that courageous service comes in many forms.  Those who bear arms to protect our freedoms exercise one, very demanding form of courage, and we recognise, honour and pray for them as they do so, but it isn’t the only one. The frontlines of the struggle for justice and true peace aren’t just in Afghanistan and the other trouble spots of the world, they are right here in our own communities, towns and cities, workplaces and homes, and the battles we really need to fight often can’t be fought with guns and bombs. That was the point St Paul was making in our first reading. He wrote to the Christians in Ephesus about the armour and weapons they needed, but he didn’t mean them literally to go out and buy swords and helmets. He was talking about the things they did and said every day, and the way in which their actions helped or hindered the work of God, the work of peace, the work of justice.

War doesn’t come from nowhere; it grows from small wrongs that are not set right, resentments and prejudices which are allowed to take root because no one thinks it is their job to challenge them.  We tend to divide ourselves into soldiers and civilians but the truth is that everyone is a part of a great struggle in which the soul of the world is shaped, whether we like it or not. Each of us is called to battle, whatever form that takes. Wherever we see people treated unjustly, left to shiver in the cold, like that beggar, hungry or homeless, excluded or hated without cause, we are on a frontline, a place where the war will ultimately be won or lost, and each of us will bear some responsibility for the outcome.

St Martin’s life calls us all to take that seriously, to hear our own calling and to answer it, not just to honour those who have paid the highest price of all to guard our freedom, but also to pay the price that is asked of us to make our world a better place.
 Amen
 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

All Saints 2012





Today we celebrate All Saints Sunday. It’s the day when we give thanks for all those figures from Christian history who we call saints, those whose lives have inspired ours, ordinary people, flesh and blood, not superhuman, yet somehow setting an example that was extraordinary.  It’s not just a day for holy hero worship though. This day is also supposed to remind us that if these ordinary people could be saints, then, potentially, so could any of us.

Now there’s a thought. We can all be saints! Perhaps that excites you, perhaps it alarms you. But if you do want to be one, how do you go about it? Is it just a matter of popping down to the local halo shop and buying the biggest shiniest one you can find…? It’s probably just as well that it isn’t.

Actually the pathway to official sainthood really depends on which denomination of the church you belong to. To be an official Roman Catholic saint you have to have at least a couple of miracles attributed to your intervention after you have died, as well as living an exemplary Catholic life. It’s all quite a rigmarole.
Many Protestant churches, though, have traditionally regarded the whole idea of the saints with great unease. If All Saints’ day is observed at all, the emphasis is likely to be on the way the New Testament uses the word “saint”, where it refers to all Christian people, the living congregations of churches, anyone who is part of the body of Christ, rather than just  named individuals with special places in heaven.

The Church of England, as ever, tends to have a foot in both camps. It doesn’t have any mechanism for making saints itself, though it has added to the calendar all sorts of worthy people it thinks we should remember – saints in all but name – people like Florence Nightingale and John Bunyan, who wrote “Pilgrim’s Progress”. It recognises and celebrates the pre-Reformation saints of the Catholic Church, and many churches will have statues or images of saints around. Officially, Anglicans don’t pray to or through the saints. The 39 articles of religion, written in the 16th century and setting out what the Church of England thought was important then, positively thunder against the practice -“a fond thing vainly invented… and repugnant to the Word of God.” But of course, the reality is that many Anglicans are quite happy to talk to anyone in the heavenly realms who they think might be listening.

If it all sounds like a bit of a muddle, then that’s because it is. The saints – who they were, how you got to be one, what they are there for -  became one of those issues around which Christians polarised and fought bitterly, and sometimes it can be quite difficult to get back beyond those struggles. But it’s only if we can do that that we can start to see how ideas about sainthood can enrich rather than just embattle our faith. 

Of course, the idea of saints isn’t just a Christian one. People have always needed their heroes, their inspirational figures. All faiths have their saints, whatever they call them – and those who have no faith still seem to need to have people to look up to and emulate as well. The first Christians to be called saints, though, were those who were martyred for their faith in the early centuries of the Church. Persecution wasn’t constant, but there were often purges and outbreaks of trouble, and when they happened, being a Christian suddenly became very dangerous. It was very hard to hold onto your faith in those circumstances, and many just gave up. What was the point, if it was all going to end like this?  Those who managed to find the courage not to go back on their commitment to the way of Christ became an important source of strength to those who were wavering.

Eventually, of course, that time of Roman persecution came to an end; Christians were no longer being thrown to the lions, but the concept of sainthood didn’t go away. It was gradually broadened to recognise the impact people could have through their lives as well as their deaths. Dying for your faith could be difficult, but living it could be just as hard. Walking in the way of Christ, living with love, justice and honesty is never easy - it wasn’t then and it isn’t now, and often those who try it will feel that it is a foolish effort, like trying to sweep back the tide, and one which is doomed to failure.

And that brings me to our Gospel reading. To be honest, I struggled to see at first what this story of the raising of Lazarus had to do with the theme of sainthood, beyond the fact that Lazarus, Martha and Mary all end up bearing the title of saint. But then something I read pointed me to the old King James Bible translation of this story and that shed a new light on it. I don’t very often go to the King James Bible. Much though I love some of the beauty of its language, much though I appreciate the special place it has in many people’s hearts,  it is often not as accurate a translation as the modern Bibles. Sometimes though, it comes up trumps, with something that really hits home, and that is definitely the case with this story. In the modern language version we heard this morning, when Jesus asks that Lazarus’ tomb be opened, Martha replies rather primly, “Lord, already there is a stench…” In the King James version, though, she is much more earthy and direct. “Lord,” she wails, “he stinketh!”

Martha knows that Lazarus is dead, really properly dead. It’s been four days, and in the Middle Eastern heat, she knows what that means. He stinketh!  It is too late now. It is pointless and hopeless and everyone knows it, because he stinketh. But it turns out not to be as she imagined. Jesus calls to Lazarus to come out, and Lazarus comes out.  He calls into the utter darkness of death, into the stink of that tomb, and life emerges.  We probably come screeching to a halt here; after all, we know this is biologically impossible. But the people of Jesus’ time wouldn’t necessarily have thought so. They didn’t expect dead people to rise, but if God wanted it to happen they wouldn’t have doubted that he could, theoretically, make it so. We struggle with this story in a way the original hearers wouldn’t have. But whatever its historical reality, we can be absolutely clear what John was trying to say here. He wasn’t telling his hearers about biology, he was trying to help them cope with the despair of living in their own stinky world, where they often felt there was no hope, and everything around them cried, “give up!” The message of this story was that no matter how things looked, the world they saw - and smelt - around them was not the only, or the final reality. Life might sometimes stink, but God was still with them, in the midst of that stink, and that meant that there was always a reason to hope.

My guess is that we need to hear that just as much as they did, because our sense of hope can be just as fragile. George Orwell in his dark novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” painted a picture of the triumph of a totalitarian regime. He used the powerful image of “a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” It is a terrifying image because it sums up what has to be one of our deepest fears, that evil will have the last word, and that there is nothing we can do about it.

We aren’t short of evidence to feed that fear either. We turn on the television news and we see bloodshed and hatred, deceit and corruption, people who grow rich on the proceeds of evil.
“It stinketh!”
Closer to home, at work, in our own communities, or even in our own families we may be aware of people getting away with things they know are wrong, hurting others, manipulating and scheming to get what they want.
“It stinketh!”
We might feel that we are sometimes fighting a losing battle with ourselves as well, unable to change habits, behaviour and attitudes which we know are harming us or those around us.
We stinketh too!
Sometimes, frankly, everything stinketh. The stench of death – the death of hope, the death of love, the death of goodness – can seem overwhelming, and we find ourselves thinking , “Why bother trying to do what is right? If you can’t beat them join them! Everyone else is at it, why shouldn’t I be?”

And that is the moment when, whatever our theological position, we desperately need the help of the saints.  We need them because they show us that it is possible to live out the message of Christ, the message of resurrection, the message of hope. They weren’t perfect – no one is – but they showed that it is possible for life and love to survive, even in the face of great evil, that it is possible to carry on doing right, even if it seems to bring no visible reward, even if no one else is doing it, even if it feels pointless at the time. We keep telling their stories as we struggle with our own sense of hopelessness, because we know that message is true for us too.  However deep the darkness, the smallest light can defeat it; however much the world stinks of death, the sweet smell of life is stronger; however much we weep, we can also find a thousand causes to rejoice if we have eyes to see them.  

On this All Saints day, we give thanks for all those, living and departed, who have helped us to see that truth when we have most needed it, to resist the stink of death and choose to hope instead. And we pray that we in our turn might live up to the calling to be saints for others too.
Amen