Ruth 1:1-18; Mark 12:28-34: All Saints Day
I’ve always loved the fact that the New York City Marathon seems to always fall near or on All Saints Day. Running the marathon is a perfect metaphor for how we embrace our lives, or our faith. Life, like faith, asks 100% of us. It demands complete devotion. It requires great sacrifice for great goals sometimes of which we never realized we were capable. We are pulled toward by sheer grit. We need help. It calls forth entire physical, spiritual, emotional and physical endurance. To run a marathon, 26.2 miles, we have to not only train properly for months on end – we give up many other pleasures to reach this one goal. Usually most of those 50,000 plus people out there are not motivated for the fame or place on the podium. They are motivated by something more. Like them, we give our whole heart, our whole mind, our entire soul, our whole strength. We are truly surrounded by a great crowd a witnesses today who teach us about stewardship, and encourage us to give because we believe in the great ministries our church’s stand for, for the message of love, so prophetic at this time, that we proclaim every and every day.
Consider Patrick Harten, the air traffic control worker who helped Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely land a commercial airline on the Hudson, to FDNY Battalion Chief Joe Downey, who is running in honor of his late grandfather (Ray Downey) who led rescue operations on 9/11.
Queens native Jeff Munoz began running as a means to cope with the depression that resulted from his mom’s passing. “After running an Road Runners four-mile race with a friend, he began to search for races that supported cancer awareness and similar causes. In addition to helping him cope with his loss, running inspired Munoz to encourage others to run.
One of this year’s highest-profile fundraisers was tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, who used her first marathon to raise more than $50,000 for Team for Kids. “Sports have been a huge part of my life ever since I was a little girl,” said Wozniacki, 24, of Denmark, who reached the US Open final this year and is ranked number eight in the world. “I wanted to help other kids as well, especially those who don’t have the same opportunities I had as a child.” Two other members of Team for Kids, Drew Swiss and Dambisa Moyo, raised $83,000 and $20,000, respectively, and received the Jack and Lewis Rudin Awards as the top male and female fundraisers. Swiss has won the award seven years in a row, raising more than $400,000 for youth and community service programs.
One of the youngest New York City Marathon finishers, 18-year-old Quinn Heyrich of Madison, NJ, also ran for Team for Kids. “I wanted to run a marathon and running for Team for Kids made sense for me,” said Heyrich. “I’ve had a lot of privileges and I really wanted to help people who don’t have the opportunities that I’ve had.”
Other celebrities celebrated a diverse range of causes. Amber Sabathia (wife of Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia), retired Giants running back Tiki Barber, and Alexis Stoudemire (wife of Knicks Amar’e Stoudemire), are running for a Foundation which has a mission to enrich the lives of inner-city youth.
Most of the other charity runners took part with a lower profile, but their stories are no less compelling. “I’m here today running on behalf of an organization that saved my life,” said Karen Lavelle of Dublin, Ireland, who ran for St. James’s Hospital Oncology, where she was treated for cervical cancer a year ago. “Without them, I would not be here.” Last year, 9,300 runners raised $35.5 million dollars for charities of their choice,
I love these stories. Do you know why? These people are saints. They are ordinary people, like us, doing something hard, to raise funds for those in need. They are a great crowd of witnesses, as the Bible tells us. I was raised to consider saints to the Olympian, the champion, the gold medalist among regular believers who barely break a sweat getting to church on time, doing nice things throughout the week. Those saints I was believed existed in a realm of super-sanctity never to be penetrated the realm of regular mortals that hoped to get to heaven by the skin of their teeth. This is how I was raised to believe in the communion of saints, to collect saint cards the way some kids collected baseball cards.
A lot has changed in my understanding. Perhaps the understanding of being a saint hasn’t changed because Jesus’ words haven’t changed— “You shall love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and with all your soul, and with all your soul, and with all you r mind and with all your strength.” And then without missing a beat Jesus adds from Lev.19:12 “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s what saints are made of. That’s what matters. It’s hard. It’s difficult. It’s the spiritual marathon we are called to. But the point is it’s for everyone. Not just a few. Those who think they are not qualified as saints are mistaken. Jesus calls us all. We are called to give, to our community, to church’s stewardship campaigns to keep our church strong and empowered to carry out ministry.
Look at our story from Ruth. Ruth is a saint, an example of an ordinary person who chose to love well, despite loss, grief and facing the unknown. Ruth had quite a marathon placed before her.
Ruth, a Moabite woman, is married ten years to a Jewish man dies leaving her a widow and childless. To top it off, her brother in law dies and her father in law dies. Three widows alone in a male dominated culture. Naomi, her mother in law, decides to go home to Bethlehem in Judah.
Ruth stays with Naomi on her 30 miles journey back to Bethlehem. What will await them? How will they support themselves? Talk about fear and anxiety. Ruth however gives this to Naomi. She will not let her go alone.
Naomi and Ruth go to Bethlehem and they persevere. Little by little the rebuild a life. Through Ruth’s resourcefulness and faithfulness and transformation occurs for her and Naomi. From the rest of the story we know that Naomi plays matchmaker for Ruth with a relative of her dead husband, Boaz. Ruth is remarried and has a child; this child in turn becomes the grandfather of King David, the royal descendant of Jesus. Ruth went the distance. She is a saintly figure because she loved in the midst of heartache and uncertainty, and shows us that it is possible to love, to love again after loss, and to care for others in their need. That’s what saints do.
It is not surprising that the most significant investment we must make in in becoming a saint is what we do with ourselves. The operative word here is love. Jesus clearly states: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We experience self-love through self-acceptance, self-worth, a healthy self-esteem, an ability to relate, to forgive and be forgiven, and believe that our lives have a purpose and a meaning. We can’t believe this if there is no self-love borne from God. From these seeds of self-love, we love others, and we develop into the saints God calls us to be. By becoming the shining example of love, we inspire love in others. Love your neighbor as you love yourself Jesus said. Because we accomplish great things when we allow God’s love to fill us, free us, claim us, and we can acknowledge it, without boasting, without shame, we are God’s beloved.
We know the ghosts and demons of Halloween are not vanquished from our world just because it is All Saints Day. That’s why we need the example of the saints. It’s why we need each other. It is only the steady light of each other’s love that transform the demons of fear and the ghosts of the past into servants of love.
We are the living saints of the church. We have been called to do new things. First Things First. We have been called to love ourselves and to love our neighbor as ourselves. To be saints. Stay on course in this marathon of faith and cross the finish line. Therefore, we hear the scriptures cheer us on: since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus. the author and perfecter of our faith. Hebrews 12:1. Let us join the unending marathon of faith, celebrate each other today, then when we reach Heaven’s shores, know we will be welcomed and cheered on by the crowds of saints that await us. Amen.