November 3, 2019 — Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost (All Saints Sunday)
Rev. Alison Quin
The Communion of Saints and God’s Upside-Down Values
Many years ago, in 2005, I went on a trip to a boys’ orphanage in Honduras called El Hogar de Amor y Esperanza—the Home of Love and Hope. The parish I was serving had sponsored a boy named Wilmer Perez at the orphanage for about six years at that point. Every year the parish would raise money to pay for his expenses at the school. We would write letters to Wilmer, and he would write back.
We started when he was about 9—so he was 15 then.
We decided it was time to go meet Wilmer in person. So a group of adults and teens raised the money to take a weeklong trip to Tegucigalpa. We stayed with the 80 boys and staff at the orphanage and got to know Wilmer.
Like many of the boys there, he was not truly an orphan—his mother was alive, but she was blind and earned money selling candy on the streets—but not nearly enough to feed and clothe Wilmer and his sister, who was at a girls’ orphanage.
We spent some of our time there helping with a construction project, building a dining hall for the upper school, or collegio. When we weren’t doing that, we spent time playing soccer with the little boys, doing arts and crafts, singing and generally getting to know them. Some of their moms would come to the school and help out with laundry and cooking when they weren’t working so we got to know them as well.
It was an eye opening experience for all of us. When we visited Wilmer’s home, we found a one-room shack with no electricity, water or plumbing. All water had to be carried up hill on foot, and everyone used outhouses.
The little boys always ate everything on their plates because they had all known hunger. None of them wore glasses, not because they had perfect vision, but because they had never had their eyes examined and couldn’t afford glasses if they needed them.
We took a tour of the local city hospital, and the conditions were awful. Families had to provide food and bedding and make sure their sick family member was bathed. There were long lines and people lying on the floor waiting to be seen.
At night in the orphanage, we would hear the sounds of gunfire in the city around us.
Yet, despite all of this hardship and extreme poverty, we felt immeasurably blessed by being there.
The staff and the boys and their families were full of gratitude and joy. The director of the program, Doña Claudia Castro, loved every one of those boys. The boys seemed to be naturally generous. When one of them got a chocolate bar for his birthday, he asked that it be divided among his nine friends so that all of them could have a piece. When the boys got a big cake, they would ask kids from the neighborhood to come and share it with them. When they got care packages and gifts from sponsors, they shared them. We were so warmly and lovingly welcomed.
On the last evening, we sang songs for them and they sang songs for us. And they gave us cards they had made—and they hugged saying, thank you for your love.
We went home with hearts overflowing from all the love we found there. I sat next to one of the teenagers on the plane and asked what he had learned on the trip—he summed it up like this: “We are materially rich but spiritually poor—they are materially poor but spiritually rich.”
I think of this experience whenever I read the beatitudes in Luke—blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are hated. Woe to those who are rich, who are full, who are laughing now, who are well-regarded.
Jesus sees the world upside down from the way that everyone else sees it. Things operate differently in the reign of God that Jesus manifested in his ministry.
He brought food for the hungry, comfort for those who live in perpetual grief and loss, inclusion for those who are downtrodden and forgotten.
And to those who have plenty, who are satisfied now, Jesus brings a wake up call, a warning. Life isn’t about money, food, security, respectability—those are not the things that bring lasting happiness.
The communion of saints—that intimate unity we share through Christ with one another—including those who have finished their race—is a new community, with new values. Happiness is no longer defined in the world’s terms—instead, our values are rooted in God’s boundless compassion and generosity. We are called to a new way of life—to live in solidarity with the destitute, the mournful and despised. We can participate in God’s reign right here and now if we are willing to risk our security for the sake of that new community. That is what makes for true happiness. Happy and blessed are we when we live generously, as God is generous. Woe to us when we miss opportunities to participate in God’s generosity.
Today, we have the great privilege of baptizing two new Christians—today they become part of the communion of saints—the new community based on God’s generosity, love and mercy. As followers of Jesus, their calling and ours is to try to live by the upside down values of God’s reign that he showed us.
These young people will look to us as examples, just as we look to the communion of saints, past and present. It is our privilege and our challenge to show our newly baptized young people by word and deed what a blessing it is to choose God’s generosity over the false values of the world.