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Servants and Saints

Matthew 23:1-12 & Summons by Aurora Levins Morales

November 5, 2023

By Rev. Jackie Hibbard

“The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” When I read & re-read the scripture, these lines captured me.

This scripture is another example of Jesus flipping what was commonly accepted as true. That a leader is great and should be revered and appreciated and is more important than others. They are above reproach. How many leaders do you put on a pedestal? Or maybe how many leaders put themselves on a pedestal?

To be great Jesus says is to be a servant and be humble and these are exalted. What does that mean?

When I looked up humble in various dictionaries and then looked at synonyms for humble - I’ll tell you the definitions and synonyms are not very positive. Here are some synonyms - meek, poor, inferior. There are plenty more but none of them are very flattering.

The same was true for servant - synonyms are slave, minion, menial.

Who wants to be considered meek, poor, inferior, menial, a minion or a slave? Anyone here? I’m guessing most of us now and in Jesus’ time strive to be anything but meek, inferior, menial, a minion or slave.

But if we flip these upside down as Jesus taught, being a servant and being humble aren’t demeaning but revolutionary. Being a humble servant and great in Jesus’ definition means lifting others up and not only touting your own brilliance and importance. To embrace your gifts but don’t think you’re better than others. Realize others have gifts that are just as important and needed as yours. It means sharing power, authority, success and failures - not being self important, arrogant, better than, having a fancy title or showing off a place of honor or prestige.

Another verse in the scripture today says, “do whatever they teach you and follow it, but do not do as they do for they do not practice what they teach.” That verse reminds me about the line that Nicole shared last week from the gospel of Mary. Here’s what the gospel of Mary Magdalene says, “Be careful not to let anyone mislead you by saying look over here or look over there... Go and preach the gospel about the kingdom. Don’t lay down any rules beyond what I’ve given you, nor make any law like the law giver, lest you be bound by it.”

Have you ever heard the saying, do as I say not as I do? Often this is said to Children in regards to not doing what their parents are doing. Turns out it has roots in the Bible and recognizes the irony that sometimes we do not practice what we teach or say. But Jesus says to follow the teaching - not the actions which are sometimes contradictory. Do as I say and not as I do in other words.

Now back to the Story for all Ages. Have you heard the term GOAT? Greatest of all time. For the longest time I would see GOAT in a social media post or in an article and not have a clue what it referred to. I finally caught on.

I wonder if any of you have seen the All Saints day icon poster by artist Kelly Latimore? Here it is on our screen. He has created a poster with icons of 36 saints across history.. It’s definitely worth checking out because it makes us aware that saints have lived across the ages and live now. They are common people, not ones that would have put themselves above anyone else. They exemplify humble servants as Jesus taught.


1st row: St. Pier Gorgio Frassati (significant global patron for youth and young adults), Homeless Christ, Marsha P. Johnson (one of the most prominent figures of the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s in New York City. Always sporting a smile, Johnson was an important advocate for homeless LGBTQ+ youth, those effected by H.I.V. and AIDS, and gay and transgender rights.), Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian author who wrote Crime and Punishment), St. Joseph with Baby Jesus, St. Francis (Italian mystic and friar. Patron saint of animals)

2nd row: Desmond Tutu (South African Anglican Priest and Bishop known for his anti- apartheid work and leading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), St. Seraphim (an 18th century Russian who lifted up contemplation for lay people), Our Lady of the Journey (depicting a mother fleeing with her child for safety), James Baldwin (20th century American writer known for his critique of race, class, sexuality and masculinity), Mary With Baby Jesus ( Keep Watch), Dorothy Kazel (20th century Ursuline sister who was a missionary in El Salvador and killed by the military with 2 other sisters)

3rd row: "Pops" Roebuck Staples (20th century Gospel and Blues Musician), Dorothy Day (20th Century Catholic social activist who established the Catholic Worker movement), Pauli Murray (an American civil rights activist, advocate, legal scholar and theorist, author and – later in life – an Episcopal priest. Murray's work influenced the civil rights movement and expanded legal protection for gender equality), John Lewis (20th century social activist, and politician. “Good Trouble”), Fannie Lou Hamer (one of the most important, passionate, and powerful voices of the civil and voting rights movements and a leader in the efforts for greater economic opportunities for African Americans.), Henri Nouwen (20th century spiritual writer & teacher)

4th row: Thomas Merton (American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist and scholar of comparative religion.), Mahalia Jackson (an American gospel singer, widely considered one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century. With a career spanning 40 years, Jackson was integral to the development and spread of gospel blues in black churches ), St. Dulce of the Poor (a Brazilian Catholic Franciscan Sister who served the poorest of the poor and performed miracles), St. Mark (Mark founded the episcopal see of Alexandria, which was one of the five most important sees of early Christianity), Mary Oliver (writer and poet), Nicholas Black Elk (medicine man of the Lakota people. Survived Battle of Little Big Horn. The book Black Elk speaks shares some of his teachings)

5th row: James Cone (influential American theologian. He is best known for his advocacy of black theology and black liberation theology), St. Thérèse of Lisieux (a French Catholic Discalced Carmelite nun who is widely venerated in modern times. She is popularly known in English as the Little Flower of Jesus, ), Fred Rogers ( television host, author, producer, and Presbyterian minister best known for the children’s show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood), Frederick Douglass ( social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. He became the most important leader of the movement for African-American civil rights in the 19th century.), Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (an American Baptist minister, activist, and political philosopher who was one of the most prominent leaders in the civil rights movement ), St. Patrick ( a fifth-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland.)

6th row: Ruth and Naomi (Daughter in law & mother in law who had a very strong relationship despite much tragedy), Deitrich Bonhoeffer (a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident), Etty Hillesum a Dutch Jewish author of confessional letters and diaries which describe both her religious awakening and the persecutions of Jewish people in Amsterdam during the German occupation. In 1943, she was deported and murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp), Madonna and Child, St. Hildegard of Bingen (German Benedictine abbess and polymath active as a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and as a medical writer and practitioner during the High Middle Ages.), Maya Angelou (n American memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist)

The saints in Latimore’s Saints Icon poster are not people that most of culture would add on the greatest of all time list. But they are indeed Great in Jesus definition - the greatest among you will be a servant.

I would guess that many of us have people in our lives, who we consider to be saints, that would not make a cultural GOAT list. Who is on that list for you? Really when I think of saints, whether canonized by the Catholic Church or common saints in our lives here’s what I think about. A person who has been or is a servant. Someone who is humble. Someone who has done something that touched me personally. Someone who has helped to change something in the world. Someone who has brought beauty into the world. Someone who makes us think differently or question our assumptions. Someone who exemplifies the best of humanity. Someone who encourages me beyond my own self imposed limitations or doubts. Someone who sees the best of me.

Here are some people who have died who I consider saints, humble servants and have impacted my life who not on the poster - Robb Lapp, my Sunday School teachers when I was a child, Rosa Parks, Vincent Harding, Matthew Shepherd, Harvey Milk, Sojourner Truth, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Jean Scott, Antoinette Brown.

When I read this poem summons written by Aurora Levins Morales this past week I knew it needed to be included in the service. I think about those 10,000 grandmothers, we might consider them saints. But she writes that those grandmothers say 10,000 isn’t enough. As I read her poem alongside the scripture it makes me think that we are all called to be servants and saints. We can’t wait for governments or peacekeepers or so-called leaders. We are called to wake up and put on our shoes and bring our gifts whatever they are and meet at the corner and go make a difference in our corner of the world. To make a difference with the people that we meet. Whether it’s at home, in our workplaces, in our communities, in our school, in this church or the greater church, or beyond. To recognize the saints in your life who help in countless ways, who serve and call us to be our best selves. Saints don’t need to be perfect - but they do serve others in ways that often they do not even know make a difference.

This All Saints Day - I ask you to consider this. Who are the saints in your life who impacted you at some point in your life? What was it about them? And how might you be a servant or saint or a GOAT?

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