This church, St Anne and All Saints South Lambeth, acquired the 'All Saints' part of its name from another church which originally stood in the vicinity of what is today the Lansdowne Green Estate (where some of our congregation now live). That church was bombed during the Second World War and the congregation joined St Barnabas Church on Guildford Road, to form All Saints and St Barnabas. Some of our congregation used to go to that church until it closed in the early 1980s, after which the congregation moved here to St Anne’s, to form what is now St Anne and All Saints. So the saints have certainly been all over South Lambeth.
When we get to All Saints Day, which we are celebrating today (though it actually falls on Tuesday), one of the things I like to think about are all those saints who are part of our story; the people of the three churches of All Saints, St Barnabas and St Anne who, over 200 years, have kept the faith in this corner of London.
Just imagine for a moment all the happy occasions they celebrated — the christenings and marriages that took place in these churches; the Christmases and Easters that were observed; the parties and social events that took place in their halls.
Think, too, about all that this city has gone through over the years — the devastating epidemics of cholera in 1832 and 1849, and of smallpox in 1901; the winter of 1814 when the river Thames froze so solidly they were able to hold a fair on it, while a few decades later the ‘great stink’ of 1858 was caused by high levels of untreated sewage in the river during a particularly hot summer. Think of the First World War and the losses experienced by families in every street of this parish; the great economic depression of the 1930s and the grinding poverty that it caused to so many; the Second World War, in which this area was one of the most heavily bombed in London, with people losing family, neighbours and homes; the rationing and austerity of the 1950s, and so on.
For the former congregations of All Saints, St Barnabas and St Anne, we are the people who must remember and give thanks for all that they went through while remaining faithful to God, and keeping the practice of worship alive for us to continue.
So today one of the ways that we can celebrate All Saints Day, and mark our Patronal Festival (as an 'All Saints' church), is to remember and honour all those generations of Christians who stayed faithful through difficult times, trusting in Jesus Christ and in the hope of the kingdom of God.
In that kingdom, we are all saints. Citizens, in fact. And God’s kingdom belongs to God, and nothing or nobody can take it away from us.
In today’s Old Testament reading, Daniel has a weird dream which is a manifestation of his fears and anxieties (we’ve all had those). In his dream he sees four beasts coming up out of the sea. These strange creatures represent the kings of the four countries that have dominated and oppressed Israel for 500 years up to and including the time of Daniel: Babylon, Media, Persia and Greece. The kings of these nations have caused suffering to Israel for generations. Yet the people kept the faith. When Daniel seeks some help understanding what his dream might mean, he is given this reassurance: ‘The holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever.’ (Daniel 7.18)
Whatever earthly kingdom we belong to, whatever nationality we are, we are also citizens of God’s kingdom. And God’s kingdom belongs only to God, and nobody and no catastrophe can take that away from us.
In St Paul’s words, ‘…we have obtained an inheritance…as God’s own people’ (Ephesians 1.11,14). And while the practice of worship has been passed on to us by those who gathered here in years past, our inheritance is given to us by Jesus Christ, whom ‘…God raised from the dead and seated at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but in the age to come’ (Ephesians 1.20-21, NRSV).
Whatever you have to go through in this life, nobody can take God away from you. And some of the most inspirational stories of Christian saints are those who were horribly abused by those in authority but refused to yield to them and give up their faith, because they had confidence in a higher authority. And there is nothing that drives cowardly tyrants and bullies more crazy than those who lay claim to their citizenship in the kingdom of God above and beyond all else.
And so this is how Jesus can say to us:
'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God' — poverty cannot take God away from you.
'Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled' — famine cannot take God away from you.
'Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh' — grief and sorrow cannot take God away from you.
'Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man' — persecution and abuse cannot take God away from you. (Luke 6.20-23, NRSV)
But there are things in life that can get between us and God in the way we live:
‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. (Luke 6.24-26, NRSV).
'The blessed are those who have caught at least a glimpse of God's future and trust that it is for them.' (Prof Sarah Henrich). The woeful are those who have put their faith in themselves, their money, their comfort, and their reputation. Their eyes look inwards to themselves, not outwards on the world nor on God.
And Jesus goes on to give us some examples of how to keep the faith and live a blessed life:
'Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you... Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6.27-31, NRSV).
We are members of one particular outpost of the kingdom of God, St Anne and All Saints Church and, as such, how will we ensure that we are not only faithful saints in that kingdom but keepers of the faith for future generations?
People in this part of Lambeth are today living thorough the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. There will be more wars in the future, more terrorism on our doorstep. The health epidemic currently threatening the lives of many, including children, is obesity, a condition that comes from having too much and doing too little. We don't know what leaving the European Union, what Brexit, will mean for us, although our currency has lost a fifth of its value and is now the worst performing currency in the world on the money markets. The price of Marmite has gone up by 12.5%, and The Great British Bake Off has left the BBC for Channel 4!
By any measure, these are uncertain times. Yes, nothing can take God away from us. But in 50 years time, or 100 years time, will there still be a community of Christians worshipping faithfully here? Or will the light have died, overwhelmed by those two other great epidemics of our time — apathy and individualism?
As we celebrate today what has been passed on to us from our predecessors in this parish, many of whom lived though times far worse times than our, we must each also ask ourselves, 'What am I doing to keep the faith and ensure it will be passed on for future generations?'