Preached On All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2012:
Who are the saints we celebrate this morning?
Who and what, are saints?
Our history and tradition tell us they are people who did extraordinary things with their faith and lives, many of the earliest dying for their witness to the Kingdom and their work in it, to keep the movement alive, to be icons of Christ, to emulate the extraordinary ministry and sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth.
Allow me to posit this – we have saints in our midst.
That’s right; I’m looking at you.
Ah, there’s one! A saint!
Now, before you think you’re not worthy of sainthood, remember that the saints we have on our windows, on our icons, and on the signs outside of our churches were people like you and me. They had workaday lives most of the time, they had families, dreams, ambitions, deadlines, failures and successes. We’ve been conditioned by history and oral tradition to think of a saint as a person who is good, who does good, and is spotless in life and faith, someone whose relics cure illness and cause miracles to happen, that catalyst bringing some to the faith or deepening the faith already held.
Someone who was murdered or martyred while defending Christianity.
I won’t argue with some of that, but remember, our friend Jesus said only God is good.
Perhaps one definition of a saint could be this: ‘a person who obeys the New Commandment and every day strives to live out the Gospel.’
Note that I said, strive.
Some days we get it right, the right that God expects of us, and that is to follow Jesus, live every day to honor God in Christ, and be examples of the Good News and New Commandment.
Some days are abysmal – those “pull the covers over the head and grab the teddy bear and hold tight” days. But every day is a new beginning, a new start, yet another chance to take right action and get it right.
If you want my opinion about who and what saints are – and it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to get it anyway – they are the roll call of Christianity, particularly the people Jesus calls out in his sermon on the plain, or mountain, depending on whose Gospel and translation you’re reading, that wonderful poetic homily that was a political manifesto, an agenda for social justice and activism.
Saints are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those persecuted and reviled. They are people like you and me who either fit into one or more of these categories, or respond to the needs of those named.
Ordinary people who more than often lived what you and I would call a normal life. They were teachers, parents, nurses, doctors, sons, daughters – you get the idea.
Did anything change for them while earthside? There is an ancient saying that goes “Before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water; after enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.”
The same may be applied to the people we celebrate today. They were not doctors of doctrine or builders of confessions and creeds, designers of liturgies, they were not blessed with the ecstatic visions of Teresa of Avila or the mysticism of St. John of the Cross, or Julian of Norwich. Most days, they chopped wood and carried water and they did it for God.
Nowadays, the saints go out of their way to feed the hungry, or come in early on a Sunday morning to sing in choirs, set up chairs, offer clothing to those who need it, visit the sick, listen to the story of a woman or man who lost their jobs and their homes, their pride and self-worth, working and praying with a strung-out guy on the park bench about finding a way out of that personal hell. They are people who speak out and represent those who have no voices, work for equality in all aspects of life. They welcome and embrace lost sheep into this particular intimate fold, whether they are a professor, a day worker, someone looking for a new start, or someone with a collar. I see these saints before me.
These are the saints we celebrate today.
They are the focus of Jesus’ ministry.
I don’t know about you, but when I first read the Gospels as a girl, I saw myself in them, but never would have believed it for a minute if you had told me then what I’d be doing now as a Christian. Or that I would be a Christian. Christians were good people who went to church. I wasn’t good, and my family didn’t go to church. Yet Jesus was talking about me and wanted me to know that I was loved, and to know that I would have to make some tough choices if I wanted to turn peoples’ hearts and minds towards the life and world Jesus offers.
My journey has been similar and yet dissimilar to many of yours. I came here seeking answers and found them in round about ways, sometimes they were the answers I wasn’t expecting – or more honestly, those didn’t want to hear. I discovered that God doesn’t expect me to be perfect, but be perfectly intentional in my faith and prayer life, in the ministry entrusted to me by virtue of my baptism. I knew I couldn’t be as perfect as the Virgin Mary – who could? But I could at least make an attempt. I’ve tried. I knew that God would forgive me the big and little transgressions because God loved me and forgave me – I just needed to try my hardest to not repeat those mistakes. Like I said earlier, some days are better than others.
What I knew was this.
I am a child of God; I was before I knew what one was, and I am to my core – so are you.
We are everyday saints
Yes, you and I are everyday saints who can make a difference.
Tuesday, we have the opportunity to exercise our right to have a say in how our country is governed. I will not tell you how you should vote, or for whom, because I don’t want the IRS knocking on the parish hall door – we’ve got enough problems right now – but there are people in other countries who die for what is given to us freely by constitution. If you were going to stay home because you think what you decide will not make a difference, I urge you to think again. You do make a difference and you can.
And guess where we get that idea?
That great social activist, Jesus of Nazareth. We need only open our hearts and our minds.
Sometimes it is there in front of us; sometimes it takes a miracle of amazing proportions for us to see God working in us or in the world. Or to see the messenger. It took Jesus bringing his best friend back to life and walking out of the tomb himself before his companions got it.
Let me end by quoting from Joan of Arc, one of my patron saints, a young woman who lived an ordinary life of chopping wood and carrying water before she was called to an extraordinary ministry, for it rings true:
“I am not afraid, for God is with me. I was born for this.”
And I am proud to be one of the saints with you, my family in Christ.