Sermons That Work

Someone Has Described…, All Saints’ Day (C) – 2004

November 07, 2004

Someone has described a saint as an ordinary Christian who does ordinary things extraordinarily well. That’s certainly not the New Testament definition, although it’s not a bad start.

If you look at the two New Testament lessons appointed for today, the one used for Service 1 gives a vision of heaven, filled with people wearing white robes praising God. It’s perhaps difficult to imagine oneself in such a context. It has the same effect, in a way, as those stained glass window depictions of people who look very holy and have soup plates behind their heads. It’s difficult to think that perhaps one day, we’ll be depicted in a stained glass window.

The lesson from Ephesians finds St. Paul in a praising mood for a change. He uses the word “saint” to describe all Christian people, and in this lesson, goes to some lengths to describe what a saint is like.

Then there’s the Gospel reading, the famous Beatitudes or “Blesseds.” Jesus identifies such experiences as poverty, hunger, grief, and persecution as marks of the blessed, and wealth, plenty, happiness, and being thought well of as marks of those who are not pleasing to God. It’s a difficult reading for us to hear, for there are very few non middle-class Episcopalians.

Of course we like to hear the Beatitudes just as we like to hear St Paul talking about love. But where do we fit into all this?

We are often told that in Baptism we become part of the priesthood of the church. The laity are not expectant observers, but fulfilled ministers, each with an active vocation. It’s hard to accept this idea. After all that’s what clergy are for.

In our Baptisms we are also called to be and become saints. If we concentrate on the idea that saints are very, very good people, nearly perfect, then we will miss the point. Many saints have been very bad, while becoming rather good. However positive we may feel about ourselves, however strong our “self-esteem,” few of us thinks we are good enough to be saints.

We ask the wrong question and get the wrong answer. We ask whether we are good enough to be saints, when we should be asking whether we are dedicated enough to be saints. Dedication means single-mindedness, the sort of emphasis we put on our hobbies, our golf game, our business, and even perhaps on our human relationships.

It is amazing how single minded we can be about our politics, particularly this week. It is that kind of commitment, dedication, or single-mindedness that marks a realized saint. In some churches today, everyone will sing rousingly, “I’ll sing a song of the saints of God,” which contains the line, “And I want to be one too.” Perhaps it should read, “And I want to realize that I am one too.”

God’s grace, gift, enabling power is there for us to use as we live into our calling to be saints. Like all of God’s gifts, we realize that which we are being given when we actually do something with these gifts. There’s some saintly ministry in this church or community just waiting for you, personally, to become saintly about. Everything we attempt in Christ, is aided by the prayers and fellowship of all those known and unknown saints who always surround us in love. In this company, we have security to do for Jesus the things we fear to do or even object to doing.

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