God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"For all the saints who from their labors rest; who thee, by faith, before the world confessed; thy name O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia! Alleluia!" Bishop William How wrote this hymn, that we sang as the processional this morning, in 1864 for All Saints' Day, a principal feast day of the church that we celebrate today, to honor the blessed departed, known and unknown. We remember those who have gone before us, "who from their labors rest". The hymn tells how God sustained them through difficult times, strengthened them to fight against evil, and brought them light in their darkest days.
This hymn also offers hope to the saints of today. "O blest communion, fellowship divine, all are one in thee for all are thine." We can imagine all the saints streaming through the Pearly Gates "singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Alleluia! Alleluia!"
So today we honor the saints who have gone before us, those who are sitting right next to us, and the generations of saints who are yet to come. I would venture to say that most of us don't feel like saints. We mess up, we make mistakes, we do or say things we shouldn't. But sainthood is not out there somewhere, waiting for us to achieve it. Saints are who we are, called by God, when we do the work that God has given us to do, and become the people that God wants us to be.
We are all saints, whether history remembers us or not, because we are made in the image of God. In a sense, we are icons of God, reflecting God's presence to others. We can see Christ in each other, though sometimes we have to look harder than others. We take on Christ's body and blood when we receive the Holy Eucharist. We become one with Christ as Christ is one with us. That's what makes us saints - who we belong to and whose we are.
What we do with that is up to us. Even as baptized Christians, we can choose to turn away from God. But those who choose to live into the vows of their baptism will find that they become closer to God, open to the Holy Spirit, open to what God would have us do with our lives. That's what makes us saints - not that we've converted thousands of people to Christianity, or we have abolished poverty in our community, or that we are perfect. Being a saint of God means that we are doing what we can with the gifts that God has given us to help bring in the kingdom of God, in small ways or big ways, by following our calling, whatever that may be.
If we think of saints as those people with a capital "S", like St. Peter, St. Paul or St. Francis, or those who faced torture and death for their faith, we put them way out of our league and we cannot measure up to them. If we think of saints as those who are perfect, or long suffering, or heroic in some way, we find it hard to measure up to them as well. Both of these definitions are intimidating and inaccessible to us regular folks who lock our keys in the car, lose patience with our spouse, and yell at the television during the World Series.
If those are the definitions we give to saints, then we can keep them safely distant from us, because regular people can't do what they do. Or so we tell ourselves. But the actual definition of "saint" used by St. Paul was all the faithful who gather together to worship God, to do the work God has given us to do, to be the people God wants us to be. That's why today is called "ALL Saints' Day" and not "Some Saints Day". We are all saints, made in the image of God.
The saints that we think of were everyday human beings just like us. They made mistakes - Peter denied Jesus three times, Saul jailed and killed Christians before his conversion and he became Paul, St. Martin and St. Francis led pretty wild lives before they realized their callings. They did not live flawless lives. Although they and other saints were regular folks, something within them led them to do great things for the gospel, to live and sometimes to die with incredible courage and boldness.
What they had was an unshakeable commitment to follow Jesus, no matter where that took them or what happened to them. Saints were not always distinguished by their goodness. But they were distinguished by their love of God, which shines through them brighter than anything else. Many ordinary men and women, living ordinary lives, have been led by God to do extraordinary things.
All Saints' Day is a reminder that all of us are saints of God, connected and held together by those saints who have gone before us to God's heavenly kingdom. As we remember those who have gone before us, let us also remember that we are, right now, in the company of saints. Look around this church, at God's people gathered here this morning. We are saints because we are made in the image of God, because we reflect God's love to others, because we belong to God.
Our call to be saints of God can be found in our gospel lesson this morning. "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."
Many call this the Golden Rule - do to others as you would have them do to you. Treat others as you want to be treated. That, too, is part of being a saint - respecting the dignity of every human being, whether you agree with them or not. They, too, are children of God.
As we remember those saints who have gone before us, let us also recognize the saints who surround us each day, and the saintliness of our own lives, as well as the saints who will come after us and build on what we have done for the kingdom of God. We are all saints of God, all made in the image of God and filled with God's Holy Spirit, called to spread the gospel and live as God has called us to live. Amen.
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