St. John's, Centreville
November 5, 2017
All Saints' Day
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 confess: thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia! Alleluia!" These words from our opening hymn sum up All Saints' Day that we are celebrating today. It is one of the principal feasts of the church, a day when we remember and honor those who have died and 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 do not feel like saints, especially if we limit our definition of saints to those who have done great things, like The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and the prophets and apostles of long ago. I don't feel like a saint as I go about my everyday life. I don't feel that I do anything "special" to deserve the label of saint.
But all of us are saints because we seek to be open to the presence of God in our lives and to follow the Holy Spirit. That's what makes us saints - not that we've converted thousands of people to Christianity, or we have abolished poverty in our community. Being a saint of God means that we are doing what we can with the gifts that we have been given to help bring in the kingdom of God, in small ways as well as big ways, by following our calling, whatever that may be.
Being a saint does not mean that we have to be perfect. Most of us would consider Moses, the Old Testament prophet that we have been reading about for the past several weeks, a saint. God used Moses to get the Israelites out of Egypt and take them to the Promised Land. He followed God's command the best he could. But did you know that in his earlier days, Moses was a murderer? He killed an Egyptian man who was hurting an Israelite. Yet God used him to accomplish great things.
All Saints' Day proclaims how God has reached out to humanity in Jesus Christ and called into service a great number of people, people of every nation and language and culture. All Saints' Day calls us to believe that all people have the potential to respond of God's love. It's not something we deserve or have to earn. God's love is there for the taking.
People are saints because we see the evidence of their faith in their lives. Bishop Steven Charleston has this to say: "What you do is critical. You may not think so because you see yourself as being without that much authority or influence, but the things you do count for so much more than you may imagine. Every person you reach will touch a thousand more. The direction you share with a single person can turn the wheel of history over time. You are an important part of a great story. You are at the heart of the collective experience of your generation. What you say and do matters, so speak up, take a risk, and dare to be remembered."
Ernest Gordon wrote in "Miracle on the River Kwai": "I have been told how the old time weavers, all the while they were making their beautiful and intricate patterns, saw no more than the backs of their shawls. Nothing was visible to them but a tangle of colored threads. They never saw the design they were creating until they took the finished product from their looms. The parallel to the mortal lot is plain. Human experience appears to us - as the shawls did to the weavers - to be no more than incomprehensible tangles of colored threads, whereas in fact life represents the ordered threads in a great design --the design being woven daily on the loom of eternity."
Sister Mary Scullion, sometimes call the Mother Teresa of Philadelphia, belongs to the Sisters of Mercy, Philadelphia's third largest congregation of nuns. During a freezing winter in 1988, she led a group of homeless people into the basement of the city's Municipal Services Building, demanding that it be used as a shelter. She had been arrested four times for refusing to back down when helping the poor. While other nuns regularly went on weeklong retreats to reflect and pray, which is a good thing to do, Sister Mary was known to sleep on the streets to better understand the people she cared about.
Says Richard John Neuhaus, "Saints are people whose lives prove that Christ is risen. That may be saying too much, but their lives are hard to explain apart from the risen Christ."
We are all called to be saints of God. But what does that mean? It does not mean single-handedly saving the world. It does not mean making a big name for yourself that everyone will remember. It means being faithful to the call of Christ in your life, whatever shows that you are following the way of the gospel as well as you can, helping those who are less fortunate, speaking the encouraging word, helping the most vulnerable, being the person that God made you to be.
Will we get everything right? No, because we are human, and sometimes pride and sin get in the way. But our loving God forgives us and helps us get back on track.
Beatrice Bruteau wrote in "Radical Optimism": "This is our family in the spiritual order, the family of saints. And we are also saints. You may not think of yourself as exactly a saint, but if you are a sincere seeker after wholeness, then you belong to this community. If we celebrate All Saints' Day, we should claim it and enjoy it as our feast day. If we recite the Apostles Creed, we should turn our attention seriously to believing in the communion of saints and asking what that means."
Some saints are close and dear to us and we will read some of those names in a few minutes. There are others that we have never heard of. What makes people saints is not our memory or lack of it, but the fulfilled promises of their baptism and the evidence of faith in their lives.
All Saints' Day is not just a day to remember those who have gone before us. It is also a day to see sainthood in each other, by how they live their lives, by how they live and spread the gospel, by how they help others. As Paul Tillich wrote, "A saint is a saint, not because he is good, but because he is transparent for something that is more than he himself is."
As we celebrate this All Saints' Day, may we remember not only those who have gone before us, but recognize all the saints around us, including ourselves, and greet with anticipation those saints who are yet to come. Amen.
(All quotes come from "Synthesis", Year A, November 5, 2017)