It is All Saints Sunday. We recognize this day those we remember and cherish as especially devoted individuals who have touched our lives in one way or another and led us to declare them saints. As I noted in the Messenger this week, the official dictionary of the Episcopal Church treats the officially recognized saints--those canonized by the church over time--as secondary to those we so value in memory and feeling.
It's a little odd that we're entitled to declare as saints people virtually unknown to the rest of the world. But there you have it. It can be done. Molly's aunt Beezie--Elizabeth Laing Hoffman on today's list--was fun and lively and, I gather, a bit of a character her entire long life. And Molly considers her one of her own rather private saints. My friend Dave Dunlap, likewise, had quirks that a more rigorous judge might find disqualifying. But he was a great friend, reliable and kind. He's one of mine.
You may have noticed in the Messenger that there was no quota of good deeds or record of sinless living for those we consider saints. That's a relief for those of who realize no one gets through life without a penalty flag or two. It also puts in perspective the angels and seraphim that usually accompany images of the religiously authorized saints.
As we sneak up on Consecration Sunday, as we consider what it is we do individually and collectively in the church to build up the church, we would do well to consider the saints right here in St. Paul's. Because each of us has a set of eyes that sees things a little differently. You might see things--actions, gifts, offerings--that I don't. And vice versa. I think it's really important to not take them for granted. When someone does something noteworthy, worthy of notice, then it should be brought to the attention of others. Let me know. Maybe an announcement is in order. Let us honor one another with recognition of goodness. There's nothing wrong with that. We can even call it saintliness.
I have an example. Last weekend we held the long-awaited "St. Paul's Sundae Sunday Open House." The event was officially organized by the Formation Committee with help from the Evangelism Committee and the Worship Committee. But the ideas that made it the big success it was came not from those committees but from the young people of this parish who were questioned about what would be popular with kids in the neighborhood. They came up with the scavenger hunt idea; they suggested kids being given free reign around the church, to go to the choir loft and ring the bell and climb in the organ pipe chest. And those things were popular indeed, as were the crafts for kids in the parlor.
All of this is to say that the group of young people of this congregation--Madison, Alexis, Angel and Danya--who shared their ideas and understandings of what kids like, they gave us an inspiring offering that helped this church do something we've been trying to do as long as I've been here: get some of our neighbors into our church! It was pretty fantastic.
Incidentally, those four young women helped out during the open house, adding to their saintly giving.
OK, OK. This may seem somewhat mundane. But they didn't have to do it. And they did it cheerfully and thoughtfully. I think it counts as a saintly deed.
We get a couple of other glimpses of saintly people in our readings this morning. The story from the book of Ruth is one that shows clearly what it is like to be saintly. When Naomi finds herself a widow in Moab with her two dead sons' Moabite wives, she encourages them to return to their families rather than remain with her. Naomi believes Ruth and her sister Orpah would have a better future with the Moabites that returning to Judah with Naomi.
Orpah said goodbye and went on her way. But Ruth felt a strong bond with her mother in law and said, "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge;your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die-there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!"
We know nothing about these women except that they've both been left widows in an era when having a man was pretty important. They have bonded, clearly, and Ruth is not about to let that link go.
We will learn more about Ruth next week and we will see how her generosity and goodness informs and motivates her life. Her open heart toward her mother in law registers as saintly.
The other saintly actor in today's readings appears in our Gospel. He is a scribe of the Jewish faith and he has been listening to his colleagues from the synagogue try to trap or confuse Jesus, which they fail to do. The scribe asks Jesus, "Which commandment is the first of all?"
We know the answer because it plays an important part in some of our Sunday liturgies. 'Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
When he agreed with Jesus he didn't just say, "Oh, I see," and wander off. Instead he registered his agreement, probably to the dismay of his colleagues. Finally, when the scribe observed that what Jesus said was more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices, Jesus said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
That was a brave thing for the scribe to do. It was also very honest, very candid. His colleagues probably felt he was a bit of a turncoat, but his understanding was not in question. That we can tell from the concluding sentence in the reading: " After that no one dared to ask him any question." There was no comeback to the exchange between the scribe and Jesus.
These two examples--Ruth and the scribe-- can help us see that saintly behavior is not leaping tall buildings in a single bound or even healing the lame and the blind. It is for us living in a manner consonant with the Baptismal Covenant, finding ways to uphold God's truth in the lives we live day to day.
When I walk through this church during the week I often find myself thinking about all the saints present and missing, depicted in stained glass and commemorated in memorials of various kinds in the church. Like Bob Dorum and his mother, Bea Ruhle who made the organ restoration possible. Like Father Grey, whose memory inspired the placement of the Celtic cross in front of the organ pipes.
We honor those whose actions inspire us. It is in commending those who help and reach out to the hurting. This is our calling.
Every Wednesday after our 12:15 pm healing service, Jim Schneider, my acolyte, and I take communion down the hall to the volunteers in the food pantry and thrift shop. We give them communion and then I thank them for all they do. They are among the many saints at St. Paul's.
We are called, also, to giving generously. In this, as we approach Consecration Sunday next week, we recognize an opportunity to be the kind of people we hope to be. After all, as the hymn lets us sing, "I hope to be one too."Let us praise the saints, known and unknown, in our times and in other times. God bless the saints! Amen
A sermon preached Oct. 28, 2018 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector