Saturday, November 3, 2007
All Saints--a sermon
All Saints 2007
Today we celebrate All Saints. I am thankful that I am not preaching on the day after Halloween. It is always difficult to make the jump from “goolies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night” to giving thanks for the Saints. I had always considered Saints as an important Catholic thing. Growing up in Baptist-rife Texas, I always had to defend the idea of Saints. So it was not difficult to accept a contract to write a series on various saints for the American Bible Society as a way to make a living a couple of years ago. It was also interesting to find that Lutherans had a calendar of Saints too.
Saints are those who have preceded us in life and have become a witness to us of Christ’s life for us. In the Roman Catholic Church there are all kinds of hoops that the cause for sainthood must jump through in order to become a saint. There must be miracles or other such unexplainable occurrences before sainthood may be conferred. In the Episcopal Church it takes a resolution at General Convention, and I would guess something similar is done at National Assembly of the ELCA to have someone added to the calendar. But what does it mean to memorialize Saints?
A friend at bible study this week commented that she had odd dishes of deceased members of the family that she brought out for family meals. It was like the deceased aunt was sitting at the table. It was a presence that kept her connected with those of her family who had gone on ahead.
I have had a similar sense when the name of the donor of the communion vessels is engraved on the chalice or paten. When I have been the supply pastor, I have remembered those persons I have never met but who were, or whose family was enough of a presence in the congregation and remember them in my prayers. It is the sense of being related to those who have gone before.
We remember those whose lives emulate some aspect of the faith life. I have always liked those saints that were a little less saintly than the others. Jerome, the 4th century translator of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin was evidently a rather fractious individual. His brothers didn’t much like living with him, but because of the seminal work he did on translation he was sainted. Saints aren’t perfect. They often aren’t even holy. They just seem to hold up for the Church some aspect of the faith life that is important.
I have met saints—I met Mother Theresa of Calcutta" .
Her presence was awesome. And while I don’t agree with everything she espoused, I cannot deny that she had the Spirit of God about her.
I have met Desmond Tutu,
the great Anglican archbishop who was leader in the South African Church at the abolishment of apartheid-- who I believe will be a saint one day. His sense of joy no matter the situation radiates. I remember Dag Hamerskjold back in the 50’s and 60’s and the kind of leadership he gave to the world in the name of peace while nurturing a deep and abiding Lutheran faith. All these people keep me connected to my faith—they are ones who lived life to the fullest while maintaining a nourishing faith in God. They did wondrous things not because they were especially blessed by God, but because they used the faculties that God had given them to serve others.
Most of the time we think of Saints as being people not like us, but what a wrong concept! My friend Judy, whom many of you met at my installation, had a boy friend when she was in seminary. Jon Daniels was a fellow seminarian who with Judy and thousands of clergy and seminarians responded to Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to stand as a non-violent witness to the brutality in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Judy and Jon decided to spend their spring semester doing voter’s registration and integrating the Episcopal Church in Selma for they knew that if all the white folk left, the bully-boy police would use the opportunity to wreck havoc on the Black community. Jonathan was murdered by a deputy sheriff while saving the life of a Black girl. It was his death that galvanized the Episcopal Church’s effort to bring an end to the discrimination against Black persons in the South. At that time, about third of the US Congress was Episcopalian and that influence brought together the efforts between Church and State that brought about legislative action that made discrimination because of race a federal offence
Jonathan Myrick Daniels was added to the calendar of saints in the Episcopal Church not because he was any holier than anyone else. Judy can attest to that! He became a saint when he was willing to lay down his life for a fellow human being. As Judy said, Jon did not go to Selma to be a martyr. He went there so that life could be lived more abundantly by others.
Whenever we know those who make living life more abundant for others, we find sainthood. Some of these saints are not even Christians. Mahatma Gandhi comes to mind—his life taught us how to stand fast for peace. Does Christ mind if God is magnified by those who profess a different faith? I don’t think so.
We need these people in the world, in our faith that helps us know what it means to be faith-filled. We need to be connected with those whose lives have mirrored to us the life of Jesus because it is that connectedness that calls us to respond to the events in our lives with the integrity of faith.
Are saints braver than us normal folk? I don’t think so. They may be more willing to address the events of their days with confidence because they know unequivocally that God is present to them. But I think that sanctity has to do with being true to the faith one has been given.
We need the Saints in our lives. We need the link to what has gone before. We need to have that cloud of witnesses at our dinner table. For me to invite Jon Daniels, or Desmond Tutu, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Teresa of Avila, or Joan of Arc, or my friend Sister Lorene who taught me to pray, into my life allows me to see how the Christian life is lived by ordinary persons, people like you and me. It reminds me of the blessedness of the life Christ has invited me to live. It recalls what I have promised in my baptismal vows. It encourages me when part of me would rather choose the easy path.
I hope each and every one of you have special Saints who remind you of what it means to live a Christian life. They may be the formalized ones observed by the Church or they may be some loved one who taught you how to live with integrity. I would ask you to remember those Saints today when we remember those who have gone before us because in remembering them, you will find the strength to live the life that Christ calls us to.