Today we come together to remember All Saints and All Souls. And it’s a tender time for us. We remember Juan and Edie, we grieve with Karen for Ted, Maureen for Nick and Ignacia for her mother and her dear friend Diane.
The Roman Catholic Church has a long and serious procedure for deciding who is a saint. Many Roman Catholics have favorite saints. My history teacher in 9th grade used to have us say a prayer to St. Joseph Cupertino before a test. He was a man who wanted to be a priest but was not good at academics so he prayed to God to let him do his best and he managed all the exams and went on to be a priest…and a saint. The Episcopal Church holds many of these saints in high regard and Lent Madness is a way for us to get to know groups of saints each year. And we have a devotional book called Holy Women Holy Men that commemorates saintly people including those more recently deceased like Martin Luther King and Jonathan Daniels.
But I prefer Paul’s definition of "saint" – those who believe in Jesus and so are sanctified by his grace. Greet the saints in Ephesus for me! Greet the saints in Corinth, he says in the opening of his letters. Today’s reading has him saying I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.
This was Juan’s definition, too, “Dear saints and missioners” he would write to us, reminding us of an important part of our Christian identity.
In today’s gospel lesson, Luke gives us the beatitudes, which can be thought of as a play book of how to be a saint.
"But I say to you listen, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
This reading of the beatitudes doesn’t set the scene, but in Luke’s lesson the people are on a plain, not on a mountain like Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.
On a plain, people are vulnerable. They can be seen from far away, there are no strategic hiding places or positions of power.
To become a saint is a process. First, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the word of God, and we trust in God’s Truth. And the Way calls to us. And the transformation begins. Then we must aspire to become a saint. And what kind of saint will each of us be? We all have different talents, concerns, fears and abilities.
How will we transform the world – because believe me – to transform your neighborhood, or your family, your manicurist or your mechanic – transforms the world.
That we are saints should be accepted as a simple fact of our Christian life, our Christian adventure. To expect a page in Holy Women, Holy Men, not so much. Remembering Paul, and Juan, we must also accept that to be a saint is to do God’s work wherever we are. To transform the world is to live with hope and act both justly and with mercy, changing the proportions as necessary.
And we have to keep in mind that it’s a process. In a collect we will pray shortly, we will ask to keep widening the service being done by those saints in heaven,
If it’s hard to think of your self as a saint, if it’s hard to redefine a word we have grown up with that reminds us of mass cards and oil paintings of persons with a halos around their heads, then perhaps it’s easier to remember a person in your life who is or has been a saint. And the things they did that you appreciate, that you really needed at the time, the understanding or the helping hand or the unconditional love you were offered, you can now pay forward. And get comfortable in your job as a working saint.
Paul calls the followers of Jesus saints, Juan reminded us of this too, and I totally agree, but to call you family comes more naturally to me.
So I thought on this All Saints Sunday, the saints of Holy Trinity could light a candle remembering a saint in their life, someone in the here and now or someone who has entered the larger life You can say their name a bit a bout them or you can say nothing, or just their name, or you can remain seated. Whatever is meaningful to you. And I will start.