This sermon was preached by Rev Deborah on Sunday 30 October 2016 – All Saints’ Day.
How well do you know the saints? We’ll start with an easy one.
- Animals/ecology? Francis
- Travellers? Christopher
- Doctors? Luke
- Music? Cecilia
- The saint of hopeless cases? Jude
- Lost things? Anthony
A little bit harder now
- Motorcyclists? Columbanus
- Scientists? Dominic
- Flower arrangers? Dorothy, Rosa and Therese of Lisieux
- Especially for Judith – Ice skaters? Lidwena
All this begs the question – what is a saint?
Our readings today give us different outlooks on what a saint is.
Perhaps one of the images that first comes to the fore is that of spiritual superstars – the spiritual equivalent of an Olympic gold medal winner. Years of perseverance, dedication and faithfulness have made them superheroes. It can seem as if their sheer ordinariness has been airbrushed away and the full Hollywood treatment applied.
It is imagery not far removed from the passage in Daniel. We are probably more familiar with the Daniel and the lions’ den, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace than that in today’s reading which is set in the first year of the Babylonian king Belshazzar (555-556 B.C.) Daniel, a godly prophet and a man of faith, has been steadfast in his daily walk of fellowship with God throughout the first six chapters of the book of Daniel. Nothing has caused him to panic or depart from his faith and practice as a godly Jew. Neither peer opposition nor the king’s new law (chapter 6) greatly disturb him, but his dream, his vision from God, that we heard this morning, does. He sees four beasts rising from the sea, which symbolise kingdoms of Babylon, the Medes, Persia and Greece which Israel will come under until finally God, the ancient one, will end all oppression and introduce the eternal kingdom. It is the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever. There are two Greek words for saints –one is hagioi meaning holy ones, as in this context.
Our reading from Ephesians looks at saints in a slightly different way. Here we are all described as saints, through the inheritance that we have in Christ Jesus. The emphasis is on our interconnectedness with saints of every time and every place to whom we are joined in eternal fellowship. This, in terms of the apostle’s Creed is ‘the communion of saints’. Not superheroes but ordinary people, like you and me, who are called to be saints through the grace of God. Paul’s prayer is that we may know God better and the hope to which he has called us, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.
All Saint’s Day was originally set aside to commemorate all those martyrs from the early persecutions whose names were never recorded and thus whose memory was in constant peril of being lost. Over time, this celebration was extended to remember all who have lived and died in the faith and now rest eternally and triumphantly from their labours (I am sure recognise the words from ‘For all the Saints). The ‘communion of saints’ theme will continue tonight when we name those people who have died in the past year, both family members and members of our parish, who live now in the glory of God. On Wednesday morning we will remember all those in our church family who are in the Book of Remembrance. On Remembrance Sunday we will give thanks to all those who have served our country and their lives in war. This liturgical season finishes with ‘Christ the King’ Sunday which brings us back to the passage in Daniel where power and authority is where it truly should be – with God and the holy ones.
The second Greek word for saint makarioi meaning ‘blessed of God’ which comes to the fore in our gospel reading.
Jesus has just spent all night on the mountain in prayer prior to calling his disciples. He comes down the mountain and, after healing people he speaks specifically to his disciples in what is Luke’s equivalent of the beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel. It is much starker and straight to the point – four promises and four warnings.
Blessed are you who are poor …
Blessed are you who hunger now …
Blessed are you who weep now …..
Blessed are you when men hate you …..
Blessing, according to Jesus, is not material things but about the grace and favour of God. It focuses on the poor, the maligned, the downtrodden and the weak. It clarifies our calling to identify and help those in need, and it promises that God stands also with us in our moments of loss, distress, and poverty. The heart of God is full of mercy and compassion, abounding in steadfast love.
This is followed by practical advice on what being a saint means
- love your enemies
- do good to those who hate you
- bless those who curse you
- pray for those who ill treat you
- turn the other cheek
- give to those who ask.
It is summarised the words, ‘do to others as you would have them do to you.’
As saints of God we are called to be faithful and effective agents of bringing God’s reign to the here and now, where God has placed us, to make a difference.
For those who have already got their magazine you will have read the story of the little boy who went shopping with his mum. Feeling a bit bored he looked up at the windows of the nearby cathedral. He wasn’t very impressed. From the outside they looked drab, dull and a bit grimy. He said as much to his mum when she came out of the supermarket.
‘Just let’s go inside,’ she said to him. So they went inside the cathedral, and his mum took him to where the big stained glass windows were.
At first the boy was entranced by the magical coloured patterns on the stone floor of the ancient church. They seemed to dance in front of him as the morning light streamed through the mighty windows.
‘Look at that’, said the boy as he pointed to the dancing images on the stone floor. ‘What is it mum?’
His mother replied, ‘Actually, that’s a saint. See the window up there, the one that looked dull from the outside? There’s a saint up there in the stained glass, and the light is shining through her and making her picture dance for us her on the stone floor.’
The little boy stored the information in heart, and the two of them went home for tea.
A few days later, the little boy was doing RE at school. The teacher was talking about saints.
‘What do you think makes a saint?’ asked the teacher.
The little boy out his hand up. ‘A saint is someone who the sun shines through’ he explained, ‘and when that happens, the stones come to life.’
Put another way, ‘A saint is someone who the ‘SON’ shines through and when that happens the stones come to life.’
As God shines through our humanity, our weaknesses, foolishness and flaws He transforms us into something beautiful, something that can transform the world around us and make a difference. In our humanity we are called to be saints, to be men and women of Christ here on earth.
All the images of saints that we have had from our readings show the whole picture of sainthood – the sovereignty of God and the saints as holy ones in the Daniel reading. The communion of saints through Christ’s grace in the Ephesians reading – our interconnectedness with those who have gone before us including the saints of old, church family members and our own loved ones.
And finally, from Luke’s gospel, our role as saints here on earth, bringing about God’s kingdom, making a difference and being a blessing to those around us.
Let us pray,
God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age: as we rejoice in the faith of your saints, inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.