Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
Preached by Rev. Jason Haddox
From the letter of Paul to the Romans:
“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7)
From the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians:
“To the church of God that is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)
From the letter to the Philippians:
“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and the helpers: Grace to you and peace…”(Phil. 1:1-2)
Anyone notice a theme going on here?
All these letters and many others in the Christian scriptures open with a greeting directed to “The saints who are at…” this or that place. Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints, one of the principal feast days of the Church—a day that is so important that it can “take over” the Sunday following its proper date of November 1st.
All of which raises a question. What does it mean, to be a saint? Who gets the title?
As shown above, it’s a common form of address in Paul’s writing. The phrase is literally “The holy ones”, and is related to the same root word from which we get words like sanctify and sanctity. All of which point back to the original meaning, which has nothing to do with morality or a particular sort of behavior as such, but rather with being set apart. Chosen and designated for a particular purpose by God—and decidedly “different” in many cases. To be holy is to be distinctly Other-than-ordinary. Unusual. Even a bit odd. Or a lot.
The truth shall make you free, one of my professors used to say, paraphrasing the gospel of John. But first it shall make you STRANGE.
In a few moments we will sing the song of ultimate strangeness, ultimate otherness, ultimate out-of-the-ordinary. Not once, but three times: “Holy! Holy! Holy! is the Lord, the God of hosts.” We might well rethink those words: Other! Other! Other! Not like this, not like that, not like anything we can imagine or envision. God is always and forever, More Than.
God’s chosen ones, God’s set-apart-for-a-purpose ones, God’s particular, peculiar ones: The saints.
I grew up in the evangelical Bible-belt culture of southeast Texas. The saints, insofar as I ever gave them much thought at all, were long ago and far away in Bible times, or they were a somewhat dubious devotional practice of my Roman Catholic neighbors and school friends. Kind of like Mary—who got unwrapped, along with the strings of lights and glass baubles and green scratchy garlands around the first of December—and then around the first of January disappeared again for the rest of the year. I had to discover a little more about life, and about the mystery of God active in my own life, before I could reimagine what a saint might look like.
A story is told of a Sunday School class where the teacher asked “Who is a saint?” One of the children, remembering the stained glass windows in the church, replied “A saint is a person with the light shining through them.”
A person with the light shining through them. The colored glass of the image itself may be dusty, or cracked, or flawed in all sorts of ways; but the light shines through anyway.
The second letter to Timothy says that “In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary use.” (2 Tim. 2:20) Some vessels of gold or silver, or pottery or glass, or wood…all with a purpose, all with a designated use.
Who are your saints? Who have been the people in your life “through whom the light has shined?” Who have been the vessels of God’s grace and love and mercy to you, when you were in need of those gifts?
We have built a place of remembrance for those people, an All Souls altar, in the narthex of the church this morning. You have brought pictures and objects of remembrance to share those stories, and I hope that you will take time during coffee hour to tell each other about our own saints.
Many years ago, a young mother wanted to teach her children about the saints. So she began to think of some of the big names: St. Luke the physician, the writer of the Gospel; Margaret of Scotland, who built hospitals and churches and encouraged the clergy to preach better sermons; Joan of Arc, who left her farm and village and challenged the crown prince of France to drive the English soldiers out of his country. And that young mother sat down and wrote a poem about the saints. She never intended to publish that poem, or that anyone outside of her family would ever hear it. These are the words she wrote:
I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true;
Who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.
We’ll sing those words in a few minutes. They have become one of the most beloved hymn texts in the Episcopal Church, and with good reason. Lesbia Scott wrote them to be easily understood, an explanation of the words of the Creed: “I believe…in the communion of the saints.” The words of the last verse move the singers out of the long-ago and far-away, into here and now:
They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, out at sea;
In church, on the bus, at the store, on TV;
(Okay, yes, I changed those last two lines up a bit…)
For the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.
The saints—the holy ones, the set-apart ones who have been God’s vessels of grace and mercy—the sometimes cracked, dingy, spider-web-covered ones through whom the light has shone in spite of their flaws—are all around us. What we look for, we will see; what we seek, we will find.
And so my dears, this week look for the light shining around you. Look for the light of God in the world, even and especially in the most unlikely people and places. And when you find it, put yourself in front of it. Open up to let it shine in, and through, you.