(A sermon by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Dan. 7:1-3, 15-18; Eph. 1:11-23; Lk. 6:20-31).
Saints...When we think of saints, sometimes I think we feel rather intimidated, because we tend to think of the so-called "heavyweights" - like the Apostles Paul and Peter or in our century, people like Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer. Who are we in comparison to these "over-achiever" saints? We rarely measure up to such famous saints. However, in all three of our scripture passages today, the picture we are given of saints is rather comforting and hopeful for people like us. In all three of our passages, the overall impression one has is: THAT EVERY FAITHFUL FOLLOWER OF GOD IS A SAINT. THAT, MY FRIENDS, INCLUDES US, TOO. WE, ALONG WITH EVERY FAITHFUL CHRISTIAN ARE GOD'S SAINTS.
As Lutheran Christians, we say: that we are at one and the same time saints and sinners. Another way of saying it is: THAT ALL SAINTS ARE FORGIVEN SINNERS, THAT INCLUDES EVERYONE, BECAUSE EVERYONE NEEDS THE FORGIVENESS OF GOD, WHICH IS OUR AS A GIFT OF GRACE, THANKS TO THE LOVE OF JESUS OUR SAVIOUR.
The English word "saint" is an interesting one, it comes from the Latin "sanctus," meaning "holy," from which we also get the English words: "sanctify," "sanctification," "sanctifier," "sanctity," and "sanctuary." All of these English words refer, in one way or another to: holiness, to make people and places holy, to consecrate, to set apart as very special, to purify. We speak of God the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier, that is, the One who makes people and places holy. We as Christians also have a longstanding tradition of sanctuary: holy places for the purpose of worship as well as for places of refuge and protection in times of war, danger, persecution and oppression.
The tradition of saints or holy people is very early. It is commanded by God in Leviticus 11:44 - "For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy." In other words, we are all created in God's holy image, thus our calling, our vocation is to reflect that holy image in our living. However, because we are sinful creatures, we cannot by ourselves, become saints. The New Testament speaks of "saints" and "holy ones" over sixty times. The words, in most cases, refer to the whole church, all of Christ's followers, all forgiven sinners. Saints, then, are not only the supermen and superwomen, the "over-achievers" - rather, they are all faithful Christians, including us.
Rev. Richard Fairchild puts it this way: "Saints are different from people in the world, not because they do more, but because of whose they are, who they love, and what it is they strive to do."
"To paraphrase Jesus: People in the world love their friends, saints do their best to love their enemies. People in the world do good to those who do good to them, saints do their best to do good to everyone. People in the world lend to those who have good credit ratings. Saints lend to bad risks. Simply put, saints are different folk, different because they do not work in the way the world works, believe in the way the world believes, or see in the way the world sees."
Teacher, writer and pastor, Anthony deMello, in his book, "Taking Flight," tells the following story of how an ordinary saint made a difference by seeing and living differently than worldly people.
"A family of five were enjoying their day at the beach. The children were bathing in the ocean and making castles in the sand when in the distance a little old lady appeared. Her gray hair was blowing in the wind and her clothes were dirty and ragged. She was muttering something to herself as she picked up things from the beach and put them into a bag."
"The parents called the children to their side and told them to stay away from the old lady. As she passed by, bending down every now and then to pick things up, she smiled at the family. But her greeting wasn't returned."
"Many weeks later they learned that the little old lady had made it her lifelong crusade to pick up bits of glass from the beach so children wouldn't cut their feet."
This beautiful story teaches us that ordinary folk, like you and me can make a difference at our calling to be saints. In the ordinary, everyday little tasks, God is working through us for the betterment of the world and the church. Never underestimate the holiness of these seemingly ordinary, everyday events. God is present and working in and through them. The story also teaches us never to judge or write off people merely because of how they might appear or behave on the outside. If you do judge or write off people based on their external appearances or behaviours, you might be rejecting a saint of God and the work of God!
As saints and sinners at the same times; as forgiven sinners; none of us are perfect. We all are in need of God. All of us are on a long journey toward sanctification and greater holiness: we haven't arrived yet, nor shall we ever arrive as long as we live in this world. What's important is that we are all on the journey together and that we're trying to move closer to our destination each day - thanks to the love of God, the forgiveness of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier.
I like the way all three of our passages today refer to God's kingdom as an eternal inheritance. This gives us comfort and hope beyond measure. This is our priceless treasure. We all need to keep focussed on our eternal inheritance of God's realm. This will indeed shape and mold how we live our daily life in Christ. It will prevent us from becoming apathetic and cynical; it will banish our greatest fears and anxieties; it will change our despair into hope. When we focus on God's eternal realm, we shall be open to all of the grace-filled blessings of this life.
Professor John Killinger, in his book, "Letting God Bless You," tells the following story of a saint he knows who lives with this focus of God's eternal realm; who is a bearer of God's grace-filled blessings of love, generosity and hope.
Killinger says of her: "I know a beautiful woman who is ninety years old and has always been extremely generous with everything she has. She helps foreign students who want to come to this country to study. She sends flowers and food to people who have had a distressing time of any kind. She gives frequent dinners and parties in order to be able to introduce people to one another. Often she sends theater and concert tickets to people she knows would appreciate them but can't afford to buy them. She is always doing something nice for somebody or giving somebody something he or she needs. Everyone loves her because of her selflessness and generosity."
"I said to her one day, "You are so good to everybody." "Oh no," she said, "it is God who has been good to me. He has given me so much more than I can ever use. The more I give away, the more I have. It is wonderful!"
So, too, do we share in an eternal inheritance, which is rich beyond measure! Our calling as God's saints is to share generously the riches and blessings of God with everyone - just as that ninety-year-old saint did. We don't have to horde God's rich blessings to us - there's enough and more for everyone! May we on this All Saints' Sunday remember all of the blessings that we've received thanks to generous saints who have shared them with us. May we also go out into the world and lovingly, generously, joyously, share these rich blessings with others! Amen.