Wasn’t that a great opening hymn? It’s one of our old, traditional hymns and it just wouldn’t feel All Saints Day without it.
What comes to mind for you when we talk about saints? There are the saints that we just sang about; our church carries the name of St. Mark. How would you define a saint in only one or two words?
Please open the blue hymnal again to #293 and we’ll read the first verse together. “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.” In the second verse—“And one was a soldier, and one was a priest and one was slain by a fierce wild beast. And there’s not any reason, no not the least, why I shouldn’t be one too.”
These are all real people, though there names are not given in the lyrics. The doctor was St. Luke; the queen, Elizabeth of Hungary; and the shepherdess, Joan of Arc. In the second verse there’s St. Martin, St. Thomas, and lastly, a Christian martyr thrown to the lions during the terrible persecution. Each verse ends with the idea that we should be saints, too.
I don’t know about you folks , but I do not aspire to follow in the footsteps of those larger than life, admirable saints of long ago, for nearly all of them ended up as martyrs. Their lives ended too soon, their deaths came about by savage, horrible means. They are the heroes of our Christian faith. I am in awe of their many accomplishments, their unfailing courage in facing unbelievable danger and opposition. Yet, to most of us their lives may seem irrelevant because of their heroic accomplishments, being way too high to attain to for ordinary people like us. To stand with any of those saints would be unimaginable for us.
Displayed in the large conference room at Diocesan House are huge, framed portraits of the Bishops who have served this Diocese. Many of these men, along with one woman, dressed in the full regalia of a Bishop, are very imposing figures. Would any of us ever dream of becoming a Bishop? Could you imagine your portrait hanging alongside all those others? As young teens, I wonder if our Bishops, Nedi and Greg, ever imagined themselves as a Bishop of the Diocese of Olympia charged with the oversight of 100 churches in Western Washington? To stand with any of those is unimaginable too.
Now let’s look at verse 3 of our hymn. Perhaps this can speak to us at a level which we can more easily connect. There it says, “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church or in trains or in shops or at sea, and (here is the clincher) for the Saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”
“For the Saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.” They’re talking about us, ordinary people leading ordinary lives like us at St Mark’s in small town Montesano. Yet I doubt that our names will ever be included on the calendar of saints in the Christian Church. But we are no less of value to God. We are all children of God by virtue of baptism and in God’s eyes, all of equal status.
And it says in the book Lesser Feasts and Fasts, “The Church is the communion of Saints, that is, a people made holy through their mutual participation in the mystery of Christ.”
To call something holy is to say that it is God’s. For something to be God’s means that it is set apart for God’s purposes in the world, that it is filled with God’s spirit, that it is cherished by God. To say that we are holy as saints, then, means, that we belong to God. Our lives are a part of God’s purpose, we are empowered by God’s spirit, we are loved by God.
What is the common thread that knits us together in one communion and fellowship? It is Baptism, the sacrament by which we are named as Christ’s own forever. We are set apart, made holy in baptism and become members of the communion of saints. We all are saints. We are God’s holy saints. Remember that always!!
Sainthood is not something that is earned by an elite few who somehow live lives of extraordinary piety or miraculous virtue with superhuman sacrifice and then become saints. We are saints from the day of baptism. Oh yes, we are still sinners, weak and human. Yet we are saints because we have been touched by God. Those saints of days past answered God’s call in extraordinary measure, they opened themselves completely to the gift of God’s grace with the support of Christian community.
And what of the saints in this present time? We need to be connected to the stories of our whole community, past and present, in order to understand how we too, can effectively minister and be God’s saints in the world today.
In the Collect this morning, we prayed for grace, so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living. We need not measure ourselves by the sacrifices of those past heroic saints. I would guess that all of you can name persons who have significantly encouraged and strengthened you in your daily walk with God. Not famous persons, but those ordinary ones who loved and inspired you to become more fully human in the sight of God.
These are the saints which we meet in school, in lanes, at sea, in church, in trains or shops or at tea. These are the saints of God, too, just folks like you and me, and saints in the great communion of saints.
In a few minutes we will light a candle and say a prayer remembering those loved ones in our lives, those saints whose stories are knit together with ours.
Within this holy assembly, this communion of saints, real life is lived, mourned and celebrated. This is a day to remember all the saints set apart to do God’s work on earth, holy, yet in no way perfect or without blemish.
I remember fondly a resident of Monte Health & Rehab with whom I enjoyed visiting some years ago. The one particular thing that stood out in our many conversations was the fact that she had voted in every presidential election since women were granted the right to vote. With her story, the women’s suffrage movement came to life for me. Here was someone who had lived that history and made me realize how little I appreciate the privileges I have today. I think of her often when I cast my ballot and am grateful for all those brave women through whom God’s grace flowed.
Earlier this month with Bishop Greg as presider, Judy was baptized and so became our newest saint, and standing with her we renewed our baptismal vows. Repeating those words again, in community, we were reminded of the commitment we made when we became a Christian and how we are strengthened for the journey we travel together.
You and I are called to be persons through whom the light of love shines. We are called to discover in others the image of God. In Baptism we receive the light of Christ to be saints according to God’s purpose. And by the grace of God that is truly possible.