A sermon preached on November 2, 2008 (All Saints Sunday) by Bob Keller, based upon Revelation 7:9 – 17 and Matthew 5:1 – 12
Today, All Saints’ Sunday, we respectfully recognize all of the Saints. During our prayers today, we recalled the names of those Saints that have gone before us. But who are (were) they? And why are they Saints? What qualifies one to be called a “saint?”
The simple answer to those questions is: It’s God’s Love. However, that love has a “qualifier” to it: we have to accept that Love.
The New Testament use of the word “Saint” means: sacred, pure or blameless. And Paul wrote to the Church at Philippi addressing them as “the saints at Philippi” and to the church at Ephesus addressing them as the “the saints at Ephesus.”
The Bible’s use of the term Saint means someone who has committed his life to follow Jesus Christ.
A Commentator said, “They became saints by means of the Holy Spirit, which can only come from God. God therefore chooses His saints, and gives them of His Holy Spirit to make it possible.”
Being a saint has nothing to do with our goodness or what we do – rather it has all to do with Jesus’ mercy.
Last week, our scripture lesson related how a Pharisee asked Jesus what one must do to inherit eternal life.
Jesus told the man that inheriting eternal life had nothing to do with DOING things for God and he asked the man to recall the Law which read “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Now it’s pretty easy to think of those that have gone before us as being Saints. Our selective human memories tend to filter out all of the bad memories and shortcomings of those that we’ve known and loved and we remember only the good things. And most assuredly all who have walked the earth have had their ups and downs in dealing with others and have created bad feelings, whether intentional or unintentional. After all we’re human and, by definition, we’re not perfect.
Have many of us given any thought to how others perceive us? I mean aside from all of the precautions we take to make a good impression on a potential employer in hopes of getting hired. Or can we remember the first time we met the parents of someone we loved? We surely wanted to make a good impression that assuranced that their son or daughter was “in good hands,” so to speak.
But, after all is done, perception is not in our hands. It’s in the “eye of the beholder.” A few examples:
Jimmy Carter is probably one of the Godliest men of the 20th century, but thought by many to have been a failure as a president.
Remember Elliot Spitzer? He won the governorship of New York by one of the largest margins in history. But that’s not what he’ll be remembered for.
How about Mike Nifong, who was perceived as a no-nonsense prosecutor in Durham, North Carolina – a man who was willing to step up to the plate and defend a woman of color who had been raped by three rich, white lacrosse players from Duke University.
But, suddenly, the truth descended upon him with a vengeance. At some point in his investigation, Nifong became aware that those three white kids were not guilty of the rape, yet he moved relentlessly forward with the case – notwithstanding the fact that convictions could have sent the young men to prison for life. If one believes in the concept of evil, this is about as close to it as a human being can get. What is your perception of Mike Nifong today?
For more than two decades, O.J. Simpson was a great role model – congenial and beloved by millions. According to those who know him best, O.J. was always the O.J. we know today – a narcissistic, violent person with no sense of moral responsibility or social conscience. And now the public’s perception of that famous smile is that it was a way of thumbing his nose at the law and at the families of his victims. Now that he finally appears to be headed for many years in prison, what is your perception of O.J. Simpson today?
Mark McGwire was the Paul Bunyan of baseball, hitting an unfathomable 70 homeruns in 1998 to shatter Roger Maris’s record of 61. But what made him such a legendary figure was his nice-guy image. Who can forget his climbing into the stands to hug Maris’s children after breaking their father’s record?
But when McGwire testified before the House Government Reform Committee as part of the Congressional investigation of steroids in sports, he was so evasive that people saw it as a de facto admission of his guilt. McGwire came across as a sullen, weak man, far from the strong, pleasant persona of his playing days. What is your perception of Mark McGwire today? Ditto Barry Bonds.
I recently had to get a copy of records certifying that I had completed Basic Firefighter training. That was some 25 years ago. Surprisingly, the records are on file at the Morris County Police and Firefighters Training Academy. There I’m listed as John Robert Keller, Firefighter, Lake Parsippany Volunteer Fire Company, Parsippany — Troy Hills Fire District #3. And I probably will always be listed there in one form or another whether it is paper, magnetic tape or digital chip. Yeah, that’s important to me, but more important is that I’m remembered by thousands of kids as Fireman Bob. I’m the guy that taught them a little about fire safety and trained them in how to safely escape a burning building. If I’m out and about, I’m sometimes pointed out by a little kid to his or her parents as Fireman Bob. That makes me feel good and I take it as a kind of sainthood from that child’s eyes. However, there’s one little girl — and I can still see her face — that must dread me. I’m the guy that frightened the daylights out of her when I put the pretend smoke into the room. Her teacher had to take her panicked little form crying from the Fire Safety Trailer. Her perception of me will likely forever be the guy that scared her half to death! I’d do just about anything for a “do-over” on that one.
We all make mistakes. And somehow the God that made us knew that we would. But, thankfully, it’s not anything that we do, or leave undone, that makes for our salvation and therefore our sainthood.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 that it is by grace that you have been saved through faith; and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast.
The world sees saints as those who lead some extraordinary life doing things for others. The Roman Catholic Church even has a specific protocol for identifying saints. Otherwise a saint is one who has led a life of near perfection and godliness. People who have a lot of faith and can talk easily about God. Saints are, in the world’s eyes, those perfect people who are pure in heart because they do good things all the time. The sinful flesh of a Christian grabs hold of this notion of sainthood and applies it to himself. I must be a saint because I live a good life, a life that’s better than others. Or, the opposite: there is no way I can ever be a saint because I am not good enough; I am too sinful.
The 1984 movie Places in the Heart is set in the Depression. Recently widowed Edna (Sally Field) is trying to support her two young children and pay her mortgage by growing cotton on a small farm. She has two helpers, a black itinerant worker (Danny Glover) and a blind boarder (John Malkovich). Together they weather a sea of troubles, including a disastrous tornado, that teach them the meaning of friendship and family. There’s also murder, racism and adultery in the film.
But the closing scene takes place in a church. As the camera slowly pans the congregation receiving communion, we recognize all the characters: those living and dead and departed for other places. It is an image in which the lambs and the wolves, the wronged and the wrongdoers, the betrayers and the betrayed, are all together as one. It is an unforgettable cinematic statement about hope. And, I might add, about Sainthood.
In the book No Greater Love (edited by Becky Benenate and Joseph Durepos), Mother Teresa is quoted as saying : “Keep in mind that our community is not composed of those who are already saints, but of those who are trying to become saints. Therefore let us be extremely patient with each other’s faults and failures.”
God, through his Son, Jesus Christ, gives salvation, and sainthood, to all.
The lesson from Revelation that David read for us this morning tells us that there was “a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”
Friends, that list does NOT exclude anyone. Every breed, race, color, sexual orientation, size and shape is included in the celebration. And the writer of Revelation tells us that they are ALL wearing white robes and holding palm branches as they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.
We later find that those robes were made white by being washed in the blood of the Lamb.
We are about to celebrate Holy Communion, the sacrament in which we are reminded, through the body and blood of Christ, of the love that God had, and has, for us. And the love that endures forever.
“Geddes MacGregor in The Rhythm of God tells of a priest who, when asked, ‘How many people were at the early celebration of the Eucharist last Wednesday morning?’ replied, ‘There were three old ladies, the janitor, several thousand archangels, a large number of seraphim, and several million of the triumphant saints of God.’ Such a ‘cloud of witnesses’ answers a deep human urge to be part of something larger, to not stand alone, to give our little lives meaning. One drop of water, left alone, evaporates quickly. But one drop of water in the immense sea endures.”
I invite you to add your drop of water to that immense sea of saints, to become a part of something larger, something eternal.