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October 30, 2005

Sunday sermon

Preaching today for the 0915 Parish Eucharist, always rather a relaxed service and congregation, but a fun challenge as it is also All Saints Sunday.

So who are the Saints, and, perhaps, what makes one? Researching for this I came across a number of different ideas on both scores, but essentially, we are all "Saints", the ones we publically recognise with the title happen to be outstanding examples who have made a larger than usual mark, but essentially almost all of us, have, at some time or another, made a positive difference to someone's life - the mark of a saint.

My sermon notes are in the extended post if you wish to see it.

Parish Eucharist
All Saints 2005

+In the name of the Father,
And of the Son,
And of the Holy Ghost.

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude, that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”

What is it that distinguishes a Saint? What, in the minds that attach the epithet “Saint” to one person and not another, is it that attracts the accolade and the acknowledgement? Easy, you may say, it is the fact that one person has led a life fulfilling all the attributes we have heard in today’s Gospel reading. Or you may prefer the manner in which the Roman Church identifies a saint – one who has performed at least three miracles post mortem. Others among you may choose to cite martyrdom as a mark of sainthood, and still others may choose to identify it with those who have suffered great disability or hardship and have still shown great faith.

But are these the measurements God applies when looking for saints? Somehow I doubt it very much, although He may choose to show some specific gift through someone in a particular way that causes us to label someone a saint.

I suggest to you, that, in the eyes of God, there are many more things that make a saint than we would normally count. Perhaps we should consider some of them.

Let us start with the Beatitudes, those qualities listed in St Matthews Gospel and which, in our translation, all begin “Blessed are the …” If you take them as a list of saintly virtues you would think that a saint is one who is poor in spirit, in perpetual mourning, meek, searching for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, persecuted and probably constantly insulted as well. However, I suggest that that is to take the meaning of these attributes at far too basic a value. In fact, the Beatitudes are intended as attributes of the perfect disciple, a model of perfection few, if any of us, can ever reach.

So, if these are the attributes of a disciple, what hope have we of achieving sainthood? Again this depends on how you measure saintliness.

Outside the Sacristy door there is a ledger slab which extols the virtues of a lady who died sometime in the 1690’s in this Parish. The late Father David Harding once quoted it in a sermon and I will attempt to do so now. It says:
“She was the mirror of her sex for virtue and true piety, a pattern for meekness and sobriety”.
And, as Father David remarked, she must have been impossible to live with. But is that the true mark of a saint? That they should be difficult to live with? That they should always make you feel inferior or inadequate? I do not believe that that is the case, in fact, I rather suspect that it may well be the mark of the Pharisee instead. I think that real saints are fairly ordinary, people who help others without expectation of reward, people who show kindness when none is expected, people who go out of their way to make others feel good or to feel comfortable. People who help others find a way through difficulty sometimes at some cost to themselves.

Consider for a moment how you deal with someone who is injured. You use your hands to stem the bleeding, to tie a bandage or to apply pressure to the wound. Then you use your voice to give comfort while you do what you can to alleviate any other injury and finally you may use your hands to help the person back onto their feet and into an ambulance or onto a chair. Take a look at your hands; they may well be the hands of a saint. Think about how you use them and what you have used them for – I can tell you that mine have helped deliver new babies, held the dying, helped the injured, and recovered the dead. My hands have also inflicted injury and they have dispensed what healing and comfort it has been in my power to give. Are these the hands of a saint?

If we look at what we know of most of the people we have labelled Saint you could say the same of their lives as told through the use of their hands, what makes them different from you and me? Their hands have made music, written letters, books and cooked meals, done the housework, washed clothes, changed nappies. Look again at your hands – are these the hands of the saints? Perhaps it is in how we help those around us to find God, to experience God through our lives and actions that makes the difference.

We celebrate saints and look up to these special people who have, through their faith and their use of their lives, changed the world for the better. Just as we are called to do today and in our lives. All believers who put their faith in God are part of the fellowship of the saints – and part of the multitude St John wrote of in Revelations. In every age we face new challenges and old ones, in every age it is faith which guides and shapes the saints we are all called to be. The distinguishing mark of the saint is that they make a difference to the lives of those they encounter – you all know them, many do not belong to any church or congregation, yet they are, if anything, more Christian than many who do. The saint is the one who always has time to listen, who always makes the person they are speaking to feel richer for having spent time in their company. Mother Theresa once remarked that she really could not understand all the fuss about her work, it was, after all, only what God had called her to do. That, I would suggest, is what marked her as a saint in the eye’s of God.

So I suggest to you, that a saint is one who has a depth of spiritual grace which leads them to give freely of their themselves to everyone they encounter. Someone who loves the Lord so deeply that they can draw upon that love and share it with those less fortunate and less wealthy in spirituality, and they do it without realising that they do. I put it to you, that St Patrick, St Cuthbert, St David, would be slightly embarrassed to be addressed as Saint if they could be here among us now. Like us, they would consider that their work, their spirituality, was no greater than yours or mine and that it was just that the Lord had given them a greater task to perform and the means with which to carry it through. So, I suspect, would Mother Theresa, Cardinal Newman and several other more recent saints.

We are all saints in the grace of our Lord, and we are all part of that great multitude described by Saint John, and, as we declare our faith in the creed and prepare to celebrate the Eucharist, we join with all the Saints, in heaven and on earth in the full and glorious communion of the saints in the Body and Blood of our Lord.

Posted by The Gray Monk at October 30, 2005 04:55 PM

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