Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10,22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
Today, we commemorate All Saints Day; remembering our place in the Communion of Saints. Wikipedia defines the Communion of Saints as “the spiritual union of the members of the Christian Church, living and the dead. They are all part of a single “mystical body”, with Christ as the head, in which each member contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all. “Today especially, we remember, honor, and look to the examples of all of Jesus’ disciples (living and dead) who are icons of hope because we trust in God’s promises. Likewise, today we look to those saints who are sitting right here among us, gathered in communion and in fellowship with each other. We who live in the hope of God’s promise of life everlasting, trust in God’s promise “that nothing, not even death stands between us and God’s love.” We are all saints in God’s eyes, but being a Saint is not about heroic or having some super-human faithfulness. Sainthood is about everyday living.
The life of sainthood is a bit messy. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us that sainthood includes being poor in spirit, joining together with those who mourn, being meek, and being hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Sainthood also requires us to be merciful to others, to live pure in heart, to be peacemakers, and to be ready to be persecuted for pursuing right relationships with God and each other (righteousness).
The life of sainthood is an incredible blessing, because it is a life of peace, joy, and assurance. Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount taught us that sainthood includes living the way of the kingdom of heaven, trusting that we will be comforted, among those who inherit the earth. Saints will be filled, while receiving mercy, and seeing God in all things. Saints are children of God, living the Kingdom life now, because our reward will be great in heaven. See being a saint is like everyday life with its ups and downs. The key to faithful saint-like living is trust. We can be assured that in any of the cycles of life, (ups and downs) we can rely on God, which empowers us to never stray from the path of love, which is our mission as God’s people.
Today, the Body of Christ (the Church) faces many challenges never seen since the early days of its commission, which is to make disciples of all nations. We now live in a time when one-third of our nation claims no religious affiliation. Many churches are experiencing decline in membership and attendance (including the evangelical churches), but the real threat to the church is not the latest trend of declining attendance, or even the sustainability issues of building and property maintenance. The real threat to the church is the fact we are growing away from making God’s mission of love and reconciliation, both inside and outside our walls our highest priority.
God did not fashion a communion of saints for the mere purpose of gathering together once a week. God consecrated (or set aside) all faith communities for a specific purpose, which is to carry God’s Good News of abundant love into the neighborhoods where we have been planted. We are a people raised to new life, just like Jesus’ friend Lazarus whom Jesus called out of burial wrappings of self-absorption, fear, and anxiety, and sent him out and us, to go into the desperate places of people’s lives.
We are called out of the grave in order to call others out of their graves. Through our hands and hearts carrying God’s grace, we raise up hope in others. The church is not in the tomb any longer, nor are we headed toward decline and death by any means. Yet, we can easily become distracted from being raised up and unbound from our chains of inward focus. We must get back to the core mission Jesus gave us; making disciples.
God acts and calls us out of death into new life
When religious naysayers warn us of possible institutional death, and when negativity tries to slip in amongst us, we must make God’s mission priority one, and ask ourselves, “What is our ministry to the neighborhoods in which, we have been planted?” “Who is God is calling us to love, serve, and restore?” “Who is our neighbor, and how should we get back to the basics of being a lighthouse of love in the neighborhoods around us?” This mission to which we have been called is fraught with fear and uncertainty, because when we engage in God’s mission faithfully as the Saints of God, we must die to our comfortable way of being, in order to experience new life. We must adapt and change in order that we might continue to make disciples.
Change is a frightening concept, but dying to that which holds us back from God’s purposes is a natural part of becoming a saint. Suzanne Guthrie writes, “In small ways we practice dying dying to sin, dying to shame, to prejudices, opinions, stagnant ideas, dying to one old life and then another, ever striving toward new life. You consciously practice rising; from whatever tomb you have holed yourself up in lately.”2
To experience new life, we must shrug off some old grave clothes that have the power to keep us bound up, and can easily deter us from God’s mission in the world. We must die a little to those comfy elements of our way of being, our contented ways of sharing grace, our narrow definitions of our local mission, or our often, restrictive boundaries that keep others from finding hope in God’s grace. When Jesus raised one of those early saints, namely Lazarus he said to the mourners, “Unbind him and let him go!” Like Lazarus, we saints need to be unbound and let go to do mission, locally and in our neighborhood.
Am I a Saint?
You may be sitting there thinking, “I am no saint, Eric.” Despite any possible doubts you may have, we all are saints because we have been given the assurance that death has no power over us, and our hope is that we have been raised to new life in Christ. We are a people that are brought together in love, not merely for the edification of ourselves, but we gather for the ultimate purpose of sharing God’s abundant grace with others. That is what being a saint is all about. We are not called to be perfect, nor are we called to become some kind of superhero Christian like Mother Teresa or St. Francis. We all are saints because we strive every day, in every way, to share God’s abundance with others, and to set others free from what holds them back from experiencing God’s grace.
Nelson Mandela once said, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” In other words, we are not going to get this saint thing right every time, but we still must try. We all fall short and mess it up every day, but we are not Saint’s because of what we do, rather it is what God does through us. That is what God’s grace is all about. Grace, or God’s outpouring of love to and through us, is what makes being a saint possible. Grace requires that we saints die a little each day to who we have been, so new life might spring up. The good news is that sainthood requires no superhuman strength, but just the faith of a little mustard seed. Sainthood needs a new poster child.
Maybe sainthood looks like someone who advocates for the rights of at-risk children in our midst. Maybe sainthood looks like some of you who work tirelessly to serve your neighbor in some kind of outreach ministry. We saints are just regular people, who have been unbound from the grave clothes of despair and fear, then sent out into the world to love God, to love one another, and love our neighbors, just “as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering, and a sacrifice to God.” My prayer for us today is so simple, and I encourage you to pray it as well, “Dear loving God unbind we your Saints for the mission you would have us do.”
1 Taylor, Barbara Brown. “Can These Bones Live.” The Christian Century 23.9 (1996): 291. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.