Scripture Readings: Daniel 7:1–3, 15–18 | Psalm 149 | Ephesians 1:11–23 | Luke 6:20–31
Who comes to mind when you hear the word “Saint”?
I usually think of people like St. Luke, or St. Paul; the famous evangelists and apostles from the earliest days of the Church.
Or people like St. Patrick, or St. Augustine; Christians who made some significant contributions to spreading the faith, or helping the Church to grow in understanding of the truth of the Gospel.
Or people like St. Teresa of Calcutta, or St. Francis, those who devoted their lives to serving the poor and identifying with those who suffer, in order to share God’s love with them in real and tangible ways.
And it’s clearly for good reasons that the Church has recognized in folks like these the grace of God powerfully at work; shaping and guiding them to face the unique challenges of their days, and to take up their calling as those meant to share in the mission of Jesus Christ in the world. To take their place serving in the Kingdom of God, both now and forever.
But I sometimes wish we didn’t use the word “Saint” in this way… to single out someone we see as special… someone whose connection to Christ’s kingdom appears so exceptional. Not because I doubt that they are saints, but because it makes it seem as though sainthood is only for the exceptional… helping us to forget that to be a saint in the Christian Church is actually meant to be the norm.
I’ll say that again: in the Church, sainthood is norm… the rule, not the exception.
So where did this misconception come from? Why do we see saints as somehow set apart?
Well, it’s all in the name, I suppose.
The word “saint” in the Bible means “holy one”, someone set apart to share in the life of the Living God both forever someday, and in the here and now too. Someone shaped and guided by God’s Kingdom, living in it’s light here on earth as in heaven.
But this is what the Living God has always intended for all of His people! The whole community was to be set apart… together called to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Their lives, both alone and together, were meant to share in and show off God’s holy love at work… shining like a beacon in the night, so that the whole world would draw near and be saved. They were to be set apart from the world, as a sign of God’s life and love still at work in the world… as His partners in the great rescue mission meant for everyone.
But somewhere down the line, we’ve come to see saints as those set apart, not from the world, but from the rest of us in the Church! As exceptional heroes of the faith we ‘normal’ Christians can safely admire from a distance, without having to worry about following their examples.
Somehow, we’ve separated ourselves from our saintly brothers and sisters.
Part of the problem, I think, is that our culture in particular sees faith itself as an individual project… simply our preferred way to have our spiritual needs met… which God’s life certainly does… but God’s life at work in us is meant for so much more than meeting our needs! To understand the Christian life the way the Scriptures invite us to challenges the idea that sainthood is something only for the “hardcore believers” to pursue, rather than the basic calling of the whole Christian community.
So, what does it mean for you and I to be numbered among the saints?
Well, first of all… and most important of all we need to remember that holiness is, from first to last, a gift of God! We need to remember that grace is the basis for our whole life with the Living God. That nothing we ourselves bring to the table can make ourselves holy… it’s God work that sanctifies.
And God works with all sorts of unexpected, unlikely, messed up people! People whose lives were just as broken, just as off course, and just as unholy as you could imagine. People who struggle and stumble and sin, and need a Saviour just like the rest of us.
People like St. Paul, who called himself ‘the chief of sinners’, remembering how his passion and religious zeal had turned him into a persecutor of the faithful.
Or people like St. Patrick, who was captured and sold into slavery in a foreign country. Or St. Augustine, a highly educated spiritual seeker, but who was also continually plagued by doubts and a deep sense of guilt.
Or St. Francis, a spoiled, wealthy layabout. Or St. Teresa, who, despite her famed devotion faced years of spiritual darkness and an agonizing sense of distance from God.
Or people like St. Luke… Well, we don’t know all that much about St. Luke’s life… just like the vast number of saints across time, who in their own ways and in their own days were somehow drawn into the Kingdom of God by the Good News of Jesus Christ, which turned their stories around… the Good News that shaped and guided them into every corner of our world, making God’s holy love and saving power known among the nations.
That is, after all the whole point of being a saint: not to get the best seats in heaven… not to impress everyone in the pews, or make a great name for ourselves out in the world, but to make known the Good News of Jesus Christ in all of it’s life-changing glory. It is God’s gift to us in Christ, drawing us into His rescuing story… touching and transforming our lives, and through us, reaching out to the world in holy love.
St. Paul, the self-proclaimed chief of sinners, encountered the forgiveness and grace of God in the face of Jesus the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus… and went on to become a missionary, church planter, and martyr whose efforts to spread the Good News of Jesus to the nations gave us much of the New Testament.
St. Patrick, the slave encountered the freedom of God through his miraculous deliverance from his Irish slave-owners, only to be ordained and return to Ireland as a missionary and bishop, who played a huge role in establishing the Church on the emerald Island, and beyond.
St. Augustine, the bewildered seeker, encountered the light of God through the reading of Scripture and prayer, with years of searching and struggling to know the truth leading to an invitation to believe… and who then spent the rest of his days as a teacher and bishop in a small town in North Africa, yet whose writings have shaped much of what the Church has come to believe, even centuries later.
St. Francis, the spoiled rich kid encountered the riches of God in giving away all he had, and taking up the life of a poor wanderer, embodying humility, compassion, simplicity, and faith in a way that inspired many others to reject selfishness, vanity, greed, and pride.
St. Teresa, who spent years without feeling the consolation of God’s closeness, encountered the presence of God in the lives of those she served, and she refused to give in to despair and doubt… remaining devoted to Christ, and sharing His love with those most unloved and ignored by the world… trusting in God’s holy love, even when she could not feel that love for herself.
And St. Luke, who is most known to us not for his own story, but for helping the world to hear the story of Jesus Christ our Saviour… helping us to encounter the one who was born to bring God’s Kingdom to life once and for all through His own death at the cross, and resurrection… rescuing us through the gift of His body and blood to make us holy united to Him.
And united in Him. Not just a collection of scattered saints, but a holy whole body… one family, one communion… together filled with the fulness of His resurrection life.
Jesus Christ is still at work in His people, in His saints… the ones He makes holy… set apart to be filled with His saving life… to be shaped and guided by His holy love, and to share it with everyone… even with those who seem to be working against God’s good Kingdom.
Which brings us to another important part of what it means to be a saint… a part of the holy people of God: it means choosing to stay true to Christ in the midst of a dangerous world, where we will have our share of suffering, rejection, and even apparent defeat.
Remember Daniel’s vision from our first reading today… where brutal, vicious nations are depicted as monstrous beasts rising up in violence against one another, and terrorizing God’s people.
There have been so many examples of this happening in our history… and even today, with the wicked seizing power, and eagerly crushing the innocent. Sadly, even the Church has not been immune to the allure of violent oppression. We too can easily side with the beastly powers at work in the world.
But remember too what was also revealed to Daniel: “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.” (Daniel 7:18). The time of the beasts will come to an end, but the saints will endure forever.
And how do these saints, theses holy ones receive the promised Kingdom? Are we to rise up and destroy these beastly powers at work in the world by force? No. No.
We receive the Kingdom through faithfulness… through being true to the Holy One who Himself has won the victory.
Our reading today from Daniel skipped over a few important verses, but we find the sure foundation of all our hope here in Daniel 7:13-14.
“As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.”
Our hope is in Jesus Christ the Holy Son of God, and Son of Man who gave His life to be trampled and crushed by the beasts in all their rage and fury at the cross, and who conquered them once and for all through His resurrection… disarming the dreadful power of sin and death forever… for us, and for the world. Forgiving even those who took part in His betrayal and crucifixion, and paving the way for anyone to come to Him and be transformed by His holy love.
And so, our Holy Saviour Jesus Christ gives us the gift of holiness to be like Him… to take on His life of holy love, and put it into practice… revealing to us what it looks like now to reign in God’s Kingdom forever:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:20-23, 27-31).
This is not the exceptional, optional path for a handful of spiritual over-achievers to take on… this is the rule… the way of Christ, His gift to us to make us holy like Him.
It’s no surprise that God’s people today face many struggles, in our own lives and in our communities… but we’re called to face these struggles faithfully, filled with the grace of God given to us by Jesus Christ in all it’s fullness through His Holy Spirit at work in us… living lives set apart that stand out… simply because they have been shaped and guided by God’s holy love.
Today on the Feast of All Saints we remember our holy brothers and sisters of the past, and how God’s grace was given to each of them in Jesus Christ, shaping and guiding them all in different ways to share in the life of God’s Kingdom here and now, and forever.
But we are called to remember that this is our story too! That all those who are in Christ Jesus, who have believed in Him, received His gift of life, and have given our lives to Him in return, are called to be His holy people: shaped and guided by His grace to take up our part in the story of the Gospel… the Good News of God’s saving love.
How has God’s grace encountered you and I? What ways has it shaped and guided our stories? What ways are we being called today to embody God’s holy love? How can we help one another to faithfully share in Christ’s Kingdom life among the saints?
I’ll end now with these words from St. Paul’s letter to the saints in Ephesus: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School