May the words of my lips and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.
As a former curate of this parish asked the congregation as he came into Birmingham Cathedral before taking a Service. “How are the Saints today”?
How are the Saints this evening? There is a sense when we are called Saints that we feel uncomfortable and most of us would reply that we are anything but Saints. We are more comfortable with the phrase and idea that we are all called to be saints and that we are on the journey.
Those like St. Andrew and the other Apostles, martyrs and named Saints down the ages seem to us very holy and perfect people. We can think of them as being ordinary and like us in the early part of their life but at some point they became this perfect person so different from us. People who, because of their holiness, didn’t have the same everyday struggles that we have.
In the early days of the Church, persecution and martyrdom were commonplace and as the Christians met together for worship in places like the catacombs they celebrated the Eucharist on the tombs of those who had been martyred. As the church became a group that was accepted within the culture and society martyrdom became rarer. There were many whose lives were an example of what it meant to live out the Christian faith.
The Church has widely kept this feast of All Saints since about the year 600. It was originally kept on May 13th but was moved to November 1st around 735 and has stayed there ever since.
I have used some of the research done by Bishop Keith Whitmore, one of the American Bishops. He, as a boy, went to what over here would be called a Church Primary school and it must have been in the more Catholic tradition because he talks of the boys trading holy cards of the Saints and that being more popular than trading cards of the baseball players. He said that at school he learnt that the Saints could show us the way to lead a holy life by their example. He thought if he could adopt a pious demeanour he too could become saintly. He added that it didn’t work.
It is interesting that the word “holy” has a similar feel to saint. God we regard as holy, and there are people we meet, whom we regard as holy such as Bishop Neil Russell of Zanzibar, whom Jeanne Griffin - Smith wrote about in this month’s magazine. But many of us would not feel comfortable about being called holy while we are living. Somehow the word currently has a “pious”, “not living in the real world” ring about it.
I think what the call to holiness means for us today is the call to be as real as we can be. To be genuine, to be honest with ourselves and in our in living, in order to work with God’s grace towards becoming the unique person God calls each one of us to be. Aiming to be by God’s grace a transformed person.Trying to be genuine and honest can reveal at least to ourselves in moments of quiet reflection that we are far from being the follower of Christ, the full human being that we want to be. Feeling that we are not getting very far and being discouraged is not the problem, the only failure is giving up and throwing in the towel so to speak.
God has a unique purpose for each one of us. He wants us to become fully the person he would have us be. It isn’t a question of “if only I could be more like Mother Teresa”etc. It is God’s call to each one of us to work towards becoming our best selves. God doesn’t call us to be Mother Teresa, but to be ourselves. What that means is being fully present to all the situations in our life. To be fully present to the person we are with, to the task we are engaged in. It means to be fully present to God in our prayer and worship, a difficult task, which is the work of a life time. It is particularly difficult for us today as we live in an “instant age” so not achieving our goals quickly is counter cultural. From time to time we do meet people who are further along the way, than we are, people, who we are aware when we are with them that they are giving us their full attention.
Our task in becoming who we fully are, is in order to show, to reveal something of God that no one else can. We believe that each person is made in the image of God and that includes us. The Saints I believe were not perfect human beings but they were those, who revealed a unique aspect of God in their lives. They have been further along the path of living out the Gospel. We can’t do this growing in our own strength, but only with God’s grace. As Christians, who are baptised we have been given grace for the journey and of course we need to go on asking God for the grace we need. As we bring to our prayer the
situations and the people that concern us we pray for the grace we need for engaging in the events of our day. We pray for the grace particularly for those situations and people we find taxing and difficult.
We are a work in progress. Bishop Whitmore talked about being presented with one of those buttons that read. “Be patient, God is not finished with me yet”. Our church here, locally at Diocesan, National and Communion level is not perfect. The collective body of Saints is a work in progress. Our task is not about perfection but transformation.
In the New Testament there are 32 references to Saints. St. Paul uses the term 44 times to refer to the church on earth. The writer of the Book of Revelation says, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them”. God the holy one lives among us.
Sometimes we get glimpses of God in other people and not just church people or Christians. The Holy Spirit inspires and enables us as Christ’s followers as she has done down the ages, to bring the good news of the Gospel to our time, to bring aid to the needy, justice to the oppressed, hope to the sorrowful and forgiveness and restoration to those who have lost their way.
This festival of All Saints reminds and connects us to all those who have gone before us, Saints on earth and Saints in heaven. Those we know and see no more for the time being. There is a song whose words are: “We are standing on the shoulders of the ones who have gone before us”, and finish with “and my shoulders will be there for the ones who follow me”. We are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us in the faith, in our own personal journeys and those here in this community of St. Andrew’s. We give thanks for them and pray that we will be transformed into the people the Saints and community that God would have us be.
Today also marks a significant day in the life of our Community here as Sue Waddell begins her ministry as a fully authorised and licensed Reader in our midst. Sue has been growing into this role through her training and has been exercising it along with her many other ministries here at St. Andrew’s. We thank God for her and pray that she and we will be transformed by her ministry among us.