Sunday, November 1, 2015
(Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John11:32-44)
Yesterday, I had lunch with God’s saints.
I’m not exaggerating. We sat on plastic chairs and ate sandwiches, salad, and fruit. We prayed, we imagined, we shared the things God is doing. We waited with expectation for God to speak.
On Thursday, I had coffee with another saint. She lives with physical pain and the loss of her life partner on a daily basis. Their all too brief marriage produced a daughter. Whenever she talks of her, her face lights with pride. Her life holds together both agony and joy. Both realities are regularly taken to Jesus.
On Monday, I visited a broken man in his home. Addiction makes his road harder, I suspect, than I can understand. He is learning to offer his weakness to Jesus each morning. Hearing him pray drew me into the presence of God. He too is one of God’s ‘holy ones’. He makes my picture of God’s grace more complete.
Another encounter opened my eyes to the damage caused by unacknowledged racism. This person is slowly and courageously beginning to trust God with a lifetime of hurt. In this simple trust I see the seed of faith. It, I believe, makes a saint.
Other lives I know are rearranged by war yet are still characterised by humble prayer.
I see saints all the time. Every Monday morning I am surrounded by a cloud of witnesses sorting through the week’s donations to our boutique and tending our church garden. I am blessed to live with four saints. I laugh and cry with many more.
None of these, I imagine, would take the title ‘saint’ without some self-depreciating qualification. I can imagine each finding a context in which they would say: ‘I’m not much of a saint!’.
I understand their reluctance. Who wants to be considered quite that pretentious? Even so, they are – at least in part – the saints that surround me. I can respond with nothing less than my full gratitude.
Of course, the reluctance to embrace this term stems from its close association with ‘official’ saints: St Paul, St Peter, St James, St Benedict, St Francis – and the myriad of other church-recognised heroes of the faith. We know their stories well and rehearse their stories often. They are remarkable. They are inspiring.
Catherine Woodkiss works in Washington for the radical, action-oriented expression of our faith known as Sojourners. This week she wrote these words regarding these ‘official’ saints:
For those in the church, what distinguishes saints is their spiritual curiosity, their encounter with a divine God, and the radical love they went on to live because of it.
Woodkiss goes on to say
By claiming the faith, we’re claiming a kinship with each of those heroes who have gone before, and saying ‘we’re in this together’…
‘A kinship with each of those heroes who have gone before…’ My experience makes me want to add: ‘…and those heroes who surround us now!’
Yes, there are some remarkable people who have followed Jesus and it would be a tragedy for us to forget their specific examples.
But there is another possible – and maybe more widespread – danger: to forget that we – and those around us – are invited to claim this same life-transforming faith as our own. We remember these heroes because they remind us of how God once worked – and therefore still works.
They ultimately remind us of what God can do with us.
Today is All Saint’s Day. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses if only we have the eyes to see. Paul used the term ‘saints’ term in many of his letters. There he addressed the living church and often corrected them. We don’t have to be perfect or dead to embrace this reality.
Last week I spoke about the God who frees us. We are not a people who are ‘stuck’ but a people who are free because of the path opened up for us by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are a people learning to live ‘unstuck’ lives.
And this reality goes far beyond merely God’s re-moulding of our lives and of the remarkable lives we remember throughout the church year. God does more than free us to be good people.
God’s is in the business of overthrowing of death itself.
Our readings suggest that the ultimate ‘stuckness’ for humanity is death. I am reminded of this reality each time I hear Martyn Joseph’s song: No Choices. His line, ‘If life could be chosen who would stand here, Not you or I’, always leaves me pondering how many would even choose this life if it was pre-known that death was the only possible conclusion.
For us, it is not. Death is, certainly, the ‘shroud that is cast over all peoples’, the ‘sheet spread over all nations’. Death left Jesus ‘greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved’. It caused the Son of God to ‘weep’.
But this weeping God is not the end of our story. Lazarus is raised. God speaks to and through the prophets of a time when death will be ‘swallowed’ and ‘tears’ dissolved. We are invited to hope for a time when death, mourning, crying, and pain are things of the past.
Of course the ultimate source of this hope is found in the appearance of the crucified Jesus. A foretaste of what is to come.
Is it any wonder St Irenaeus concluded: ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive’?
Yesterday, at our Spring Quiet Day, Christine Richardson collected the leaves that make up today’s display in front of the altar. They are all different – a myriad of shapes and colours. Some are old, some very young. Some are sharp, some misshapen.
Their collection reminds me of C.S Lewis’ insight regarding the people of God: ‘How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been. How glorious different are the saints!’
Perhaps that is the only common denominator as we look at the lives around us touched by Jesus: through faith they being made alive and displaying the glory of God.
Your life and your faith will be far richer with eyes to see ‘all’ God’s ‘saints’. I pray that your eyes are truly open on this All Saints Day.