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Who are the Saints?

Rev. Reebee Girash
Sun, Nov 04

Commemoration of All the Saints
Psalm 24; Mark 12:28-34

It is All Saints Sunday here at First Church and in a little while, we are going to lift up the names of those we remember as saints, those from this congregation who from their labors rest; our family and friends who have passed on in this last year. We are going to remember those who have passed.

It seems impossible that these fresh losses we have felt in the last year could ever give way to joyful memories. And with word of those who have died in the wake of the hurricane, our hearts break anew. And yet, we sing a song of the saints of God. And we will gather with these puppets who remind us of the great cloud of witnesses, and we will stand in a circle and with smiles on our faces and tears coming down our cheeks we will name the saints and share in the feast, and there is joy here.

Before that commemoration, let us consider for a moment: what do we mean when we say, the saints?

If I were the apostle Paul, offering a message to you, I would begin with a greeting, like the one found in Romans: To all God's beloved in the church in Cambridge, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Mother and Father, and from Jesus Christ. (in the style of Romans 1:7)

Indeed, fully ten of the Pauline and Pseudo-Pauline letters included greetings to the saints, the hagios in Greek, of the recipient churches.

And if I were the Psalmist(s) who wrote under the name David, offering a message to you, I would say: Love the Lord, all you the Lord's saints. (Psalm 31:23)

Indeed 25 times in the Psalms, there are teachings directed at the saints, the Chaciyd in Hebrew, the faithful, the holy.

And if I were St. Peter. That is, if I were to, this morning, quote Saint Peter Gomes, I would say: "In New Testament usage, saints are those who aspire to the holiness of the Holy God whom they serve....to be a saint in this sense is a sign not of perfection but of fidelity." (Christian Century, October 22, 1997)

Indeed, Peter Gomes went on to describe this dimension of sainthood: "The living identity of saints as fellow believers present and all around us - 'everyday saints' who exist neither in stained glass nor in heaven but in the rough-and-tumble of our daily lives." (ibid)

In our tradition, on All Saints Day we remember not only the extraordinarily holy, the perfectly pious, but all saints.

If a saint need not be perfect, then who is a saint?

Perhaps we need to turn to our Gospel this morning. Jesus repeats to the scribe the greatest commandments:

"The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

The scribe hears this and calls him Teacher.

And this is where I think we get to the heart of sainthood. Saints teach us about faithfulness through their own faithfulness.

Who are saints but those who teach us how to love God with all our hearts? Who are saints but those who teach us how to love all of God's children?

The saints teach us to draw near to God even as we doubt. They teach us to love God with hymns of praise and they teach us to love God by wrestling to understand God's word. They don't have it all figured out, but they figure on trying to get close to God.

(You know, I've met those saints right here at First Church, this week.)

The saints model courage in following Jesus. We see them wade into deep waters, murky waters where they cannot see the other side but they know God is calling them to wade in the water, even the troubled water.

(You know I've met those saints right here at First Church, this week.)

The saints show us God's love in the way they hug us, make food for us, give us rides, pray for us, notice us, offer us words of peace and blessing.

(You know I've met those saints right here at First Church, this morning actually.)

The saints show us how to love our neighbors even where barriers and boundaries seem to separate us. They sing to us: I still believe despite our differences / That what we have's enough / And I believe in you / And I believe in love. (Indigo Girls: I Believe in Love)

(You know I've met those saints right here at First Church, this election week.)

The saints teach us to hope in things not seen, they invite us to breath deeply to feel the Holy Spirit within us even in the most anxious moments.

Bernice Johnson Reagon described the lessons she learned from this kind of saint:
I don’t know how my mother walked her trouble down
I don’t know how my father stood his ground
I don’t know how my people survive slavery
I do remember, that’s why I believe.
(Yes, you know, I've met those saints right here at First Church.)
The saints show us how to love the children around us. The saints show us how to break bread together.
The saints love God with all their hearts.
The saints love us, and teach us how to love.
(I know you've met those saints right here at First Church, this week.)

Let's pause for a moment. We're going to name aloud, in a little while, the saints who have passed into God's eternal embrace. But in this pause I want you to call to mind the saints among us here, in this church, living or passed, who have taught you how to love God; who have taught you how to love your neighbor. I want you to count them. You may get to a high number, and if so I want you to pause and pick up with your count tonight when you go to bed, instead of counting sheep. Close your eyes and count, for a moment, the saints you have met here.

Now, do not neglect to count yourself in that number. I know, you are not perfect. I'm not perfect. Peter, not perfect, but a saint. Lindsay, not perfect, but a saint. Saints are faithful. Saints have something to teach us about loving God and loving our neighbor.

Now, I know it's stewardship season and I think I'm supposed to preach about giving.

Well, here you go: there's no where else but church where you're going to meet so many saints, feel how much God loves you, or learn so much about how to love God and your neighbors. Paul, in his annual stewardship appeal to the church at Rome, made the invitation to give this way: "Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers." (Romans 12: 11-13)

You meet the saints right here in this sanctuary, in this building, in the making of sandwiches, in the BBC forums, in the coffee hour cookies, in the notes sung by the choir and the puppets carried by our children. And one of the reasons you support this church, and come here on Sunday mornings, is that maybe, just maybe: you are the saint someone needs to meet here. Amen.

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