We don’t talk about saints much on the Protestant side of Christianity. We leave that to our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters. They name their churches things like, “St. Mary’s, St. Patrick’s, St. Francis’,” while most of the time (but not always) we choose names that tell you more about where we are located. There a certain suspicion in Protestantism about the saints. We are too afraid of making idols out of them, and so we acknowledge their place in ancient church history, but we don’t talk about them as much as we maybe should.
But I have friends who grew up in churches where the lives of the saints were always being discussed. It was a part of the fabric of their lives. They knew the most important saints days, they knew the patron saints for their parish or their town or their heritage. And some of them even say that when they were children their first ambition was to become a saint. In some traditions that’s still possible. Mother Theresa’s life is being examined by the Catholic Church, for example, to see whether she may have been a saint.
But in Protestantism, we don’t talk much about wanting to be saints. I would consider it briefly when I was very little and then probably about ten minutes after would do something that I was sure had disqualified me from sainthood forever. And, to be honest, sainthood sounded a little boring. I imagined a life of being perfect, and never having any fun.
But sainthood is a little more complicated than that. A few weeks ago I told you about how Martin Luther used to say we were all simultaneously saints and sinners. We were all trying daily to do the right thing, and yet all making the mistakes that every human makes. Even the great saints of history were human, and fallible, and imperfect.
Today we celebrate All Saints Sunday. All Saints day was actually November 1st, but most Protestants move it to today. It’s not one of the major holidays of the church year for us, and we tend to think more about the night before it filled with candy and costumes.
But there is a beauty about All Saints day. We come to church on this day to remember not just those old saints who supposedly did things like drive snakes out of Ireland or who blessed the animals. We come because we too have known saints, and we miss them.
Our faith believes that when we die, we too join the communion of saints. We don’t earn a place there by our perfect lives or our great acts. We will find ourselves there because God’s grace has been given to us and we couldn’t say “no”. We couldn’t turn down sainthood.
But for now, we are here, and we are, as Luther said, still both saints and sinners. Sometimes a little more of one than the other. And all the people who are around us are too. And yet even still, sometimes they do truly saintlike things that change the lives of those around them. They become the people who show us God’s love and grace and goodness. They inspire our faith. They lead us to live good lives. They show us what is important. They give so that we can live. And when they leave this world, we miss them. Today we raise their memories up once more, and we look to the next life where they are already all saints.
So, who are the saints you remember? Who helped to shine the light of God just a little more in your life? Your parents? A childhood Sunday school teacher? The person you worked with whose quiet faith caused him to make things a little brighter for everyone around him? The person who came to your help when everything in your life had fallen apart, and who picked you up and helped you get back on your feet? The one who fought for what was right when everyone else was too scared?
They were all saints. And because of them we are here today, remembering the little things they did that inspired faith in us. And remembering them is good.
I’ve talked before about being on Facebook. I think there are actually a lot of spiritual lessons that can come from it. My most recent has to do with a saint I knew. David was a seminary classmate of mine. We was a former swimmer at Harvard and he both incredibly smart and incredibly athletic. He was getting a PhD at Duke and he could have taught at any seminary across the country. But instead, he and his family decided to go to South America as missionaries and to teach there. Not long before he was scheduled to leave, he went out on a run with another classmate. He was in his 30’s now, but just as athletic as ever. But not long into the run David fell to the ground and never recovered.
I see David’s profile pop up on Facebook from time to time. And I used to wonder whether I should “unfriend” him since he is gone and the account is dormant. But I’ve decided not to. David was a part of my life, and he was a saint. Because the way he lived his life inspired me to want to love God more. And I was far from the only one. Today he is one of the saints. And he is not forgotten
But, who will one day remember us as saints? And why? Those who love us will not remember us as perfect, but to whom will we leave a legacy of a good, generous life that pointed not to our own accomplishments, but to God?
In the end the best remembarances of us won’t be about our check book balances. They won’t be about how big our house was, or whether we made partner. They won’t be about how much stuff we accumulated throughout our lives. They will be this: how much we gave.
The ones who remember you will remember your generosity first. They will remember your love of them. They will remember your friendship. They will remember the ways you took what you had and used it to help others. They will remember the ways you concerned yourself more with giving what you had away, rather than holding on to what you wanted to keep for yourself. In the end, there is no clearer indication that God’s grace is at work in you than your willingness to serve the needs of others before your own wants.
We don’t give so that we will get something, but even still you may be surprised at how your life is blessed by your giving in ways you may never expect.
When I worked for a hospice as a chaplain we had a nurse who was the son of a Holocaust survivor. His mother had been liberated from the camps at the end of the war, and because she lived, he had been given life.
One night he was called out to check on a dying man. The man didn’t have much longer to live, and his family was all gone. He was all alone. The nurse was going to go and take care of him and then leave for the night when he saw that the man had served in a particular Army unit during World War II. It was the same unit that had liberated his mother’s camp.
For the rest of the night, until the man died, the nurse stayed with him. The man who would have died to save the life of a woman he had never met, was now kept watch over by a son whose life had been made possible because of what the young soldier had given.
We never know what exactly our legacy is, and we never know how it will bless us in the most unexpected ways.
In a few minutes we will be taking part in communion. One of the things that is most incredible to me about the sacrament is that it binds us not only to God, but to one another, and to the whole communion of saints. When we sit at this table we sit here not just with each other, but with the believers of all times and places who are now saints.They are with us. The saints we have known are here with those who would-be saints.
This has been happening in this building for over 150 years. But before that it was happening in other buildings in this valley back over 200 years ago.The ones who sat in these pews, as well as the pews of every previous building, and who left a church here for us, they are here too. And long after we are gone, and everything that we know is gone, that communion of saints will remain and hopefully we too will be a part of it. It’s the only permanent thing we can ever hope for, and it’s the only thing that can ever satisfy us.
We are not, yet, saints. But we believe we one day will be. And wherever those whom we love end up, wherever they light their candles, may they remember how we tried to be. May they know that even when we were not perfect, we were trying. And may they forgive us our mistakes, and remember more our light, and may they join us at this table of joy. But for now, take a moment, and name in your hearts those who were saints to you. And then picture them joining us at this table today, and give thanks for the saints who were, and join them for the feast. Amen.