5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-filled,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
It just so happens that we’ve been talking about saints in our Bible study these last couple of weeks, and we were stopped early on in our discussions because as United Church we don’t spend a lot of time talking about saints. In fact our statement of faith entitled A Song of Faith, mentions saints only once:
We are called together by Christ
as a community of broken but hopeful believers,
loving what he loved, living what he taught,
striving to be faithful servants of God in our time and place.
Our ancestors in faith
bequeath to us experiences of their faithful living;
upon their lives our lives are built.
Our living of the gospel makes us a part of this communion of saints,
experiencing the fulfillment of God’s reign
even as we actively anticipate a new heaven and a new earth.
In Bible Study we needed to change how we viewed that word ‘saint’ and interpret it to mean one who believes, one who lives out their faith. That’s a new definition for anyone familiar or those who grew up with Catholicism. Usually sainthood is defined by the church, and not by individuals – but being a part of the communion of saints, means we that we are all a part of a continuum of believers, the generations that have come before who have each experienced the fulfilment of God’s reign even as we and they actively anticipate a new heaven and a new earth. Together the saints of the church have recognized God both in this moment, and learned to expect God in the next.
At Bible Study we were getting tripped up on capital ‘S’ Saints… as in Saint James Rosemount…we feel like we cannot compete with those capital S saints, like living our faith is somehow less important than St. James, one of the first disciples, the patron Saint of Spain. (Maybe when this covid thing we should do a little research trip to Spain to further our study our patron saint!)
But before we get there – why do saints (capital S or small s) matter? If they’re regular people like us, then why call them saints? And why does this day (All Saints) fall right now?
There’s always been something spooky about this time of year. Samhain (Sow-in) is a Celtic festival over the night of Halloween (from the 31st to the1st) marking the transition between fall and winter. It’s also where some of our Halloween traditions originate with ghosts and spirits rising. That’s picked up further in the celebration of All Saints and All Souls days – as around the globe this time of year, it becomes a part of many Christians’ lives to honour those who have died who have inspired their own journeys of faith. In particular, in Mexico, Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a day of celebration as families cover their ofrenda (an altar in their home) with pictures of their deceased loved ones, and food and things of this life to entice them in staying. One of the best explorations of this is the movie Coco that came out a couple of years ago. The whole movie is about the sacred act of remembering and giving thanks of the saints that have dwelled among us – as it describes
Día de los Muertos [to be] one night of the year our ancestors can come visit us. …If we don’t put [their pictures] up, they can’t come. [They make] food, set out the things they loved in life, all… to bring the family together. (Quote from Coco)
I realize that the image of a family doesn’t work for everyone as some have experienced deep trauma, unhealed wounds and toxic and abusive behaviour in their family of origin. Some would rather leave buried what’s buried. In response, even Coco manages to make room for this, as in one scene, a person is remembered by their dentist, so on that particular Day of the Dead, the connections go beyond family into a vision of community that remembers and holds sacred. For we are kept alive in the stories that others tell of us. So All Saints becomes a time of sacred remembering, and telling the stories of those that have come before.
But since we don’t have a long history with this tradition, I want to propose a ‘United Church interpretation.’ What if all saints for us becomes a recognition of the saints that surround us now – an acknowledgement of how important and sacred the lives of those who are so dear to us? To that end, there’s a children’s story book (based on a hymn – and you can find both on Youtube if you’re interested) called I Sing a Song of Saints of God
And there’s not any reason – no, not the least –
Why I shouldn’t be [a saint] too.
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school or in lanes or at sea,
In church or in trains or in shops or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me.
And I mean to be to be one too.
The saints of God are just folk like me…what All Saints is reminding us that all people are saints – that we’re surrounded by saints who have richly added to our lives, and who have inspired our own living. And while it’s a little arrogant/narcissistic to proclaim ourselves saints, what if all saints reminds us how important it is to point out how important, unique, and faithful each and every person is? The world is filled with critics…it’s easy to find people finding fault in one another, shaming or blaming one another, but it’s rare to find a community that builds up one another.
And so, I’m going to spend the rest of this reflection naming the saints that come to mind for me today. (The most difficult thing about naming saints, or offering our thanks is that we will always leave someone out, and as I move into this time, this list is not exhaustive – please don’t feel slighted – just know that the minute I forget someone, your name will pop into my head at 3am, so whether now or later, I give thanks for the light that you bring to the world.)
Today, I’m thankful for the saints that surround me – for those on the Executive and Board that have met for long hours in discussion, still discerning what’s right for the people of St. James, and the community therein…
I light a candle for Alison Vicary, and Dave Davidson that have had to relearn what it means to offer their gifts to the congregation, as well as our choral scholars: Madison Marino, Colin Watts and Nikki Ferreira.
I light a candle for our CE– Alison Riddell and the committee as well as our teachers, Danielle Loree and Christina Find and Jan Omand in Bible Study and the ongoing ways they’re reaching out to ensure connection with one another.
For Worship and Finance, M&P and UCW and Trustees – those committees that often work behind the scenes to ensure that things run smoothly and we are able to live out our faith, and afford our ministry.
I light a candle for Property– for Jim and the committee, and all those ensuring our building is safe, and particularly for Jim and Teresa ensuring our website is maintained and worship is posted.
I light a candle for Ron and the Mission and Outreach committee, and the work they’ve done to ensure we continue to be active participants in the world.
I light a candle for Margaret and the Pastoral Care team who connect with those in need, who keep us connected with one another, who hold us in love like a prayer shawl enfolds those in need. As we today we pray for light to shine in the lives of Norma and Jim… Millie and Bill… Charmian and Hong…
And for all I’ve missed – for all of you – may the light of Christ remind you of how grateful for the faith that has connected us – and how sacred your life is to me.
May this celebration of all saints Sunday give you the courage to recognize and thank the saints in your lives, and may you have the same courage to look yourself in the mirror to see how God has called you into this great communion of saints.