I. A Saint?
A question I like to ask myself about this time every year is, “What is a saint?” Now there are a couple ways to answer the question. The first, most obvious answer is that a Saint is a member of a football team located in New Orleans. Of course, this is not the answer I’m looking for. Others will look at the proper, catholic definition for a saint: someone who has passed away who was a strong Christian through their lives, and who had some miracle attributed to them by the Catholic Church after their death. I’m not terribly comfortable with this definition either. Though the Catholic Church is fairly rigorous with their desire for proof for miracles, I’m not sure miracles play any role in the qualifications for sainthood. And what’s up with the whole having miracles attributed to you after your death. How can they prove that you are connected to the miracle after you’ve gone on to be in Jesus’ presence? I figure the real saints are going to be too busy worshiping God to spend too much time worried about doing miracles down here on earth.
So, I guess I’m stuck with the good ol’ protestant definition of saint: someone who is a child of God, someone who has been saved by Christ. The early Protestants did a good job of democratizing our understanding of sainthood. They said that there aren’t different levels of Christianity. There aren’t normal Christians and Super Christians. Instead, once we have accepted Christ, we are all saved and we are all, therefore, saints. A saint isn’t a perfect person, a saint is a forgiven sinner. And today, as we celebrate All Saints Day, we remember the saints who have gone before us, guiding our path with their witness, and we look at our own calling as saints as well.
Well, since the concept of saint has been brought to the masses, since we recognize that all of us are saints we might choose to allow ourselves the easy way out. We might allow ourselves to figure that since we’ve been saved, since we’ve prayed the prayer, we’re where we need to be and don’t need to do much else. If we allow ourselves to live this way, I believe that we are making a mistake.
You see, I don’t think that it’s an accident that the scripture for All Saints Sunday comes from Luke 6. Jesus is describing here what it is that he calls us to be as his followers. Jesus is telling us what the qualifications for a saint are. Jesus is reminding us of what it means to be a child of God. There’s nothing in here about praying a prayer or accepting Jesus into your heart. No, Jesus is calling us to something deeper and more meaningful. Jesus is calling us to faith and faithfulness. Here, in Luke 6, we have a description of what a child of God looks like; here we have qualifications if we are interested in taking that on in our lives. I think it’s important, with our protestant theology, to realize that this description, these qualifications, aren’t just for a few, they are for all saints, all Christians.
And so we look at them and find ourselves wanting:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
I squirm when I read these verses. First of all there’s the whole part about hungering and weeping and being poor. It seems here that God wants his children to be poor. This doesn’t match what I’ve been taught about Christianity. Doesn’t God want the best for me? Well, yes, but the best doesn’t necessarily have to do with money. It is much easier to read Matthews sermon where Jesus talks about being poor in spirit and hungering for righteousness. And I know that Jesus taught using those words some times. But other times, Jesus taught using these words and I find them a bit harder to accept. Being poor, weeping, hungering, these are good things. God makes promises to those who endure these things because he honors people who go through them. In Jesus’ eyes, being a saint is about suffering for God. Again, I squirm when I read this. I’m not comfortable with this message, but that is what it is.
This is not the Christianity that I was sold. There was nothing in it about suffering. Oh, there are Christians in other parts of the world who have to suffer for their faith, there are Christians in the past who were persecuted because of what they believed, and we can look up to these martyrs, but we also thank God that we don’t have to deal with the things they deal with.
And then we come to this passage, telling us that God blesses those who are persecuted, telling us that the riches the world has to offer aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, telling us that suffering for the sake of Christ is actually a good thing.
Jesus didn’t just preach this, he lived it. He lived a life of suffering. Jesus could have come to earth as a king. He could have ruled from a palace with many servants. But he chose the life of a homeless man during his three year ministry. He chose to travel from town to town and learn to rely on those around him to meet his needs. He could encourage his disciples to ask God for their daily bread because that is the way that he lived. So he wasn’t looking down at the poor when he told them they would be blessed. He wasn’t giving platitudes from on high. He was speaking from among them.
Jesus knew what hunger was as well, he knew what it was to weep. These were real things to him. And Jesus knew what it meant to suffer for his message. For, he suffered in the ultimate way as he headed to the cross. These were real things to him. This is the way that he lived. And he told his disciples, and I believe, us as well, that this is the way that the child of God is to live.
III. A Cloud of Witnesses
Have you turned your life over to Jesus? Terrific! Did you pray a prayer asking Jesus into your heart? Wonderful! Now, find a way to start living it. Being a saint, which we all are, means that we are called to a difficult life. It means that life can and often will be difficult. It means a life of sacrifice. It means that you can’t always put your own needs first. Often we forget about the work involved in being a saint, and yet, there it is. There aren’t levels of Christianity. There aren’t normal Christians and then Super Christians who really have to work at it. We are all called to work at it in our own way in our own lives.
Think back to those saints who have gone before. Think back to those parents and grandparents that truly lived the life. Think of the example that they have been to you. And remember how much they put into their faith. Remember how God came first in their lives. And know that if we want to truly honor them then we are called to the same life of sacrifice for our faith. We will find the same blessing in Jesus’ eyes that they found when we are willing to suffer for God.
Paul tells us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. He reminds us that we are not alone in our faith. We can remember those who have gone before, we know that there are children of God around the world today. He offers this comfort. But it is not only comfort. It is also encouragement for us to struggle on. Since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, we can struggle on in the faith. Since we have saints who have gone before us, since we are standing on their shoulders, we cannot just sit back on our laurels and allow our faith to be simple and easy. So let us seek to be the children of God that Jesus calls us to be. Let us seek to be the saints that Jesus calls us to be. It isn’t easy, but we’re in good company, and we have many saints who have gone before cheering us on and encouraging us forward. Amen.