A sermon by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo.
A Meditation on All Saints Day
Revelation 7:9-12; 21:-1-4
November 3, 2013
Happy All Saints Day! We seem to know a lot about Halloween but very little about All Saint’s Day. It’s on All Saints Day that we recover the true meaning of being a saint.
A sign on the Winchester Cathedral in England reads, “As you enter the Church, you are entering a conversation that began long before you were born, and will continue long after you are dead.” That conversation is our discovery that God has both created us and our partnership together in life with God and with one another. The life of faith is a thread that connects us to one another and to those both before we existed and for all that will come after us. That connection is a part of the mystery of God who transcends time itself. It is William Blake’s quivering golden thread that wends its way up and down the line.
Perhaps the term saint is a bit of a stretch for us. I admit the idea of a saint sounds as though they were someone who’s set the bar high for the rest of us … someone who’s, well, better than the rest of us. Nevertheless, the Bible generously refers to everyday persons as saints … followers of God who are ordinary, ho-hum persons, as though God was calling us toward our true identity. Most of us shirk from thinking about ourselves as saints, but that’s how God refers to those of us who are struggling to live the faith. It may surprise you that some of the greatest saints turn out to be more human than you know. Most saints are really just common folks and not so elevated as we make them out to be. To fully reclaim the idea of the saints, we need to tell stories because sainthood is not what we may think it is.
Several years ago, Mother Teresa visited New York City and Mayor Ed Koch invited her to his home for a reception. It was a special moment and so the Mayor hosted a party to meet a person many would call “the most humble servant of God alive.”
Being hospitable, the Mayor offered her a tray of chocolate chip cookies, but she refused them, explaining politely, “Thank you, but I have taken a vow of poverty and the people I serve do not get cookies.”
“But you have to try these!” the Mayor gushed. “These are Famous Amos cookies, the best cookies ever made!” to which Mother Teresa responded demurely, “Well, wrap ‘em up!”
Maybe we’ve lost the true meaning of the saints. It’s time today to recover the biblical notion of sainthood and holiness. Holiness should not be defined morally or ethically, but functionally. Holiness is not a state of being, but a course of action. A holy one, a saint, is a person set aside for service to God, a person who lets Christ use him or her to love the world.
Think of Rosa Parks, the diminutive woman with the wireless spectacles who was a kind of mother figure to the NAACP Youth Group in Montgomery. Historian Taylor Branch wrote this of her: A tireless worker and churchgoer, Rosa Parks was one of those rare people of whom everyone agreed that she gave more than she got. Her character represented one of the isolated high blips on the graph of human nature, offsetting a dozen or so sociopaths.
Rosa Parks was a seamstress at a downtown department store. One day, on her usual bus ride home, the driver told Rosa that she would have to vacate her seat, not because a white person wanted to sit in her seat, but in order to create a clear an obvious buffer zone between the whites and the blacks. But this time Rosa refused. Who knows how many times she had just gone along with the unjust laws that neatly separated black from white? But on this first day of December 1955, she wouldn’t take it anymore.
Rosa Parks had no way of knowing what would happen next, that she would become an accidental saint in the Civil Rights movement. She was arrested, but with her saintly reputation in the community, her arrest angered the community and galvanized them to action. A gathering of the women called for a boycott of the buses. Black preachers followed their lead and began to organize. They met to discuss who should lead this protest and the ministers of the larger churches were hesitant to get out in front of what was fast becoming a movement. No preacher wanted the blame if it failed. Neither did they want the duty to go to one of their pastoral competitors in case it succeeded, so they chose the young pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, another accidental saint named Martin Luther King, Jr.
I doubt any of the saints we’ve remembered today woke up and decided to become a saint. They weren’t looking to be martyrs for a cause. They weren’t perfect human beings by a long shot. They didn’t become saints by being perfect. They became saints by being faithful to their identity as the children of God.
All Saints Day, in the end, is the power of our belief, our radical claim to faith, as we proclaim on this Lords’ Day the bodily resurrection from the dead on that Great Getting’ Up Day. We proclaim that death, while real and perhaps necessary, is not the last word. We proclaim our solidarity with the risen Christ.
As we come to the Lord’s Table, let us give thanks to God for all the saints through history who lived out this gospel. Let us thank God for the special saints of our own lives, especially those who have gone on to be with God but whose memory continues with us in our thoughts and in our hearts.