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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Shining Lights

When we are baptized, we are made saints of Christ, those in whom the light of Christ burns to light the world. On All Saints Day we give thanks for those who passed faith on to us, and we remember that others see our own faith in action as we live our lives.

Vicar Erik Doughty, All Saints’ Sunday, cycle A; texts: Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22.

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Today we light a few more candles among us, in memory of the saints. Today can be difficult and joyful for us, because today we remember the saints.

When we hear the word “Saint,” maybe we picture one of those old paintings where there’s a halo around somebody’s head, indicating how holy they were and are. Or maybe, we think of “patron saints” – saints who are said to advocate for Christians on behalf of a certain theme or cause. There’s Joseph, the patron of workers, confectioners, and married people; Boniface, the patron of Germany; and Saint Brigid, patron of dairy workers. Or Saints Sergius and Bacchus, Roman soldiers whose confession of faith led to their deaths, and whose close relationship helped them hold to their faith under torture. Sergius is patron of Syria. You’ll find that there’s a patron saint for almost everything! If I listed them all, we’d be here for quite a while.

Now, I think some find comfort in The Saints because they like having a friend at their side, and that is not a bad thing. Our own Martin Luther, as we heard during last Sunday’s education hour, was quite fond of Mary, mother of Our Lord; in case you were wondering, Mary is patron of lampmakers, aircraft crews, Minnesota, the United States, and Mexico (and a whole lot of other causes and places).

So Capital-S Saints can comfort us . . . and also can intimidate us. Occasionally I call someone a saint, and a fairly common reaction is for that person to shift uncomfortably in their seat, or say modestly, “Well, I don’t know about THAT.” We may have it in our heads that the capital-S saints are too good to be true; or maybe, out of our league. They’re the A-list of living the Godly life. And we can never measure up. (I must confess, I’ve got no halo – or if I have one, it’s dented.)

Meanwhile, Jesus is busy declaring a bunch of people blessed – who really don’t appear, or feel, too blessed. The poor in spirit – whatever that means, but those folks are having a rough time! They don’t seem either happy or blessed.

Those who mourn – they may be in the process of yelling at God, or just feeling sad. Some of us here today may be mourning a bit. “Blessed,” is probably not the way “those who mourn” would describe themselves. “The Meek” – not the go-getters, but the doormats? They’re blessed? The persecuted – are blessed? And so on.

To be fair, we can sort of understand the pure in heart and the peacemakers being blessed, but then again neither of those would be particularly easy or pleasant. And then the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness; and the merciful . . . well, you get the idea. Jesus is declaring blessed – declaring blessed RIGHT NOW – people whose station in life, or vocation, or just their present emotional state is a difficult one.

Mark Granquist, in the journal Word & World (Fall 2008, page 419), wrote this: “The celebration of All Saints makes sense, finally, in overcoming our cultural and religious notions of sainthood, sanctity, and purity. These concepts have been centered on the human self and idealized to the degree that we cannot hope to achieve them. Thankfully, the grace of God is powerful enough to pull us out of our own self-centeredness for our own good.” To put that in my own words: I depend on grace. The saints depend on grace. You depend on grace. Our own good is not the point; (“our own good” is never quite good enough), and the saints’ own good is not why we remember them.

Instead, today is a day we remember that Christ declares us blessed in the midst of our faulty, fallible, everyday lives here, now. Today is a day we remember, as in our reading from Revelation, that we know the end of the story, and the end of the story is wholeness and a hope in Christ finally fulfilled. Today is a day we remember, with the Psalmist, to Fear Not – that the Lord redeems the life of his servants. Today is a day we remember, as it says in 1 John, we are not just God’s servants, but in fact we are God’s children – NOW. Right now.

And the saints we remember today go far beyond the capital-S saints. Today’s saints are the ones who have held our hands, sung next to us in a pew, aggravated us with their personality quirks, told us silly jokes, hurt us as only our loved ones can, hugged us as only dear friends and family can. The saints we light candles for today are the saints we know, who have died, whom we miss – saint Benjamin, child of God; saint John, child of God; saint Henry, child of God – three whose baptisms are complete as they live now in the full light of Christ. Many of us may have lit candles for saints whom we know but are not part of our immediate community; and that is absolutely appropriate and good.

Today we also remember and light candles for the saints who are new to the communion of saints – our newly-baptized, the ones whose infant voices proclaim their early blessings on Christ’s name; the ones who are so full of life and so dependent upon God and upon us. We light candles for little saints Benjamin, Hollan, Charles, and Lyla.

All these lighted candles bear witness not to the individual holiness of of our loved ones, whether baptisms are just begun or fully complete in eternal life; no, these lights are the light of Christ; the same light that is burning inside each of you saints in the pew; the same light that burns in saint JoAnn and saint Paul and saint Kandi Jo; Saint Gene, Saint Naomi, saint Al, saint Irene . . . .; and that light is best shared.

You may not realize it, but your little bit of the-light-of-Christ already shines out from you to light somebody’s way. Your conversation with a friend or a stranger; your willingness to lead a group of people toward a positive vision; your evident love for your family; your ability to forgive others; your attitude of service while in the workplace; your making-time away from work for your friends, spouse, or family; your coming to, and building-up, the community of this congregation; your honesty in difficulties, your daily living – This, saints, is our responsibility and gift and challenge as followers of Christ. It’s not that we must be capital-s Saints (which is nice but not required!), but that we are already, at baptism, saints who begin to light the way for others. Knowing of that light within us, we then strive to live daily life in this beautiful church building AND on the sidewalk outside, AND at our workplace AND at home, in such a way as to be transparent, to let as much of Christ’s light out as possible.

Of course, our Lutheran claim to be sinner/saints and sainted sinners is not what everyone believes. Just friday, a nice man walked up to me at the bus stop – while I was wearing my clergy collar! – and invited me to church. He was apparently concerned for my immortal soul. The pamphlet he gave me asked if I were 100% certain where I would be if I died tonight.

I told my partner Scott that, were I to appear before the throne of Almighty God, the creator of all that is, I think it would be entirely appropriate to be terrified – and I probably will be, as I look back over many of my dumb moves. But I am also thankful that I am baptized into Christ, and I no longer depend upon my own actions to save me, but on Christ’s grace. AND Christianity is not only about going to heaven when we die, but also about the fact that right now the light of Christ does shine out from us; and we have the baptismal call and opportunity to share that amazing light. Ultimately, we’re not about fear, dear friends; we’re about “fear not!” We’re about faith.

At Easter vigil we hear Christ’s victory over death proclaimed and sung; and we hear that the light of Christ is not diminished even when its flame is divided and shared. In fact, when that flame is divided and shared, this whole place is lit with a golden light. We do eventually extinguish our candles. . . but the real light of Christ burns in us every single day, and others do see it.

Friends; saints; beloved; – Today especially, and in fact every Sunday when we gather at this place, we know the end of our story is found in, and dependent upon, not our personal holiness but the whole holiness of God. So fear not! Today, remember, and sprinkle grace everywhere, as we did with the baptismal water earlier. Today, remember: You are already children of God and saints, already witnesses to, and bearers of, Christ’s light. Today, remember: Fear not; live life fully; whether life is difficult or joyful, today, remember all our saints; remember you are one of those saints – and remember, Christ shines from you to bless the world.

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