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Saturday, November 01, 2014

The Saints of God

A Sermon Preached at St. Paul's, Georgetown
November 2, 2014
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

Note: This will be my last preaching "gig" for a while for this small but wonderful aging community of faith. Until their rector needs another Sunday off. I will most certainly preach without notes but, rather, from a "prepared heart".  It's a real challenge for me - the lover of the sound and shape and meaning of words - to stand in the midst of them and preach the Gospel from my heart, but their trust in me allows me to trust myself. They are saints of God, and I am blessed.

Today is 'All Saints Sunday', a day when we honor ALL the saints, who from their labors rest. So, I'm curious to know: How do you define 'a saint'? Is is just someone the church determines meets the criteria?

Or, are saints more like the people in the hymn 'I Sing A Song of the Saints of God'? You know, 'one was a captain and one was a priest and one was slain by a fierce, wild beast'? Or, is that a fierce, wild priest?

What is a saint? Who is a saint?

While you're thinking about that, let me tell you this story. It's about a little boy who was looking at the Memorial tablets on the church wall. One listed all those church members who had died during WWI and a second listed all those church members who had died during WWII.

The priest came up behind him and said, “Those, son, are the saints of this church. Do you know what a saint is?”

The little boy said, “No, what’s a saint?”

The priest said, “Well, saints are people who lay down their lives for others. These particular people are those who died in the service.”

The little boy was quiet as he considered the names in light of what the priest had told him, and then he asked, “Which service? The eight? Or the Ten?”

We often think of saints as extraordinary people, but if you read the lives of the saints, you will quickly see that they are, as that hymn says, “just folks like you and me.”

Sometimes, people say, "Oh, she's a real saint," when they talk about people who take care of the elderly or special needs people."

We have an adopted daughter who is profoundly challenged, mentally and physically. When she was a small child, people used to say to us, "Oh, you are saints." When, what they really meant was, "Oh, I could never do that! I could never taken in a special needs child."

Well, they didn't know Katie. We were the ones who were blessed.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus gives us a wonderful list of attributes that the saints of God have. 

Now, we might be tempted to guess that the kind of people Jesus would pick out for special commendation might be spiritual super heroes – men and women of impeccable credentials, morally, spiritually and every way possible.

But, he didn't do that.
It could very well be that Jesus didn’t pick out those people because, well, he knew that they already get special note and that is their reward. Or, maybe he didn’t pick out those sorts of people because, well, he didn’t happen to know any. I mean, he did hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes and all sort and manner of sinners.

So, these are the ones he picked out*:

Jesus said, blessed are the  “poor in spirit”. You know, the ones who have absolutely nothing to give and are in need of absolutely everything. You might think of several biblical characters like are like this, but I think of Ruth who had absolutely nothing to give to her even poorer mother in law except her love and fidelity and, in so doing, created a family. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Blessed are those who mourn, he said. Yes, Jesus taught that through him was eternal life, but he also knew that, when people mourn, they do so because they know just how precious a gift life is. So, when life on this earth has ended, we weep. And, our tears are evidence of our gratitude, they are little drops of thanksgiving for life.
Blessed are those who mourn.

Jesus said, blessed are the meek.  These are the people who do not let their sense of being righteous delude them into thinking that they are always "right". They don't let their righteousness get in the way of their ability to listen to others, to be open to the thinking of others. Perhaps they disagree, but they are open to listening and affirming the perspectives of others and not insisting on their own perspective as "The Truth".

Blessed are the meek.

Jesus said, blessed are the merciful. Blessed are those who look at themselves in the mirror every morning and do not see a perfect person looking back at them. These saints are the ones who know that evil exists in every single person, including themselves, and are merciful when they find it in others and, perhaps, in that way, may attain an even greater triumph. 

Blessed are the merciful.

Blessed are the pure in heart, Jesus said. Not the totally pure – those who strictly adhere to the Levitical (or purity) Codes – but those who are “pure in heart”. These are the ones who are as flawed and as faulted as the rest of us, but somehow always seek and find the goodness of life.

Blessed are the pure in heart.

Jesus said, blessed are the peacemakers. Not necessarily those who have found the fullness of peace, but those who try, in little, seemingly insignificant ways, to make peace within themselves, their neighbor and God. 

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Jesus looks into the faces of his listeners and says, “Blessed are YOU” whenever you err on the side of heaven and look the fool for your troubles. 

Blessed are YOU when you do good when doing bad would be easier. Blessed are you when you do not return evil for evil but good for good.

Blessed are YOU when you hunger and thirst for righteousness, are poor in spirit and mourn, are meek and merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers, or a fool for Christ's sake.

Blessed are YOU, he says, and you can almost see those ancient people looking back at him with surprise and delight. I’m guessing no one ever considered themselves in their poor estate ‘blessed’, much less blessed with that which the world would consider invaluable.

So, the next time you are feeling down and worthless, I suggest that you read The Beatitudes again.   

Read them and know that God as revealed in Jesus is an extravagant God, filled with abundant mercy and kindness, full measure, pressed down and overflowing.

And know that you are loved unconditionally by God, with all your shortcomings and failings, all your blemishes and warts. You – YOU – are a saint of God.

Know that Jesus can and will take all of what you have to offer – even the things you think have no value – and take them to his very own sacred heart and transform them use them to the glory of the one and the same God.

I'm going to leave you with one last story about saints.

This one is about a little girl who was standing in the church looking at the people depicted in the stained glass windows, much like the ones here, in this church.

The priest walked in and asked her, "Do you know who those people are?"

"My mommy says they are saints," she answered.

"Do you know what a saint is?" asked the priest.

"Yes," she said, her voice full of awe and wonder, "They are people who let in the light in their own special way so that all of God's colors come together in a beautiful way."

So, as you consider all of the ways God has blessed you, try to be one of those saints who lets in the light of Jesus in your own special way. 

Help all the wonderfully different colors of God come together in a beautiful way and make the world a better place.


* Inspired by Frederick Buechner  ~ originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words


David said...

dearest Elizabeth:
I'm not sure which volume of your much-anticipated (as yet-unpublished) books this will appear in: however this is a keeper! this is publishable!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hello my beloved friend. How interesting, because I think writing for the ear is very different from writing for the eye. Hmm . . . Well, most importantly, the people at St. P's enjoyed the sermon and seemed inspired by it. I was blessed.

David said...

and then, when, through grace one writes for both the eye and the ear, both the text and spirit soar-
this being but another case in point in your oeuvre, dear friend.
just saying..... lol

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bless you, David.