Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the realm of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Human One. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Will you pray with and for me? God who is present at all times and in all places, refresh our hearts and spirits as we remember the friends and family who no longer walk this earth with us, and the ones we never knew in person, but whose stories lift our hearts with hope. Give us the grace to follow their paths with dedication and patience, not forgetting their humanity, but with gratitude for all that they taught us and the example they showed us. In all your names, amen.
Today we’re observing All-Saints, on this, the first Sunday of November. It is a time to remember the ones who came before us, their lives of example and their teachings of hope—the ones we call saints. But this begs the question--how do we define “saint?” As a perfect person? Someone who fulfills all those Blesseds and is the opposite of all the Woes? Many of our saints would be hard to live with and had faults. Saints are our role models—their lives are something we can aspire to follow and emulate.
We take this day to remember not only the understood saints—Peter and Francis and Mary—or the ones we hold as saints—Mother Theresa, John Wesley, Maximilian Kolbe—but also those who have been saints in our lives—a grandparent, an aunt, a friend—and who may still be among the living. One of my saints was one of my mentors at MCC-DC. He was an unfailing support in so many ways, with humour and grace and understanding and wisdom. When I was scolded by a congregation member for forgetting to put the plate back on top of the communion cup after communion one Sunday, Dan winked at me and said, “Was Jesus going to escape?” His was a true generosity of spirit—introducing me to people I would want to know in the UFMCC at conferences, making sure I was able to attend all the events he thought I should, giving me books to read and suggesting movies, magazines and even vacation spots. He wasn’t perfect—Dan had his demons to fight and he could be argumentative and provoking. But he believed in me and never let me down. And I was not the only one—I think if you polled the MCC clergy who interned at MCC-DC, you would find that most of them were enriched and blessed by his presence, love and support. And he was involved in so many other ways in the church as well, both at the local and denominational level, not only in training future clergy, but in securing MCC-DC on a sound financial base, offering advice and suggestions to the entire MCC in a thousand ways—unselfishly and with love.
People like Dan are saints not because they were perfect, but because they offer an example of how to live lives of grace and truth. Mother Teresa was heard to complain sometimes; Martin Luther King Jr. was rumoured to have had affairs; Peter denied Christ three times; and Oscar Romero awakened late in his life to the realities of corruption and poverty in El Salvador. But their lives were examples of God’s presence—Mother Teresa’s unselfish service to the untouchables of India, Martin Luther King Jr.’s uncompromising stand for racial justice; Peter’s confession to Christ and work in establishing the church; Oscar Romero’s refusal to back down on demands for justice for the poor, knowing it put his life at risk.
Because we don’t know if we could do the same, we admire the saints who gave their lives in the cause—MLK, killed by an assassin, Oscar Romero, shot as he celebrated Communion, Thomas Cranmer, burned at the stake for the daring idea of reformation of the English Church. But most of our saints were not called to that extremity—Francis and Clare died peacefully,, in their beds; so did Dag Hammarskjöld and George Fox, and Karl Barth.
Their sainthood, my friends, is not about how they died, but how they lived. And that is the example they set for us—that is why they are role models, why we love, admire, and respect them.
All of us have saints in our lives, whether we know them personally or not, whether they are still among the living or have gone on before us. We have learned from them, they continue to teach us. They have been our support and have encouraged us, if only by example.
As we remember our saints today, it is a good time to rededicate ourselves to following their examples, to living lives like theirs, as far as we can; and to honouring them by continuing to work for what they worked for, what they knew to be true.
As I light this candle of memory, I invite you to speak aloud or in your heart, your saints, known to the world or only to you—those who are your examples, your role models, your guides.
(light candle and silence)
Holy One, as we have lit this candle to remind us of the ones we honour, rekindle in us the flame of devotion to those principles and those causes that our saints upheld. Give us grace to follow in their footsteps, that we may be a beacon to those who follow us. Amen.