Saturday, November 5, 2016

Who Are the Saints? Reflections on All Saints' Sunday (RCL All Saints C, 6 November 2016)

Who Are the Saints?
Reflections on All Saints’ Sunday

RCL All Saints C
6 November 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

           Early last week a young Roman Catholic colleague whom I met as a member of the Jewish-Christian dialogue and who teaches at Saint Mark’s College sent me a note regarding saints in the Anglican Communion.  He asked me what impact recent Roman beatifications would mean for Anglicans.  I told him there were no implications on Anglicans unless a particular province of the Communion chose to recognize one of the new Roman saints.  I sent him some further resources about how Anglicans go about adding names to our liturgical calendar.

            My young colleague’s question, however, turned my mind to the question of sainthood itself.  What does it mean to be a saint?

            Being an Anglican through and through, I did what our tradition has taught me to do:  I went back to the Scriptures.  What I learned reminded me of what I already knew:  A saint is someone who has committed herself or himself to a lifelong effort to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul, with all one’s mind and with all one’s strength.  Being one of God’s saints, you see, is not an extraordinary vocation.  It is the ordinary vocation of all who follow the God of Moses and the God of Jesus.

            In some ways we may have done ourselves a disservice over the centuries of Christian devotion to the saints.  We remember these heroes and significant figures of the Christian movement in history.  But in remembering who they were and what they did, we risk forgetting who we are as God’s saints in the here and now and what we are called to do.

            Who are we and what are we called to do?  We are a holy people who have discovered that God’s love for us is so great that it overflows and leads us to love others as we have been loved.  We are a holy people who still wonder at the mystery of God make known in creation and all its creatures, human and non-human, a holy people who still look at the heavens with curiosity.  We live out that wonder and curiosity by expanding our understanding of the kosmos.  We are a holy people who use their skills, gifts and knowledge in the active pursuit of the common good of all of God’s beloved creation.

            We are a holy people but we are not perfect.  We are not a rare breed but are actually quite commonplace.  We are not extraordinary but actually rather ordinary.  Saints are not plaster figures or dimly-remembered people from the past; the saints are sitting in this place and all the places like it throughout the world.

            So here is the second and last part of my November invitation to see Jesus and to be one of his saints.  It’s a series of questions that we can only answer for ourselves as individuals: 
  • What do you believe is the most urgent work God is doing in the world today? 
  • What role can you play in this urgent work? 
  • What gifts can you bring to this work? 
  • Who are your partners in this work? 
  • What one thing can you do in the next three weeks to join God in this work?  Is a gift of your time or your talent or your treasure?

            Yesterday representatives of the Diocese, including members of this Parish, gathered to invest Wendy Nilsen and others with the Order of the Diocese of New Westminster.  I give thanks for the many gifts Wendy and the other members of the Order in this Parish for all that they have given to our shared ministry in this time and in this place.  I take strength in the knowledge that in recognizing Wendy and all the other members of the Order we are celebrating a deeper truth.  We are all God’s saints, seeking to love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds and with all our strengths.  And so, thanks be to God who surrounds each and every day with so great a cloud of witnesses.

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