The Uncommon Lives of Saints

Sermon for Sunday, November 6, 2022 || All Saints C || Ephesians 1:11-23

Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints. (The actual day was last Tuesday, November 1st, but we celebrate this holy day on the following Sunday.) I’d like to take this opportunity to talk with you about the saints, especially about how they can inspire us to follow Christ more closely.

I’ll start with an incredibly long sentence from our second reading today. Paul says, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

Like I said, that’s a pretty long sentence, so let me paraphrase a bit: “May God give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know Jesus, so that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened by hope in the power of God.”

That’s a pretty good place to start a conversation about sainthood. The saints are people who accept that spirit of wisdom and revelation. They know Jesus. The light of Christ illuminates the eyes of their hearts. And the power of God works through them.

There’s a wonderful moment in the Godly Play story of “The Great Family,” which tells the tale of Abram and Sarai, who become Abraham and Sarah, the ancestors of many nations. In the story, Abram goes out into the desert at night, and, as the story tells it, “God came so close to Abram and Abram came so close to God that Abram knew what God wanted him to do.” As the storyteller shares these words, they cup their hand over the little figurine, showing the closeness of God and Abram.

We could say the same thing about the saints: “God came so close to Francis or Clare or Teresa and they came so close to God that they knew what God wanted them to do.” God called them to particular missions within the inbreaking reign of Christ. They listened to those calls and acted on them. They met with hardship and suffering, as well as great joy and fulfillment. Some stuck to their missions even after God began to feel more distant. And, despite the varied nature of their calls, despite the fact that they came from all over the earth, despite inhabiting every age of the human story since Christs’s resurrection, despite all this diversity, every single saint shares exactly one thing in common.

They were regular people, who listened and responded to God’s movement in their lives in uncommonly devoted ways. I can’t stress this point enough. The moment we conclude the saints are some sort of spiritual all stars or super heroes is the moment their lives stop inspiring ours. We would look at them and say, “Yeah, sure they can follow God like that – they’re saints! – but there’s no way I can.”

We run into the same issue with figures in the Bible. We elevate them beyond their station and they cease to be our examples. But the truth is that the people in the Bible are also just like us; they experienced God’s presence like we do, just earlier in history. Even Jesus makes a concerted effort to stay relatable, despite his lineage. Like the saints, Jesus does not want to be put on a pedestal. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone,” he says to the rich man who comes to him with questions. The Gospel writers seem to understand their challenge – to present Jesus in his full humanity and his full divinity, so that we can come to know God through him. Saint Irenaeus of Lyon famously said, Jesus “became like us so we could become more like him.”

The people we call saints take this invitation to heart. They pattern their lives after Jesus: emptying themselves of privilege like Saint Francis; praying without ceasing like Saint Julian of Norwich; identifying with and serving those that society thinks of as the least like Mother Teresa. But again, these people – the saints – are not super heroes. They have no special powers inherent in themselves. Rather, they were and are vessels of God’s love and light and grace. They midwife the continual birthing of the Kingdom of God into this reality. What we think of as miracles are not surprising and mysterious breaks in the natural order. Miracles are the natural order, the reality of God that our broken world has forgotten. Miracles happen around saints because they see with the eyes of their hearts enlightened. They participate in the reality of God in an uncommon way.

Notice here that I’m taking pains to say an “uncommon way,” not a “special way.” There is nothing inherently special in the DNA of the saints that make them better conduits of God’s movement than anyone else. Instead, they model for us what a life caught up in God’s presence truly looks like: a life of holy relevance, a life of suffering and joy, a life dedicated to the dream of God chasing away the nightmare this world is for so many.

As the old song says, “For the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.” Each of us has the opportunity to be a window into God’s reality. The saints have the glass of their windows scrubbed particularly clean, but we all have the window inside us. As each of the saints had their own way of living out God’s mission in their lives, we each have our own constellations of gifts and passions, of wounds and joys, which God uses to tailor our own calls.

The last line of the Gospel of John is a curious one. It is the only time in the whole Gospel that the narrator breaks in using the first person. It says, “There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

My friends, the lives of the saints each fill one of those books. And guess what? So do our lives. Each of us is a story about how God is moving through this creation, restoring and reconciling all things back to God.

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash.

2 thoughts on “The Uncommon Lives of Saints

  1. Dear Adam, if I may be so bold, I very much appreciated your reference to the old hymn “I sing a song of the saints of God”, a hymn I learned when I was still in the single digits. Some modern-day folks might think it a bit corny (“twee” was the word that came to mind) and I don’t think our parish has sung it in ages, but the final line is SO enheartening: “For the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one, too.”
    Peace, Verdery Kassebaum

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