St. James, our St. James, is one of at least three James mentioned in scripture. He was the brother of Jesus and it is said that for all of our Lord’s life James refused to believe that Jesus was the Christ. It was only after the resurrection that James realized the truth about his older brother. James became a bishop and leader of the church in Jerusalem. He wrote his famous letter around 47 A.D. a verse of which has always graced the walls of St. James’s Church. It is said that James was so pious that he never drank wine, ate meat, bathed or shaved his beard. He was not interested in himself but only in serving Christ. It is said that he was martyred by being thrown from the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. On the liturgical calendar, his official feast day is October 23rd a date that always closely coincides with our own parish celebration – the Feast of St. James’s.
St. Peter and St. Paul share the feast day of June 29th. Both were instrumental in the spread of early Christianity from a small Jewish cult to a faith that covered the width and breadth of the Roman Empire. They have the same feast day because they were both killed as martyrs by the Emperor Nero in Rome in 64 A.D. I always think it is ironic and wonderfully Christian that they share this feast day when for many years they were quite at odds with one another. Paul, the well educated and cosmopolitan Jew, wanted to spread faith in Jesus Christ to the Gentile world, to those considered unacceptable, to those who were not Jewish and never would be Jewish. Peter, the uneducated fisherman from Galilee, believed that only those who were Jewish could follow Christ. More than once in scripture Paul speaks of rebuking Peter for his Jewish exclusiveness and yet Paul did all that he could to raise funds to support Peter and the work of his church. In the end, their common commitment to Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel was stronger than their differences; an example that should serve us well given recent events within the larger Episcopal Church. While in Rome both were condemned to death – Paul was granted the right of a Roman citizen to be beheaded by a sword, but Peter suffered the fate of his Lord, crucifixion, though he felt unworthy to die like Christ and so he was crucified upside down.
Jonathan Myrick Daniels, while not officially a Saint with a capital “S,” is celebrated on the church calendar of the Episcopal Church every August 14th. Jon was born in New Hampshire in 1939. After graduating as Valedictorian of his class at VMI, Jon enrolled as a seminarian at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge Massachusetts where he expected to graduate in 1966 and be ordained in the Episcopal Church. While in seminary, John felt called to actively participate in the struggle for civil rights and he made several trips to Selma, Alabama to march with Dr. King. On August 20th, 1965 in Fort Deposit, Alabama, Jon and four others were blocked from entering a local business. They were met at the door of the establishment by a man with a shotgun who told them to leave or be shot. After a brief confrontation, the man aimed his gun at a young Black girl in the group; Jon pushed her out of the way and took the blast of the shotgun himself. He was killed instantly.
The saints, they are many. The calendar in the front of your Prayer Book recognizes the holy days of some 20 odd saints. Our church’s book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts celebrates more than 200 others and if you have ever seen the Oxford Dictionary of Saints then you know it takes over 450 pages to talk about all the Saints, Saints with a capital “S”.
But there are many more saints out there then ever make it into the history books. Men and women who have lived and died, now totally forgotten, but men and women whose faith made a difference, whose faith served our Lord.
So, what is the definition of a saint? Do saints have to die as martyrs? Do miracles have to take place in their names? No, perhaps there are many Saints who died as martyrs and who have miracles associated with them but the majority of saints are just like you and me. In fact, the majority of saints are you and me. I have two definitions for saints that I especially like – one, the saints are the forgiven who know it, act upon it and live by grace without angling for stained glass window status. Two, the saints are those men and women who relish life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.
Our job as Christians is to say our prayers and mold our lives in such a way that we too can be placed within one of these definitions. We don’t have to be bishops, priests or deacons to be saints. We don’t have to be mystics, monks or theologians to be saints. We don’t have to be anything special to be a saint we only have to be willing to climb down into life with Jesus where the needs of the world are great and the realities often difficult to understand. For being a saint is not about holiness it’s about newness. Being a saint is about becoming infused with the life of God, and somehow to lay down that life for others in the name of Christ. Being a saint is about being a person with a passion to make a difference in a world in need of love and mercy. Being a saint is about being someone who hold as precious that which the world considers worthless or useless. Being a saint is about becoming a person, and a member of a community, whose purpose is to face in two directions: to face Christ in faith, and to face our neighbor in love.
The saints they are everywhere. As the old hymn says, you can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea. This morning we honor all the saints who have gone before. We remember and give thanks for all those men and women in our lives that lived and died in such a way that they gave us a glimpse of Christ. Moreover, we celebrate all the new saints, all those who have been baptized in this place during the past year. And finally, we participate in the creation of new saints as we baptize seven beautiful young children during two services this morning.
As you leave this place today, remember that you and I are each strands in the great spider web of Christianity, a web that transcends past, present and future. As such we are connected together with the likes of Mary and Martha, Luke and Lazarus, Peter and Paul. Therefore, as we move through life let us never forget that the love we share, the forgiveness we show, the compassion we offer the people we meet sets that spider web atremble. For the lives we touch in the name of Christ will touch other lives, and those in turn will touch others, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place Christ will be known. Amen.