For all the saints who from their labors rest. Amen.
My earliest memory of knowing anything about saints goes back to grade school. We went to chapel twice a week at St. James Episcopal Day School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and often times we sang the hymn I sing a song of the saints of God. Because of that experience, to this day I know all of those verses by heart. The sentence that is tethered in my mind is: And I mean to be one too. And of course with my work at St. Christopher s School, I know all of the verses to For All the Saints by heart as well-at least the first four. That is a favorite hymn of ours.
These two hymns represent my firsthand knowledge of saints. And what is strikingly clear to me is that saints are rather ordinary folk. The title of saint has little to do with one s supernatural abilities and more to do with one s willingness to befaithful.
I will never forget sitting in Patristic s class in seminary patristics is a class in the early church fathers and studying St. Augustine and realizing here was a saint who is credited with being the architect of Christian theology, and yet he had a child out of wedlock. There again that verse comes to mind: And I mean to be one too.
This was confirmation to me that even those who are recognized as Saints by the church, those who have their own feast days- have moments in their life where their behavior is less than saintly. No one is perfect, all of us are flawed, we all have failings, shortcomings and yet, all of us also have opportunities to choose well, to be our best selves, to be that person that God intended us to be. All of us have chances to do the right thing.
I am reminded of a story I heard a Sunday School teacher tell. She was telling her class the story of the Good Samaritan, in which a man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. She described the situation in vivid detail. Then she asked the class, If you saw a person lying on the side of the road, all wounded and bleeding, what would you do? A thoughtful little girl broke the silence and said: I think I d throw up.
And I mean to be one too but maybe not today because the sight of a wounded man makes me feel ill.
And that s how it is some days. Some days it is easier for us to live as saints than it is on other days which is exactly my point. But regardless of how the day goes our mantra should still be:
And I mean to be one too. Meaning I am hoping that today I will have the chance to live my life in such a way that I have honored God, I have been more Christ-like, more giving, more forgiving, more inclusive, more welcoming.
Think about the Bible stories you know by heart. The story of David. The story of Jacob or Moses or the disciples. All of these leaders, these men chosen by God, have moments when they are less than saintly. David has an affair with Bathsheeba and is so in love with her that he orders her husband killed, and yet he is the greatest King Israel ever knew. Jacob cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright and still becomes the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Moses gets in a fight and kills a man and has to flee and yet he is the person responsible for freeing the Hebrew people. Peter, the disciple Jesus trusted to build the church, fearing his own safety, denies even knowing Jesus.
And I mean to be one too. We do, don t we? We mean to it is just that sometimes we fall short.
Most of us just need to stop and realize that God is working through us every day and our job, our responsibility, is simply to try and respond to the call- to take advantage of the opportunities He places right in front of us. He s not asking us to be perfect- just look at the people He chose as leaders for that answer. No, God just wants us to be willing, willing to tryand respond.
My fifth grade teacher s name was Anne Johnson. Mrs. Johnson was a saint in my life. In the fall of my fifth grade year my mom remarried and her husband became the only father I have ever known and loved. But that first year where families and children are merged can be challenging. Everything is new and everything is different. Mrs. Johnson knew that year would be a transition year for me, and her loving presence and words of encouragement are a gift that I still treasure today. Yes, she was hired to teach 5 th grade content but for me she was far more than a reading and math instructor. I was an opportunity placed right in front of her and she responded she responded by reaching beyond her contract role of educator.
In the New Testament, saint refers to all believers who have been made holy through the gift of the Spirit. What does that mean? It means we are all made saints in baptism when God pours the Holy Spirit upon us. And from that moment on, we are touched by God, filled with His Spirit, and called to live lives of faithfulness and service. That is why today of all days we have baptisms in the church.
Our lives from that point on become sign s of God s love for the world- signs that love and forgiveness and mercy and courage count. Remember that. Look for opportunities to respond. Be a saint in someone s life. Remember what the old hymn says: the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too. Amen.