For All the Saints

November 4, 2007

Speaker

Summary

FOR ALL THE SAINTS

© Rev. Dr. Gary Blaine

November 4, 2007

University Congregational Church

Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-2 (NRSV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

On All Saints Sunday we gather to celebrate the holy ones in our lives who

shared with us those eternal values that make life sacred. Let me describe this great cloud of witnesses who run the faith with perseverance:

For all the saints

Whom no one thought to name

No litany of bliss

For their praise proclaims.

For the homely saints

No halo aglow

Favored by the Lord

But to us so so.

For the ruined saints

Who craved no boardroom glee

But offered their arms

And gave without fee.

For the tattered saints

Captured by their pain

Offering it to Him

For salvation’s gain.

For the saint unseen

By power or by peer

The crownless heir of love

Raised on Christ’s bier.

The lumpen hump of flesh

Draped across the bench

Whose spit is his smile

And bouquet his stench.

For the blithering saint

Whose stings of words bemuse

His blank stare runs counter

To the civil use.

For the stunted saint

No worldly stature given

Graced by a shrug

And through neglect shriven.

For the hidden saints

Caught in His eye

Reflections of God’s love

In ordinary guise.

The humble face of saints

Uncanonized

Lies in the dust

By Him only prized.

For these great saints

We have yet to know

Celebrate today!

Feast on crow.[1]

Yes, I lift up to you the ordinary saints of life. They are not canonized, or beatified. There are no prayer cards in their memory. There are no plaster images of their idealized faces. There are no sacred halos of light to identify them among us. I am talking about the saints, the holy people. Their image does not rise in bold relief on a necklace charm. Their plastic form does not adorn the dashboard of your car. They are the people who live their lives as if life is sacred. Holy people are those who live their lives as if life needs caring for. Holy people are those who struggle with the fact that every action we take is a moral choice. Holy people are those who put God’s justice above profit, convenience, and power. Holy people nurture nature and the human condition. Holy people are those who honor the dignity of every person. Holy people are those who understand that community is a radically inclusive relationship.

As the poem suggested, the saints I know are not always the most reputable people in the world. Some are thought of as eccentrics. Some are the kind of people that, how do we say it, “don’t live up to their potential.” And to tell you the truth they may not think very highly of religion, Christianity, or the church. In fact, some flat out deny their relevance. Some of these saints would never qualify for ordained ministry. But I have met such saints throughout my life. Some are in this room. Some are sitting on your pew.

Let me tell you about a little saint I met just a few weeks ago. We were having dinner with our neighbors. The adults were in the dining room. Emily and her friend Caitlyn were eating at the kitchen table. They insisted that I eat with them. Caitlyn is eight years old and is a third grader. She grew up in the house adjacent to our property, but no longer lives there. Caitlyn was telling me how much she missed living in her country home. Her grandfather was the previous owner of the house we purchased. He was killed in a tractor accident last January.

“You know my daddy’s dead,” she said. “He killed himself. He had an alcohol problem.”

“Yes, I know that,” I answered. “How old were you when that happened.”

Caitlyn thought a second and said, “It was two years ago. I was in the first grade.”

I said, “Caitlyn, that is a very sad story and I am sorry that your daddy is dead and that your grandpa died this year. How are you doing with all of that?”

With her blue eyes she looked at me square on and said, “You know, you just have to move on with your life.”

Caitlyn is one of the tattered little saints who is struggling and will struggle for years to come with the deaths of two beloved men in her life. They died violently, unexpectedly, and years before their time. This child is seeking to mend this wound with as much grace as she can muster. Her innocent statement, “You know, you just have to move on with your life,” are words of faith that I need to be reminded of from time to time. In a world racked with so much pain, violence, and death it is a prodigious act of faith to get up every morning and make the most of your life.

Caitlyn was back at our house this week standing very close to me while I was making chicken paella. She and Emily were sneaking pits of chicken and black olives.

“You know,” she said, “I love being here.”

Ian M. Fraser describes the saints I know like this:

The saints of God are down our street

and round God’s throne of light.

There’s some with formidable minds

and some in crafts delight;

together in God’s family

their different gifts unite.

They serve at check-outs, empty bins,

they teach and make and mend;

they feed the hungry back from school,

the victimized defend;

to voiceless folk they lend an ear

and immigrants defend.

Their efforts gain no accolades,

they simply earn that grace

which heals this world of many sores,

renews its battered face –

through such, who live and love and care

in their own time and place.

When death comes knocking at their door

they’ll look at Christ askance –

how could such ordinary lives

His Kingdom ends advance?

But Christ will say, “It’s party time –

Come, friends and join my dance.”[2]

I will bet that you have known such saints as these. You do not recognize them by wings or heralding trumpets. You know them by the gentle hand on a fevered brow. The saints made the hot chocolate that was waiting for you on a bitterly cold day. The saints picked you up when you fell off your high horse and forgave you when you tarnished the family’s reputation. The saints are the ones who stayed up through the night when illness, or divorce, or even death shadowed your life. The saints brought food when a loved died. The saints are the back stage moms for the spring dance recital, den mothers, and scoutmasters. The saints gave you a “C” on an English composition paper not simply because of one grammatical error but because they knew you could write better than that. The saints let you make mistakes and even fail but loved you every minute as you grew in the wisdom that comes from experience.

Without a doubt you have known such saints as these. Let us give thanks to God that they have blessed our lives in ways so simple and profound. Let us rejoice in the presence of God so near at hand and as close as a friend, a neighbor, or a little child. Let us celebrate, dance, and sing with all the saints.

Finis

[1] Author unknown, “The Feast of All Saints,” http://feastofsaints.com/feastdaypoem.html; downloaded 10/23/2007.

[2] Ian M. Fraser, “The Saints of God,” Candles & Conifers, compiled by Ruth Burgess (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2005), pp 24-25.

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