“Why Christian–Saints?”

November 1, 2015


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Nov. 1, 2015

“Why Christian… Saints?”
Hebrews 12: 1-3

On the outskirts of a small town, there was a big, old pecan tree just inside the cemetery fence. One day, two boys filled up a bucketful of nuts and sat down by the tree, out of sight, and began dividing the nuts. “One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me,” said one boy. Several dropped and rolled down toward the fence.

Another boy came riding along the road on his bicycle. As he passed, he thought he heard voices from inside the cemetery. He slowed down to investigate. Sure enough, he heard, “One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me ….”

He just knew what it was. He jumped back on his bike and rode off. Just around the bend he met an old man with a cane, hobbling along.

“Come here quick,” said the boy, “you won’t believe what I heard! Satan and the Lord are down at the cemetery dividing up the souls!”

The man said, “Beat it kid, can’t you see it’s hard for me to walk.” When the boy insisted though, the man hobbled slowly to the cemetery.

Standing by the fence they heard, “One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me.”

The old man whispered, “Boy, you’ve been tellin’ me the truth. Let’s see if we can see the Lord…?” Shaking with fear, they peered through the fence, yet were still unable to see anything. The old man and the boy gripped the wrought iron bars of the fence tighter and tighter as they tried to get a glimpse of the Lord.

At last they heard, “One for you, one for me. That’s all. Now let’s go get those nuts by the fence and we’ll be done….”

They say the old man had the lead for a good half-mile before the kid on the bike passed him.

I remember as a child going to Eskridge, Kansas in Wabaunsee County to decorate graves with my grandparents. We spent a long time mowing, raking and cutting weeds. We did our best to make the graves look nice and there were others there doing the same thing to the graves of their family members. Once in a while my grandparents would say, “Oh, that must be Gertrude; she’s Hazel’s daughter. I think she married Richard.”
As we wiped the dirt off the stones and placed fresh peonies on the graves, my grandparents talked about the dead ones who were so much a part of their lives. My grandfather had a sister who died shortly after her birth. Her name was Olive. Her grave is there in the country cemetery. My Papa’s mom was crippled from arthritis and lived in an old wooden wheelchair. I never knew any of these people, but I felt that I knew them. Decorating the graves gave us time to learn more about the people in my family who chose Kansas as their home on the prairie.
Remembering the dead is an important thing to do because we are a part of their history…
… We are all connected to the past.
… People who have died have shaped our lives for good or bad. We are in the church because others, who are now dead, were in church.
… We are Christians because others, who are gone, shared their faith in God. We have the Bible because others, who are now dead, preserved the Bible.

In the 11th chapter of Hebrews, the Apostle Paul talks to the living about faith in God and challenges them to remember the dead. He tells the living that they are part of a rich history. He talks to them about how Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, and a host of others struggled to be faithful to God. He tells them that they are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
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.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3
Today is All Saints Sunday, a day when we remember those in history and today, who exemplify what it means to show exemplary faith deep commitment to Christianity. We are not a church that speaks easily of saints. Somehow, it seems too Catholic for us or too idolatrous.
The English word “saint” comes from the Latin “sanctus” and simply means “holy”. In the Old Testament these words appear as adjectives; hāsid, meaning “pious or godly” and qādos, meaning “holy”. In the New Testament the word “saint” referred to all believers; it was synonymous for Christian brother or sister. And that is why in the Apostle’s Creed we say, “I believe… in the communion of saints”. But as Roman society and the church changed, “saint” no longer applied to all believers but only those who lived exemplary lives. But the word “saint” never meant “sweet” or “nice” or even “goodie-two-shoes”. Persons the church has claimed as its saints over the centuries have often been a bit odd and almost always in trouble.
All Saints Day is a day set aside to remember the dead…. to share memories with the next generation of our spiritual ancestors. I like to separate the word: Re-Member. Imagine it in your head. When we remember people, we also Re-Member them into life. The fact is – we are all still connected with those who have died. They are no longer physically with us, but they are still with us in a spiritual and mysterious way. They shaped our lives while they lived on his earth and they are still shaping our lives.
When we re-member them, it is easy to glorify who they were and what they did. It’s tempting to make them into perfect people in our memories. But they weren’t always perfect. They had foibles; they made mistakes; they were human.
On All Saints Day, we also remember those in our church who have died. This congregation has a rich history. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who served Christ here. Let us give thanks to God for all those saints who served faithfully as members of this church, but who are no longer with us. We now occupy their chairs. We now serve where they served. But their stories linger on and impact our lives together even now. That’s why, each year, I ask the families of those in our church who died this past year to bring pictures for our communion table of the saints they have loved and lost this year. As I read their names, let us remember and thank God for their lives.
• Harold Hockelberg, Connie Buckley’s dad
• Dwight Wallace
• Frank Sisson
• Jim Mattson
• Bob Borresen
• Benny Leonard
• Bob Biles, Wanda Nicholas’s husband
• Nicolette Mitchell, Carol Reel’s daughter & Noel Linder’s sister
We’re in debt, you and me. We are all indebted to others who influenced us, taught us, preserved something we care about, or shared their lives with us. Thank God for them this week.
Some saints are recognized by the Church Universal – the Apostles, Mary, Martha, Augustine, or Francis. Others are recognized by large parts of the church – Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr. But some saints are known deeply only to us – a high school debate coach, a dear aunt, that marvelous older person in a church we looked up to when we were children. Based on their lives and the circumstances surrounding them, some of the saints serve as “patron” of certain peoples, places, things and occupations. For example, St. Francis of Assisi is well known for his love of animals. He is listed as a patron saint for animals. St. Christopher is known as the patron saint of travelers. Some people place a St. Christopher medallion in their cars as a sort of prayer for safe travels. But there are an unimaginable number of lesser-known patron saints for everything you can imagine:
• St. Columba is the patron saint for poets.
• St. Denis is the patron saint for those who suffer with headaches.
• St. Edward the Confessor is the patron saint for people in difficult marriages.
• Ferdinand III is the patron saint for engineers.
• St. Isidore of Seville is the patron saint for computer users & programmers.
• Our Lady of Loreto is the patron saint for aviators.

There are some really neat websites that list each occupation or thing for which there is a patron saint. And if you want to know more about that saint, you simply click on their icon.
Feast Days are set up to recognize each saint. These feast days are often the day they were born or the day they died.
If you want to deepen your personal prayer/meditation life, I would suggest doing a little research on saints.
• Find one you would like to study.
• Read about his/her life.
• Consider his/her religious passion.
• Begin a conversation with this saint about your similarities or differences.
• Be open to the leading of God’s spirit.
During several of my seminary classes, we were required to do these experiments. I have to admit I was leery at first. It didn’t sound enriching or particularly interesting. But the results surprised me. I tried praying through a saint. I studied her life and writings. On her feast day, I celebrated her life. It was a deeply moving experience.
Let us all remember our spiritual ancestors who are gone. Let us share those memories with others. Let us remember those faithful people in the church who taught us how to walk in faith, who were good examples, who loved God, followed Jesus, and were faithful to the end. Think about them and recall old memories and offer a prayer of thanks to God for them.
We can remember the dead without being overcome with grief, depression and melancholy, for we believe that life is renewed in its season. The stories of those who have gone before continue to bring them life. As Carl Jung said, “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose for individual consciousness is to kindle a light in the darkness for others who will come after us.”
Why am I a Christian? Because of the saints who went before me and because of the great cloud of saints surrounding me. The Apostle Paul was right: we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses!