So What is a Saint…

All Saints Sunday + Year C

A Sermon Preached at Messiah Lutheran Church on November 4, 2007

 

Johnny lived across the street. 

We used to play with our trucks and cars in the dirt. 

It didn’t matter where we played,

we’d carve out a road, a race track or city…

between tomato plants in my Dad’s garden

or in his Mom’s flower beds. 

 

Now as you can imagine, our adventurous development

of new construction sites often didn’t please our parents

and when we disturbed one of their carefully cultivated areas,

woe their reaction was hardly saint like.

 

But it was through my Catholic neighbor Johnny,

that I was introduced to saints. 

from the medal he wore around his neck

to the cement statue of St. Francis in their backyard,

and the little plastic Mary on their dashboard.

 

Johnny said these were all images of really good people… he called saints.

 

Well it was in the midst of a major new development

on the edge of his mom’s prized flower bed

that my knowledge of saints grew. 

For there behind there garage (and far from his mothers sight)

we carved out roads for our trucks, and we dug…

 

And like some archeological find

in the midst of an urban construction project,

we unearthed them, there in the midst of beautiful flowers,

our cars, trucks and dirty hands… saints.

 

First an ivory colored statue of Joseph, then one called Jude

and a shiny medal on a chain Johnny said he thought was

St. Anthony, or maybe Michael. 

It was a bit like finding buried treasure,

but I was sure these dirty plastic and metal objects

were not going to get us rich.

 

Johnny, who are these people I asked…  And who buried them here? 

He told me they were dead people who lived with God

that his mom and grandma put them there,

and talked to them when they took care of the flowers.

 

Woe it was as if we disturbed some ancient burial ground…

(like some scary Scooby- Doo episode)  

I was more confused and unsure what to think about saints

 

But it was in devilishly disrupting that flower bed

that this Lutheran first learned about saints 

Dead people immortalized in statuesque form,

Important people some talked or prayed to…

Perfect” people that somehow

Connected us (or Catholics anyway) to God. 

So What is a Saint…

 

Throughout my childhood and adolescence

I never really clarified the concept of saints.

I did learn that some people were considered saintly,

as in “oh she’s a saint for putting up with him…”

and somehow it seemed almost everyone’s mother

was thought to deserve sainthood. 

 

All I knew was that there was no way

I could ever be good enough to be a saint,

whether Lutherans believed in them or not…

 

Then we have a reading like today’s Gospel from Luke

that seems like it could be an instruction manual for achieving

or at least working toward sainthood. 

After all Jesus uses language of blessing or woes,

and ends with the golden rule

surely this could be a key to sainthood.

 

Before we look closer at the text and the words of Jesus, just what is a saint? 

Okay, I may have given it away a bit with the children’s sermon,

but then our youngest members whose bright eager faces

were reflected in the font moments ago

are good kids who probably haven’t

dug up any flower beds… recently anyway. 

 

And all those Holy dead folks immortalized in statues and medals

respectfully revered by our Catholic cousins in Christ,

the Mother Teresa’s of the world…

most can see them as saintly,

but people we know, or have known, saints…?

 

What are the Woes in the World…?

 

In the text Jesus teaches about blessings and woes,

Let’s take a few moments to think about how they may relate to us

this morning…

 

In this place we are all considered rich by world and even U.S. standards. 

And yet… some of us are out of work, suffering from declining health

have no reserves to draw on and are poor in spirit.

 

Most of us are full, well fed having had a good breakfast,

even something to eat in the narthex right before worship.

And yet… some are empty, having skipped breakfast

so their child or a sick family member could be fed.

 

While this sermon may not qualify as stand-up comedy…

I have seen smiling faces and heard laughter here this morning.

And yet… some may have a smile on their face,

but little joy and not much to laugh about.

           

In our greetings here this morning, we’ve spoken well about one another.

And yet… some have been publicly supportive

but then shared idle gossip or judgmental thoughts afterwards.

 

And when we are done reflecting on ourselves, these woes pale to those

that scream from the pages of our Sunday papers,

television news programs,

e-mail updates and blog spots

expressing the pain and brokenness of this world.

 

What are the Woes in the Text…

 

Today, Jesus is teaching an unusually large gathering of disciples

in addition to the twelve apostles. 

 

In the preceding verse, the author of Luke writes that the large gathering

has come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases;

those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured…

and all in the crowd tried to touch him,

for power came out from him

and his presence and touch healed them.

 

Luke was written during a time of trouble… for a troubled people,

            People it seems to me not unlike us today… people who seem blessed,

                        financially stable… seemingly who hunger for nothing,

filled with laughter… and whom others speak highly of.

 

But Jesus teaching reverses their (and our) fortunes…

To the seemingly blessed he speaks woe.

 

Who is Blessed in the Text…

 

Jesus teaches this reversal as the way life… 

A kind of what you see is not really what you get! 

This “Alice in Wonderland” worldview

is upside down from our perspective…

Backwards, where God’s rules

are the opposite of what we expect. 

 

The teachings in this text are known as the sermon on the plain because:

            We don’t have to go up the mountain to meet God.

                        Jesus comes down from the mountain with the twelve

                                    to meet both the disciples following him and those

woe filled curiosity seekers right were they were.

           

In the midst of daily living

filled with work and dirty hands

                                                filled with trying to be faithful and failing

 

Walking in faith and yet stumbling to avoid the pit falls of life,

trying not to get distracted from what appears to be… 

 

Jesus teaches that the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God

are very different…  The teachings in this text are not some

how to manual” or the latest “self help book”…

 

They are descriptive, not prescriptive,

            They are not steps on the ladder to heaven, or

instructions for becoming saints.

They point to God’s kingdom here in this place

and to the promised kingdom to come.

 

Jesus, shows us that “reversals” and the kingdom and saints of God

are often found in the strangest places.

           

Who is Blessed in the World…

 

Jesus through these reversals invites us to see and live

in this time and place in new ways.

We live in new ways as saints, or hagios

the Greek work for saint that means,

Holy, set apart for God’s use.

 

While we often think of saints as those “super hero” Christians

who have gone before us,

 

Paul addressed all the Christians at Ephesus and at Corinth as saints. 

And the Corinthians sounded pretty “un-saintly” in his letters.

 

 

We are like the Corinthians and Ephesians, saints all of us!

and as Luther framed so well, saints and sinners,

                        both and at the same time.

 

Our hands are dirty and even as we encounter or uncover saints

hidden around us… and gone before us,

                        We are set apart for God’s use.

 

Here at Messiah, one doesn’t have to dig to find the kingdom revealed and saints formed and uncovered in many ways…

 

The beaming face of an elderly homebound woman 

receiving communion and encountering God.

 

The high school student proudly proclaiming their faith on a t-shirt

            baseball cap, or belt buckle.

 

The beloved wife, mother and teacher who in sharing her

cancer fight taught us much about gracious living and dying.

 

The team of food prepares and deliverers for the Ash Street shelter

            who live out Jesus’ words.

 

The girl who asks her friends to bring food pantry items instead of

            presents to her birthday party.

 

The homeless 4-year old at Anne Marie House

who teaches you about life and how to play a game.

 

The football player who shares faith, hope and love

by modeling Jesus in his sportsmanship and leadership.

 

The college student taken too soon by disease whose experience and

funeral were ecumenical celebrations of a life in Christ.

 

The children of this place looking at God’s love reflected

in the waters of baptism and all of you.

 

And the ashes of the dear loved ones who will rest or be remembered

in our memorial garden we dedicate this day…

 

All saints, beloved children of God who model the kingdom for us now,

or rest in the resurrection promise of the kingdom to come.

 

Through the eyes of faith our creator blesses us with…

We see and experience the kingdom

meeting saints in the strangest places.

 

Through the Son, the Word of God made flesh,

we are cleansed to reflect His love at the font

and set apart for God’s use.

 

Through the presence of the Holy Spirit our deepest woes are comforted,

our dirty hands brought back here each week

to be cleansed and blessed,

sustained with wine and the bread of heaven!

                                   

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

 

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