Sermon 3rd November 2019, All Saints’ Church Stanton St Bernard
All Saints’ Sunday: Ephesians 1.11-end, Luke 6.20-31
Today the Church celebrates All Saints’ Sunday, so it is lovely to be here with you in All Saints’ Church. When I took a school assembly for All Saints Day last week, I asked the children how they thought that they might recognise a saint. The first answer was that saints may be dressed in robes, which is a fair point if we look at a lot of traditional paintings and artwork. The second answer was that a saint is someone who does ‘good’ for other people. Maybe my favourite one was someone who answered that you could ask the person themselves. Although I’m not sure what a person would need to say to convince me.
Of course the question, in a way, was the wrong one to begin with, as the most accurate Christian definition of a saint is someone who the Church trusts to be in heaven after having lived a holy and virtuous life. So that means we can only know who were saints in their life-time, not those who are.
However, I would like to suggest, that we can think about saints on earth as well. I still find Rowan Williams’ description of a saint most helpful. He said that a saint is someone who makes you feel good about yourself. It is someone who recognises the good in you and is able to reflect this back.
I’m sure we have all come across people who don’t make you feel good about yourself. People who make you feel very small and unimportant. Saints are exactly the opposite. When you meet them, or talk to them, you feel good and happy, or as we hear in our Gospel reading ‘blessed’.
Firstly then, we see that being a saint is not about being the best, or being the most important, or being the most popular. These things actually may come in the way of being a true saint, as they may make it harder for others to not feel intimidated or feel that they are less significant.
Secondly, we also realise that each of us can be a saint. We don’t have to be very special or achieved amazing things to be that person. Each of us can be an encouragement to each other, in our unique ways. But the question we haven’t really looked at is how, and that is precisely the question that brings us to our readings this morning, particularly Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and our Gospel reading.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of the Ephesians’ faith in Christ and their love towards all the saints. It is likely that Paul’s definition of saint includes those who God has called in the present, as well as in the past. The way Paul speaks about this love is as something that Christians share: we who inherit together share this inheritance. This idea of a shared inheritance implies a responsibility: to have a right relationship with God, we have to pay attention to our relationship with others too. It is not an optional extra, but we our relationships with those around us need to get our proper attention too, and that can be a real challenge.
However, as Paul also writes, our inheritance is not a task to which we are called, but a hope to which we are called. It is not some impossible challenge, but through God’s Holy Spirit, we will be able to become more and more the people God wishes us to be, saints, people who aspire to model their lives to Christ.
To find some practical advice how we may achieve a saintly lifestyle, we turn to our Gospel reading: Luke’s version of the famous passage of the Beatitudes. In Luke’s version, the four beatitudes are paralleled by four woes, which make the contrast between those who weep and those who laugh, between those who are rich and those who are poor, even starker. This makes is a challenging passage, which seems to imply that those of us who have a good life now, rich, full and happy will be eternally unhappy in the life to come.
However, I already suggested that each of us can be a saint, that here is no sense that there is a group of ‘good’ people, and a group of ‘bad’ people – although some who put more emphasis on predestination may disagree here. With this in mind, we see that we should avoid reading Luke’s Gospel passage as a description of the facts, but more as a promise and an exhortation. A promise to those who suffer, that this will come to an end. The exhortation brings us back to a point we noticed earlier, that things like wealth and too great a focus on personal happiness may come in the way of being a blessing to others.
It is here that we have a choice. Do we choose our wealth to become a barrier between those who are rich and those who are poor? Or do we use it as a means to try to bridge the gap?
Someone recently told me the following story, which is a pretty good illustration. He had just been shopping on an autumn day, and bought a lovely warm winter coat, which given his taste for designer clothes and the fact that he had a well-paid job, was amongst the more expensive ones.
On his way home, he saw a homeless person and realised that there was something he wanted to do, so he offered the man his newly-bought coat. After a couple of weeks he saw the man again, on a cold winters day by now, but shivering instead of wearing this coat, so he asked the question. The reply was that he had put it away out of sight: “if anyone would see me wearing a designer coat, they would think I’m a complete fraud.” Without any intention, wealth had come in the way of being able to do the right thing.
This is of course not to say that the person who told the story did the wrong thing, as his intentions we there, but it is to illustrate the point that even without knowing, what we have may become a stumbling block in our ability to relate to others.
So on this All Saints Sunday, maybe we could take some time to reflect. Ponder on those times when others have been a saint to us, and also those moments and opportunities we have had, and will have, to be a blessing to others. And so we pray, in the words of the Collect, that we too may come to see those inexpressible joys that God has prepared for us.