All Saint’s, Year A’17
5 November 2017
“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer”. Amen.
Today we are celebrating All Saint’s, which provides a departure from our usual Sunday lectionary. So today we read Matthew 5: 1-12, the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount. Did you notice? Those beatitudes tell us quite a lot about what God intends for us. Matthew seems to say that this body of teaching given by Jesus provides a definitive interpretation of Torah. In short, Jesus is telling us how we are to live. It can be hard to live up to those standards though. I, at least, am left with a question. What does it really mean to be a saint? Does anyone come to mind for you? Often enough it’s someone from some distant place and time who provides an example of perfection in how they lived their Christian life. Think St. Matthew or any of the other evangelists. It’s just that, maybe, that definition tends to let us off the hook. After all, for most of us, it is abundantly clear that perfection is way beyond us. At least that’s true for me. How is it for you? So, what if sainthood is not about perfection? Let me introduce Archbishop William Laud. And, thank you to Ian for bringing the Archbishop to mind. Archbishop Laud is one of the folks included in Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints. If you don’t know it, this book, published in 2010 by Church Publishing, offers information about the people we celebrate as saints in the Episcopal Church. Archbishop Laud is celebrated on January 10, the anniversary of Laud’s beheading in 1645 for high treason. Understand, Laud was the religious advisor to King Charles I of Great Britain. In the hothouse environment of the Reformation in England, Laud wanted to restore all worship in England to that presented in the Book of Common Prayer. He spoke and worked tirelessly against Puritan influences, even to the point of persecuting Puritan leaders. He was entirely certain of his own rightness to the point that he is widely remembered for his intolerance. At the same time his efforts to overcome the poverty of clergy and parishes led to churches, from great cathedrals down to the smallest neglected village chapels, being repaired and restored from the damage inflicted when the Puritans and other religious radicals held greater sway. In addition to supporting the unpopular policies of the King, he was also influential in protecting the poor from unscrupulous landlords and officials. The poor of that time were much safer under Laud. Further, before becoming Archbishop in 1633, Laud served as president of St. John’s College at Oxford. In that capacity he improved the university through both new endowments and new buildings. I have to say, a Google search about Laud reveals that he was not much liked, even by those he worked most closely with. By the 19th Century he was held in contempt by many but by the 20th century his deficiencies were balanced against the idealism of his social policy. At his best he can be seen standing against hypocrisy and corruption. So, Archbishop William Laud, a complex man who lived and worked in a violent and dangerous time. He was not perfect by any means, but he was influential in shaping the Anglican Communion, a multifaceted church that holds in tension the best of both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. It’s worth remembering, I think, that St Paul, writing to Timothy said of himself: “I am foremost among sinners”. In fact, we’re told that even Jesus prayed to be forgiven of his sins. He made a point of saying “No one is good but God alone.” Frederick Buechner reminds us that sainthood lies less in what an individual does than in what God, for one reason or another, has chosen to do through that individual. In Buechner’s view saints are human people who through the power of God’s Holy Spirit become life-givers. But notice this. Their power always comes with God’s help. Here’ the thing, the word saint can refer to any Christian, any baptized person, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Holy Women Holy Men lists the likes of Clement, Bishop of Rome, who is the year 96 wrote a letter to the Church in Corinth that nearly was included in the New Testament. Several ancient manuscripts do include First Clement as part of the New Testament but you won’t find it in the Bible today. Then again, moving forward in time and culture, Thurgood Marshall is also named as a saint on our calendar. It is because of Marshall’s skill as a lawyer that the Supreme Court ruled that the “separate but equal” doctrine was unconstitutional and ordered the desegregation of public schools in the U.S. According to Holy Women, Holy Men Marshall, who with his family attended St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, is remembered as a “wise and godly man who knew his place and role in history and obeyed God’s call to follow justice wherever it led.” (Holy Women, Holy Men, page 374). Even those who stood in opposition to one another are listed. Archbishop Laud is balanced by John Wyclif, an influential theologian whose work underlies the teachings of those Puritans Laud condemned. So, saints’ both named and unnamed surround us. None perfect precisely, but all faithful to what God called them to do in their own time and place, forming a great cloud of witnesses. There are those who stand out for their accomplishments. And those we regard as backsliders, and slackers. It includes all of us too. Those of us who from time to time make a bargain between what we know our faiths asks of us and what’s comfortable around our friends and family. It includes all of us who surprise ourselves, by times, when we do something that is just right, just what is needed, by the grace of God. Thing is the saints of God encompass the whole body of Christ, all of us, careless, vain, ambitious and given to wanting our own way. My point here is that we are all potential saints just as we are all potential sinners. Thing is, it is always the power of God working within us that is the most important thing. And that power is there for each and every one of us all the time. Beyond that, who knows what gift God can bring out of even our most fallible moments? If you look at the catechism in the Book of Common prayer you will find this wonderful definition of the communion of Saint’s: “The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.” Look around you, you are sitting in the midst of the communion of saints. Not one of us is perfect and yet even when our actions, or lack of them, grieves the heart of God we are not pushed away from God’s loving embrace. What a great gift that is. Did you hear what our second reading said? “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” So, saints, we come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, we are shaped by all cultures and nationalities, we hold a variety of religious views. We don’t always agree. But all of us are held by God. We can rejoice because every last one of us, in our sinful moments just as much as in our saintly moments is forgiven, saved, redeemed and made whole to live in God’s kingdom now and forever. We can rest assured that God will work through our faithful living, using what we have to offer to further God’s Kingdom come among us. Thanks be to God. Amen