Sermon: Following Our Saints

Following Our Saints
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
1 John 3:1-3
Nov. 2, 2014

Sometimes things have a wonderful way of coming together so that one enriches our understanding of the other. You might call it “serendipity,” or “a fortunate happenstance,” or “a pleasant surprise.” Or what I have come to call it more and more often these days: “a God thing.” For the last several years we have concluded the last weeks of the Christian year by focusing on thankfulness for God’s many gifts throughout the year and how we might respond generously to God’s great generosity. So today is the beginning of this four week emphasis, and our theme is “What Gift Can We Bring.”

But, today is also All Saints’ Sunday. All Saints Day is actually November 1, but many churches celebrate it on the Sunday closest to that date. It is a time of remembrance, a time to remember heroes of the faith, both public and personal, who have helped to bring us safely to this day. Saints are rarely perfect persons who never made a mistake. Indeed, sainthood seems to more about finding the holiness in everyday life than in living ethereally above it all. One author has remarked, “generally speaking, the saints are not distinguished by their goodness. They are distinguished by their extravagant love of God, which shines brighter than anything else about them.”

As a church family, we are the benefactors of those Oconee Street saints who have gone before us. They were everyday folks for sure; but were it not for their faithful offerings of prayer, presence, gifts, service and witness — their extravagant love of God, if you will — this church wouldn’t be here today and we might not know each other or have the opportunity to worship and to serve together and continue to build on the tradition that is Oconee St. For over 140 years this church has been a testimony to the faithfulness of God and of God’s people, and for that we give thanks this morning.

So today we have this serendipitous opportunity to celebrate the gifts that have been given to us by a gracious God and by those saints in our lives who gave us something of themselves that makes us who we are today and then to consider how as beneficiaries of their generosity, we too might become more giving, more generous ourselves, perhaps in the process becoming in some small way a “saint” to someone else.

John Wesley, whom we perhaps can call one of Methodism’s own saints, wrote of his saintly friend Sarah Peters, “I never saw her, upon the most trying occasions in any degree ruffled or discomposed, but always looking happy.” Of his friend John Fletcher, he wrote, “I have known many excellent men, holy in heart and life. But one equal to him I have not known, one so uniformly and deeply devoted to God.. . . Let us then endeavor to follow him as he followed Christ.”

We can probably all think of individuals who have been saints in our lives and are now part of our personal cloud of witnesses, who have encouraged us by their example and who have given us a sense of what a life lived in closeness to God could be like. People who, in small and large ways, have given us something of themselves. And through their example, we have found ourselves attracted to the idea of following their path, so that in some way their story becomes our story too. Joel has spoken of his saints and the gifts they have given him. I remember and celebrate my own saints, especially my mother who I think was the instrument of God’s prevenient grace in my life, always reminding me of what was going on at church, and who had asked about me, and what the preacher had said in his sermon, at a time when none of those things held any particular attraction for me. But she persevered. And it was back to those people I went the Sunday after her death. I think too of my third-grade Sunday School teacher whom I still remember with great affection over sixty years from the time I was in her class. For those of you who have the privilege of teaching our children, I hope that you will be remembered with the same affection and awe that I hold for Janie Johnson. Maybe you have had a relative, a special friend, a teacher, who inspired you or is today an inspiration to you and through whom you can feel the spirit of God flowing. (Ask for examples)

So, it is a mistake to reserve the term “saint” only for holy persons from the past. We know from our experience that there are still today those through whom the extravagant love of God is shining; still those who live with such conviction that what they believe about God shapes their entire existence. Today, right here in this congregation, we have a gathering of the saints, people who are trying to follow Jesus, and in so doing serve as an example that our world is in great need to see. The church is the saints – all of us ordinary, regular, unfamous, un-exalted people who have been called by Christ to live lives that are caught up in the plans of God. Just as when Paul referred to the Romans as “all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints,” and addressed the Ephesians as “the saints who are in Ephesus,” so my message today is addressed to all God’s people at Oconee Street UMC, called to be saints.

And so today, we give thanks not only for the saints of the past, but also for today’s saints, the ordinary folks whom many people do not know, but whom God knows and loves and calls to service. Ordinary people who are cheerful, loving, devoted. The encouraging word, the kind touch, the patient disposition, the simple life of faith, these are the virtues of the saints we know and we need: They are practical saints, whose love of God and neighbor enables them not to be worn down by the cares of life, not to avoid those who are in need, and not to steel themselves against feeling and responding to the hurt and sorrow of others.

These are the saints who show their faith by how they care for and treat each individual they encounter. They not only let the light of Christ shine through them, but they see the light of Christ in other people, in those whom they serve. They take seriously Jesus’ statement, “just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” Instead of daydreaming about future heroic and dramatic acts of love and charity in a romantic mission field far, far away, these saints do what they can, with what they have, where they are, right here and now.

On All Saint’s Day I give thanks to God for all the saints – all of them, including each of you. It is no small achievement in the midst of busy lives to keep your eyes fixed on the things of God, to reach out in compassion to others, to testify to God’s promised kingdom and to share generously what you have with those in need. I hope you receive the encouragement and grace to keep on keeping on. Because the world needs saints. The world needs you.

You are the only word from the Lord that many people will ever hear. Your actions may be the only acts of grace the some will ever experience. Your gifts may be the only sign of God’s abundance that they receive. So I encourage you today to speak God’s word and offer God’s grace in all that you say and do. For you are all God’s beloved – called to be saints. Amen.