Maybe it was someone singing your praises or you felt the need to try and defend yourself, but for whatever reason you found yourself saying these words: “Well, I’m no saint…”
Around the world this weekend the church makes room to remember the saints. But who are they? Christian tradition has had different things to say about that. For Roman Catholics it seems a saint is a special category of Christian: Someone who lived a life of exceptional holiness and in death are associated with an answer to prayer. A person like Mother Theresa perhaps.
But in the reformed church, like the Church of Scotland, we’ve tended not to see sainthood like that – not that we would deny there are women and men who have shown how love and faith can be lived in exceptional ways.
But we think there’s something more going on in sainthood that doesn’t put it so out of reach from the little lives we lead. I think the apostle Paul would agree…
As he traveled around the Roman world Paul planted little churches no bigger than our own, in cities like Thessaloniki, Philippi, Galatia, Corinth and Ephesus, and when he couldn’t be with them in person Paul kept in touch by letter.
Listen to how Paul greets the churches in his letters:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God…to the saints in Ephesus.
Paul…to the church of God which is in Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Jesus Christ called to be saints…
Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi.
Is Paul addressing just a few exceptional Christians here? No, he is including everyone in his greeting. All who belonged to the Churches in Corinth, Philippi and so on. For Paul a saint and a Christian are one and the same thing.
So next Sunday as your arriving in Church we’ll maybe get Sheena to play… O when the saints Come marching in…
what is a saint?
But what is a saint? In its original language the word Paul uses is ἅγιος (Hagios) – meaning Holy. The Saints are holy. Now in case you’re ready to say: well that rules me out, take a look at those early saints who belonged to the first church.
Listen to how Paul describe them in his letter to the Corinthians?:
“not many of you were wise…not many were powerful …not many of noble birth.
but God chose what is foolish… God chose what is weak… God chose what is low…1st Corinthians
Most of the saints weren’t much to write home about. And if Paul’s letters are anything to go by the saints in his churches were a right mixed bunch: sometimes faithful and generous, sometimes foolish and confused; they had questions that worried them; weren’t always sure what to do; suffered, rejoiced and fell out with one another.
Did any of this prevent them from being saints? No. Because a saint was and is someone who invites Jesus to become a living presence in their own story. a saint is someone who shows us the holy love of God in who they are. But aren’t our lives a poor and sore place for the holiness of God to find himself? What poorer than a stable? Sorer than a cross?
As one great saint has said:
“Holiness in the New Testament
is Jesus going right into the middle
of the mess and suffering of human nature.”Rowan Williams
It’s the presence of Jesus in the middle of our sore and messy lives that makes us holy. That make us saintly. Not what we do. But what we allow him to do in and through us.
How d we become a saint? let’s ask one in this visual liturgy
what we have lived…
What Peter has lived with Jesus and all he has lived with the other disciples is what he brings with him to the moment he meets a beggar asking for help. It’s all he has lived that empowers the hand Peter reaches out to help a lame man.
Like we bring with us what we’ve gone through to someone’s need, their question or brokenness.
We bring to someone’s bitter loss the hope in our life we coaxed out of hurt. We bring to someone’s crushing guilt the times we got it badly wrong and God didn’t walk away from us. The long road to finding ourselves lovable is the map we bring to those who haven’t yet found their way there.
What the saints have lived with God opens new possibilities in someone else’s life: like Peter takes a lame man’s hand and in Jesus name Invites him to stand. The saints encourage us to leave behind old ways of being us – not by making us feel guilt, not by accusing us -but with a kindness that understands how God meets us in our need and wound, in our flaw and longing- meets us not as we should be but as we are.
You’ll know a saint when you meet one. When Ally and I lived in Shettleston, many moons ago, there was an older man with a shock of white hair who went to the local Baptist church. And every time you met Nicol in the street he was delighted to see you. He would stop and blether about church or something he was learning or remembered, like he was breaking half of his pieces and sharing them with you.
And we’d come away from that meeting of only a few minutes or more feeling there was more: more to be lived, more to be explored – felt drawn closer to God. That’s what the saints do by what they have lived and share: they don’t compete, they don’t interrogate, they don’t make us feel inferior. The saints open a space in us to see ourselves kindly and God becomes a beckoning word and suddenly we are standing in different place, like a lame beggar helped to stand.
Who are the saints in your life? Maybe some of them are no longer around. This Sunday we remember them with gratitude.
To the saints in Law Parish today listen to a blessing the saints nearer God in heaven might pray over us:
May the village of Law discover grace
May they learn by your love
How God’s finger nails are dirty
And his knees are scuffed
With a holiness that refuses to stand at a distance
But works the middle of soreness and mess.
until everything comes together
And every loss is made good
Where sin is now known as that which is forgiven
And wounds are mended by the medicine of love.