Summary: Who are the saints? A saint is one declared so by God.
All Saints’ Sunday Luke 6:20-31 November 4, 2001
Rev. Roger Haugen
Today is All Saint’s Sunday. The day we read the names of those who have been buried from this congregation this past year. A day to put carnations on the altar to help us remember those who have died and have left a hole in our lives. But what makes a person a saint?
We think of people. People for whom special days, hospitals and churches are named after. We might think of more recent people – people who have made significant contributions to our world, Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romero who the people of Central America are asking the Pope to declare a saint these weeks. We might think of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, the young girl from Columbine High School who is reported to have declared her faith and was shot as a result. We might even include a grandmother or grandfather, aunt or uncle.
A bishop of Sweden once said “saints are those who make it easier for us to believe in God.” Robert Louis Stevenson said, “saints are sinners who keep on going.”
If we look in scriptures for people whom we might consider saints, we might include in our list King David. He wrote so many wonderful Psalms that still give us hope today. He was a powerful leader of his people, leading them to follow the God of Israel, holding in front of them the covenant and promises of God. But we would also need to remember the incident with Bathsheba, the lust and adultery that lead to murder. The idea of saint takes on a new dimension.
We might think of Rahab, or maybe we wouldn’t, the prostitute in Jericho who helped the people of Israel take possession of the promised land. She is declared as faithful for her trust in God. She is mentioned over and over again whenever the writers of Scripture want an example of faithfulness.
We might think of Peter, the faithful disciple, even with his ups and downs, his declarations of faith and his betrayals. He was the one who declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” but also “I do not know him.”
We might think of people on the list of those printed in the bulletin yet remember their failings.
Who are the saints? A saint is one declared a saint by God. A saint is one given the inheritance promised in Ephesians when we were “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” A saint’s identity is assured by God through baptism and this identity cannot be changed or lost.
We are declared saints, we are invited to live our lives in response to that fact. In Ephesians, Paul declares who they are and encourages them to live accordingly, even though we get the impression that he is a little disappointed in the fruits of their sainthood to this point. He speaks in past tense as he talks of God’s realities for them, “who were the first to set our hope in Christ”, ’we were marked with the promised Holy Spirit.” And he speaks in the future tense of his hopes that God “may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.”
A saint is one who is faithful in all circumstances, one whose identity is not shaken by the daily circumstances, the ups and downs of life.
Today’s gospel lesson is the Beatitudes. Jesus is declaring what is according to God’s order in spite of whatever conditions in which they might find themselves. “Yours is the kingdom of God” so you are blessed even if you are poor. “Yours is the kingdom of God, so blessed are you if you weep. Yours is the kingdom of God, and your trust is in the Son of Man so blessed are you even if people hate you, exclude or persecute you on my behalf.” The Beatitudes praise those who will be fulfilled in their whole being. Discomfort and pain only reinforces for the children of God that the Kingdom which is promised is not yet here. We long for the kingdom and are reminded daily that it is not yet here.
Jesus declares “woe” to those who claim self-sufficiency, to those whose circumstances would suggest that they have made it, that they do not need God in any way. Those who are tied to the order of this world because they are “full” or laughing or are spoken well of, according to the measures of this world. Jesus says they have had their reward. But it is not the reward of living in relationship to God and in line with God’s purpose for their lives.
Blessed are those who recognize their identity as a child of God, as a saint, declared so by God and seek to live in that relationship even if we are not always successful. Blessed are those to whom painful and difficult things happen, when they know that God does not fail them in such difficulty but rather finds them in their pain and gives them hope.