Today we are going to take time to celebrate and observe an oft-forgotten day in the Christian calendar. A day meant to bring remembrance and honor to those people no longer with us. Today we observe All Saint's Day and the impact those saints had in our lives of faith and specifically how their example drives us today helps us to find encouragement in lives lead for Christ.
In The Beginning...
All Saint's Day was not always about lighting candles and remembering those that have passed on. In the early days of the church it was customary to celebrate feast days for those who were martyred for their faith. Eventually because of persecution, there became too many to celebrate separately and so the church moved to a common day of remembrance for all of the departed saints. Gertrud Mueller Nelson explains All Saint's Day this way: "All Saints Day is the celebration of those who have contributed successfully to the creation of the kingdom. The saints were not perfect, but they were whole, holy, and they were certainly human. They lived their unique fate with creativity and participated in the evolution of human consciousness" (To Dance with God, by Gertrud Mueller Nelson [Paulist Press, 1987], 223). So, today is the day we honor and remember those saints, those people whom we admire, respect, and have lived a life dedicated to the building of God's Kingdom. And one way we honor them is by the candles we lit earlier to remember the names of the faithful from our own congregation who have passed away in the last year as well as a candle for those that were not members here but still had a tremendous impact on each one of us.
Who is a Saint?
Those people we call saints, why do we bestow this designation to them? What does a person have to do for us to consider them a saint? Depending on the context and a person's background there are various answers to the question of who is a saint. Ms. Nelson says they are people who, “were not perfect, but they were whole, holy, and they were certainly human. They lived their unique fate with creativity and participated in the evolution of human consciousness". However, Jesus takes it a bit further in our first Scripture lesson this morning. As our story opens, Christ is walking up the mountain side with his disciples and he begins preaching what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. He starts with the beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3-10 NIV). Jesus outlines it for us right here. Those of us that have the traits that this world mocks, those of us that have the traits where we put others first, those of us that have the traits that allow us to thin the veil between Heaven and Earth, those are the people that understand what it means to live for Christ. Those people are the saints.
Who are Your Saints?
Each of us have people in our lives, now and from the past, that were our saints. I personally have many saints that have influenced me over the years. But there is one in particular that I want to share with you today, Anne Kirkwood. I love Anne. She was a member of my home church and as a child I would spend time with Anne every week.
My mom was our church Administrative Assistant and each Friday I would go with mom to Anne's house so we could take her all of the unfolded worship bulletins for that weekend's service. Then, bright and early on Sunday morning, Anne would place them in the sanctuary, neatly folded. That was my introduction to this saint. Each week I would see Anne. Each week she would always greet me with incredible kindness. Each week, no matter the number of bulletins, she would thank my mom for bringing them over and promise to have them in the Sanctuary, folded by Sunday morning.
Eventually, Anne became a babysitter for me and my brother and it was in those times I really got to know her. Just to give you an idea of how loving Anne was, when she began babysitting for me, Anne was in her seventy's and had arthritis in her knees pretty severely. But she never failed to get on the floor and play cars with me or any other game I could dream up, any time I was over at her house. It was during these times that she would talk to me about her faith, her childhood, and her hope in the future. And it wasn't just me that she talked to about these things. Anne would sit in the church kitchen every Sunday morning, after making fresh coffee and orange juice, and talk to whomever came in and sat down. You said hello and she took care of the rest. If you did not know Anne when you said hello, you loved her after you did. Every time I would sit and talk with her I would come away more impressed, more in awe of how she lived her life. If I misspoke or behaved poorly, Anne would straighten me out. However, the kicker was you never knew that was what she was doing. She had a way that made you love her even more after she corrected you. There was never any presumptuousness, arrogance, or anger. Just love. And you knew it. You could feel it. Anne lived each day, building for God, through her words, her love, her acceptance, or any other tool she could use. God's love and God's glory shone though Anne in awe-inspiring ways. For me she is a saint, a person that actively built the Kingdom of God, and that I look up to, then and now.
To The Cloud!
Several years ago Microsoft ran an ad talking about their wireless servers. These servers are where people could store their information and then pull it up from anywhere in the world. These servers were supposed to help people access their information when they were away from their home computer. Basically you would no longer store information on your computers hard drive, on in its memory, but on their servers. They called it the cloud. Any of you remember those ads? One commercial in particular showed a couple that was stuck in an airport, bored and needing something to entertain them. They remembered they had unwatched TV shows on their computer at home, but at this point they were not home and now out of luck. But then they would play some corny transition music and show you how happy they would be if they used the cloud because then, even though, they were stuck in the airport, they could access the cloud and watch those stored TV programs on their laptop, in the airport. All of these commercials used the catch phrase, “To the cloud!” Everything was better in the cloud. Every one was happy in the cloud. The cloud was the answer to all of our problems. However, I pose to you this morning that Microsoft, stole our idea.
As Christians, we had the cloud first. From our second Scripture lesson this morning, we are introduced to our cloud, the cloud of witnesses. Listen to these words from Paul, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. God, our creator, wants all of us to be close to him. God wants all of us to enjoy the benefits of being in relationship with him. These saints that we remember and honor today show us how this is done.
If any of you were to ask me for directions to a particular destination and I said something like well you go down a bit and when the road begins to wind you turn there, go out yonder for a spell, look for the rickety fence, veer left and it is just a ways on the left; how many of you think you could get to your destination with those directions? You might make it, eventually. But if you did it would probably be with a lot of frustration, several wrongs turns, and a hefty amount of wasted gas and time. But if I tell you go 1.3 miles, turn right, travel 2.5 miles to Bass Street, go left and your destination will be a .25 mile down on the right, how many of you would get there more efficiently?
That is the benefit our of cloud. We have people, like Anne Kirkwood, that show us how to go, give us specific instructions, through thought, word, and deed, and model for us what it means to be a disciple of Christ. They are by no means perfect people, but they are sent by God to help us find eternity.
Anne is just one of the saints in my life who helped bring me to where I am today in my faith-journey with God. You will never read about her in any church history book. There will never be any days of commemoration in the church calendar set aside to honor and remember her. No, she was just an ordinary person like you and me, but in the course of seeking to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, in striving to love the Lord with all her heart, soul, strength, and mind, she ended up touching my life in ways that changed me and had a profound effect on the person that I am today. For by her example and witness and faithfulness to the love and grace of God, Anne made an indelible mark on me.
So I ask you today, as we honor those that came before us, are you a saint to someone? Are you striving to live the life that Christ preached about on the mountainside? Are you striving to live the life that Christ sacrificed himself for? Those are the questions that we need to constantly ask ourselves. To be a disciple of Christ means that we will do things not generally respected by this world.
I encourage you to take this week and think of the saints that you have known in your life. Those people that have come before us have provided us with a legacy worth remembering, worth passing on. Let us make it a point to remember them everyday and take what they have taught us and pass it on to the next person in the race so that God may continue to be glorified and the Kingdom may continue to be strengthened.
Let us also take time and thank God that they were placed in our life, even if only for awhile. These saints are what drive us and encourage us today. These saints are what it looks like when God is in control. These saints will keep teaching us long after their time in our lives are over. I pray you find hope in your saints, comfort in your saints to know the race you are running will lead to where you want to go, and that through your saints you will find the strength to persevere.