Being Saints, by Pastor Noel

All Saint’s Sunday, A,        November 5, 2017


      “I sing a song of the saints of God…”

      That has long been one of my favorite hymns, and even more dear to me when I came to know Grand Isle, VT, for which the tune is named.

      I know that it’s a children’s hymn, and may sound rather simplistic to us more sophisticated adults—but it has a powerful message for us all.

      Did you know that this song is about real people? Everyone mentioned is someone in our history: the doctor is Luke, whose name is given to one of our gospels and was also the writer of The Acts of the Apostles, and was called St. Luke the Physician.

      The queen in the song is Margaret of Scotland, who lived about 1,000 years ago. Married to King Malcolm, she used her resources to help the poor and orphans. Think of her on her feast day, November 16.

      The shepherdess on the green is Joan of Arc who listened to God and rode into battle with her king and died fighting for a cause.

      The soldier is Martin of Tours who lived and died before the year 400. He’s remembered for sharing his soldier’s cloak with a beggar, and seeing Christ in that poor man. He gave up soldiering and became a priest and then Bishop of Tour. His date is Nov. 11.

      The priest we sing about is John Donne—known for his metaphysical, spiritual poetry. He was Dean of St. Paul’s, that glorious cathedral in London.

      Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, died around the year 115. Even though his early life is lost to history, his letters to the church survive. He fell victim to one of the many persecutions of the followers of Christ and died in the Colosseum.

      Killed by a fierce, wild, beast.

      There are, of course, many, many more who could be mentioned in our song—thousands, maybe millions, who have “lived and loved and fought and died for the Lord they loved so dear.”

      But Lesbia Scott wanted her children, and us, to know that saints are not just famous people of history—ones we see in statues or paintings or stained glass windows.

      So she wrote, “The saints of God are just folks like me, and I mean to be one, too.”

      In the last verse of this little song, she tells of finding saints in all the ordinary places of life, although most of us may not enjoy her English tradition of tea, or ride trains, we can get her point.

      The saints of God are just folks like you and me, and we can all enjoy the benefits of sainthood, even as we deal with the work of being a saint.

      Saints are the holy people of God. You may recall that a few weeks ago we heard Isaiah say that God calls his people to be holy as God is holy.

      Now, we are not God. No doubt about that! But we are created in God’s image, and we are filled with God’s breath. So that’s a good start.

      Holiness, saintliness, isn’t just from what we do, but especially from where our hearts are.

      If our hearts are in God, with God, we will live as saints, holy people of God.

      We can’t help it.

      Much is made of those who gave their lives because of their love for God and because they followed Jesus. Our song mentions several.

      But when we think that saints are only those extraordinary people who do extraordinary things, we miss the opportunity to be saints every day.

      People are not saints because they do extraordinary things, people do extraordinary things because they are saints.

      Anyone, anyone of us, can show that we love God and that we follow Jesus, and be saints. And we don’t have to do extraordinary things for this!

      Jesus shows us simple, loving ways to be holy as God is holy. We only have to rethink just about everything our culture teaches us—that’s all!

      Because the culture of the world says that wealth and fame are the only important things.     Wealth and fame, and no one can ever have enough. So grab what you can, and hold on tight.

      Our culture tells us this, and we and our neighbors, live this, don’t we?

      I will readily admit that I have more shoes, more sweaters, more of a lot, than I really need. I will take some comfort in knowing how many times I have given away warm winter coats.

      If I average it out, I guess I balance. But in my heart of hearts I’m not sure that counts.

      Jesus overturns the notions of wealth and fame. He calls us to give ourselves away, over and over, so that through us, God’s holiness will make a difference in our world.

      He reminds us that everything we do, we do as if we were doing it for him, to him. “Even a cup of cold water given to one of these little ones is as if you gave it to me.” And when we walk past that “little one” and don’t give even a cup of water – we do that do Jesus, too.  

      We are called to give that cup of water, and more. That’s how saints live—they give themselves away to others for God. Some do this in spectacular ways like the saints we sang about, others in quieter ways. They hear God and they act.

      God is already acting—already and always bringing in the kingdom here and all around us.

      God’s holiness is already present in many ways, and God invites us to open our eyes and our hearts and help God bring in the kingdom however we can.

      How can we help God do what God is already doing? By being saints.

      We don’t have to run out and find new ways to be saints. We just have to look for signs of God’s holiness at work and work with it. 

      That’s a conversation I hope we can start and continue in the months and years ahead.

      My prayer for us is that we will listen for God, hear God, and continue to be God’s holy people, here at Ascension and all around.

      There are some new, updated, verses to the song. Think of these folks as we sing it, and ask ourselves what we could do to be here with them.

      I sing of those who loved the Lord by serving the lost and least, of Sojourner, Harriet, Jonathan, and Absalom, freedom’s priest. Of great brother Martin who dreamed a dream,and all workers of mercy in Jesus’ name. They let justice flow like a mighty stream, and I mean to be one too! (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details