Revelation 7:9-17 Psalm 34:1-10, 22 1 John 3:1-3 Matthew 5:1-12
Of blankets and saints
[There are precut pieces of fleece at the front of the church, some cut for blankets, some for scarves. Have people gather as they will and are able and show them how to tie knots in the fleece.]
There is a man in the Bible who killed Christians. This person also stood by, watched, and gave assent to the stoning of the apostle Stephen. This man’s name is Paul. We call him “saint.”
Another man traveled with our Lord, wanted to stay with him forever, knew who he was and called him Lord. This same man denied Jesus, three times, helping to send Jesus to his death. This man is an apostle and this parish’s namesake, Peter. We call him “saint.”
From those to brief examples, it sounds like we have to hate Christians and deny the Lord if we are to be called “saint.” Well, NO. These people turned their lives – at some point – to be a walk with Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. Something changed in them that we might consider them saints.
Let’s look through the lens of history to see what it takes to be a saint. In very early Christianity, people were killed for following Christ. They might be stoned to death, crucified (St. Peter was hung upside down), run out of town. To qualify for sainthood in the first three hundred years of church history, you had to be killed for Jesus Christ. Christians were killed by lions or burned at the stake in the Coliseum in Rome; that is how you became a saint. St. Ignatius said that the “blood of the martyrs were the seeds of the church.”
All Saints’ Day used to be in the spring (May 13), and the early church made it a day to remember all the martyrs who died in the early persecutions who did not have a special day of remembrance on the church’s calendar. Surely a martyr is a saint. The hymn that we sing to close our worship service today is about saints: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest…”. Saints are Christians who have died, their “labors” are their lives, lived to the glory of God. These saints are now with God in heaven. These are the saints triumphant. “Alleluia!” we sing.
We sang another hymn talks about saints: one was a doctor and one was a priest … and I mean to be one, too. Something has changed … did you hear it? This hymn is about people who are alive! Can it be? “I mean to be one, too.” Here is a vision of sainthood that says “saints” look like very many people; chief among them, you and I and others just like us.
“Just like us,” except that something has been changed in us. Our walk with Jesus fundamentally changes who we are. Remember our baptism? We are drowned to our old life and risen to a new life in Christ. We are marked as Christ’s own and sealed with the power of the cross forever. What needs to be changed in us in order that we might be saints has already happened. We “simply” need to live into that call, which will take everything we have and everything we are for our entire lives. That is the power of Jesus and what it takes to answer the call that God has put on our lives.
And so today, we honor the saints: we particularly remember those who have died in the past year; this is their day of special recognition in our life together. Today we make a financial pledge to this community, living into what God has called us to do with what God has given us. We “give back” to God a portion of what is God’s anyway that we might continue to worship in this place and be witness to how we have been changed by Jesus Christ. In our witness we change the world. We give food today, too, in support of the “full tummys” ministries, in whatever way we feel led. We give food that others might eat, taking seriously the directive to feed the hungry.
What about these blankets and scarves? It was cold and rainy yesterday, and I was very thankful to be able to look out at the weather from a home with heat and blankets. I kept thinking about those who are outside in this weather, who do not have the option of looking out at the cold rain.
And so I thought that maybe being a saint on this day and in this place means using our hands to tie knots into fringe and to send some literal warmth along with our donated food. Or to another place. It doesn’t matter where these items go; only that we worked together to be saints, to be the hands of Jesus, to comfort someone beyond ourselves.
I invite you to tie a knot or two, to give thanks, to give to God. After the service, we will gather again, not in service this time, but in thanksgiving for our many blessings. Come one, come all, and join the saints.