Saturday, October 29, 2011
What we remember today as we celebrate the saints is rags to riches story after rags to riches story as we hear of God entering into human lives, blessing and transforming them through the grace and holiness of God.
In biblical times, the affluence that X-Factor promises, was a sign of the favour and blessing of God. Abraham is blessed by God in the book of Genesis - evidence of that is all the ‘stuff’ he came to have - cattle, sheep, male and female servants and so on. Similarly in the New Testament in the teaching of Jesus, in the parable of the Rich Fool, his crops have produced so much grain he contemplates building bigger barns to store it all. Now I don’t know if God takes account of recessions or not, but it seems that blessing, affluence and success are to be spoken of in the same sentence - as one follows on from the other. In other words, if you are rich you must have found favour with God.
Blessed are you who are poor, you who are hungry, you who weep,blessed are you when people hate you says Jesus. On this All Saints Sunday, the blessing of God, those on whom His favour rests, are not on those affluent few whose lives are measured in tabloid headline inches, but on those who weep, whose lives are poor,empty and broken. The rich, the full, the laughing, those of whom much good is spoken of have already been rewarded of their own doing now and are not seeing or living by the standards of eternity.
To live by the standards of eternity is to live by God’s standards. Living by these standards takes us along the road to what we might call saintliness. Jesus says saintly living is not about a rarified holy way of living, but is simply put - God’s design for life - a better way to live. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
When we consider the lives of those the church traditionally calls saints, what strikes me first is how very ordinary most of them were but how thet tried to live out these words ....from that clutch of Galilean fishermen to a consumptive French nun,from a wounded soldier who spent most of his time dreaming of damsels in distress to a forthright Albanian with a genius for spotting Christ in the slums of Calcutta. None of them looked in the least remarkable – they didn't start out as super-holy beings, nor, I suspect, did any of them spend their days with heads surrounded by a heavenly glow. They didn't even aspire to outstanding holiness but they lived Christlike lives and accepted the gift of grace that God offers to all of us, and in so doing, they found themselves transformed.
The Saints we celebrate today are ordinary people trying to live Christlike lives transformed by the grace of God celebrated in the windows, paintings, statues, icons hymns... and pews around us. Yes you too... We are called to be saints, it is in our spiritual DNA, to strive to faithfully follow Jesus Christ in our day and to proclaim the Gospel in words and works of love.
Part of our saintly calling though is therefore to side with those whom God sides and favour those whom He does.
As we answer His call on our lives to Sainthood, we must also recognise that whilst He is transforming our lives as we worship Him, His favour, His blessing, rests on those in pour community where we might least expect to find it - in the home of the grieving widower, at breakfast with the family struggling on benefits, in the cold flat of the assylum seeker, in the frightened dreams of the child in care... Love them says Jesus. Support them. Do good to them because few are, and why, because as you see your life transformed by grace and new life, so the grace and new life spills out and blesses them through you... God’s blessing is on them because of you.
On this All Saints Sunday, we thank God for His transforming grace at work in people past as well as in us today as we seek to follow Him. We pray that we would not squander that grace He so freely gives us, so that it turns into sour judgement of others in our hands and fills our mouths and lives with bitterness.
Rather let us pray that God would continue to meet us where we are; would take us as we are - with all our rough edges, and by His grace transform the raggedness of our existence by the richness of His grace. As He, as Mother Julian says, transforms our wounds into worships, let us also pray that He would charge us with a contagious holiness to allow even us to be God’s blessing on those in our community, especially on those who need it the most. Amen.