Homily for November 1st, All Saints Day – The Rev. Trudi Shaw

Help Wanted:  Saints

Inspirational organization seeks key personnel to expand global operations.  Successful candidates must have faith to move mountains, courage to face hungry lions, willingness to follow obscure instructions or die trying.  No experience necessary; training provided on the job.    Should have independent source of income; some support may be offered by those who like what you have to say.  Work environment can be hazardous especially when confronted by hostile clients.  Good death benefits. 

No need to submit resume, Management is already aware of and able to work with your skills. 

Listen carefully as Management may be trying to call you right now.

Few of us in our right minds would even consider applying for the position of saint if we ran across this ad in a newspaper.  We are all too familiar with the portrayal of saints as being the super human individuals that were often depicted by artists of the renaissance.  These individuals are perfect – they deserve to be put on pedestals, to be admired from afar.

People so holy that they were able to go about the business of being a saint untouched by the realities of this world.

We live with those realities!

Every day we confronted by the reports of disasters – of the catastrophic upheavals in the lives of millions in the aftermath of violent storms, earthquakes, floods and fires…

We hear of the death and destruction that has become a reality for so many caught between warring factions…

We cannot miss the reality of poverty, disease, and injustice that bind us to hopelessness…

And all the while we struggle with our own monumental and personal issues – perhaps of loneliness, or illness, or concerns for loved ones – or the dilemma of how we can meet the many demands on our limited energy, time and resources.

Sainthood is simply not an option!

But even though we may not choose to be saints, each one of us was accepted into the training program for sainthood at our baptism.  From the moment we are signed with the cross to mark us as Christ’s own forever, to the moment we take our last breath, we are on that journey to sainthood.

So who or what is a saint?

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada gives us this definition:

“Saints are Christians who in various ways, often against great odds, showed an extraordinary love for Christ.  The Holy Spirit acted in their lives so that they chose to bring aid to the needy, justice to the oppressed, hope to the sorrowful, and the divine word of forgiveness to sinners.  For the sake of Christ they were servants to the people of their day; and the service they rendered in the past makes them examples to the rest of the people of God throughout history”[1]

Love for Christ, openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit, servant ministry, and setting an example for others, are all values to which I aspire – so this definition begins to put sainthood within the realm of possibility.   I can actually relate it to real people in my own time – people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  But even these “saints” of our age have become such cultural icons that their rough edges have been polished off. Their struggle to be faithful within the context of being human has faded into the background. And though we may admire them, and may even want to be like them, sainthood just doesn’t seem like an achievable reality for the majority of us.

Another definition of sainthood comes from Robert Ellsberg:

“The saints are those who, in some partial way, embody – literally incarnate – the challenge of faith in their time and place.  In doing so, they open a path that others might follow.”[2]

The idea that saints are real individuals, who put flesh on the challenges we all experience to live authentically as Christians within the context of our complex lives, brings the concept of sainthood much closer.  It is no coincidence that on this Feast of All Saints, our diocese will gather in worship, to give thanks for and celebrate the many people from around the diocese who have been examples of love, faithfulness and service in their parishes and in the wider community.  They invite us to a similar purpose.   And this morning, in this time and this place, as we gather around the Lord’s table, it is possible to look around and see in our midst, some of those living saints who live their love for Christ in a way that makes us think we could too.

This past year, my family and I have been on the receiving end of the ministrations of these saints.  It has been your messages and gestures of love and encouragement, and your faithful prayers that have helped us maneuver the minefield that cancer brought into our lives last fall.  You loved us, and stood by us through all the ups and downs of treatment.  And when I was not able to be here with you in person, you kept the Light of Christ burning brightly to guide me and light my way.  I know I am not the only one who has benefitted from your faithful use of the gifts God has given you.  And the thought of that same care and compassion flowing out from this community into the world, is a vision of hope that gives me confidence that the time God promises through the prophet Isaiah, and the Revelation to John – when “death will be swallowed up forever”, and “mourning and tears will be no more” – is already becoming a reality.

Today, on this feast of All Saints, when we remember those who have been examples of the love of Christ and faithfulness to God down through the ages, may we feel their presence with us as we gather in the fellowship of the Apostles and the communion of all the saints.  We are part of a continuum that stretches back into history and forward into a future not yet realized.   We stand on the firm foundation laid for us by those who have gone before us, and are called to continue to build on their legacy for the sake of future generations.  Our faithfulness in using the tools and resources God has given us to share the peace, love and healing that is God’s desire for all people, will help to shape the church for future generations.

“We are bound to one-another with the saints of all the ages, in mutual service as members of the one body of Christ.” [3]

Today we hear the tender story of Jesus weeping at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, as he experiences in a very human way the grief of his friends, and the sadness that death brings to the lives of men and women.   For me it is a reminder that God weeps also, at the tombs we create for others and ourselves, every time we embrace actions or philosophies that are about death and destruction rather than the life God promises.  Only the love of Christ can free us from this darkness and unbind us from the grave cloths  that prevent us from moving freely into the life he offers.  Here in this community of faith – in this cauldron of sainthood – we meet the living Christ and are nurtured and shaped so that we might grow together into our fullest potential as human beings.

A number of years ago, when our family were members of another congregation, I overheard one of the wardens say at the end of the service, “Well, that’s it for another week.”

I remember being quite shocked because she seemed to be saying that being a Christian was more about what we did on Sundays when God was watching, than how we lived our lives the rest of the week.

We know that we don’t come to church because that is the only way we can encounter God; each moment and context of our lives is an opportunity to encounter the Holy.

Being a Christian means that we never stop living the life of Christ in the world.  Wherever we may find ourselves, and whatever we may be doing, we have an opportunity to share with others the peace and justice and love of God as we have encountered it in Jesus Christ.

And that is perhaps the best definition of what it means to be a saint – that they are ordinary people like you and me living their lives faithfully, striving to discern how they are able to use the tools and resources God has given them to help make that future vision of our home in God’s kingdom a reality – not just for a few ‘chosen’ people, but for everyone.

Let us pray:

May the love of God be the lens through which you see all things.

May the life of Christ be the pattern by which you shape your own life.

May the guidance of the Spirit lead you in right pathways, all the days of your life.


[1] For All the Saints, Prayers and Readings for Saints’ Days, The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada; 2007

[2] All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets and Witnesses for Our Time, Robert Ellsberg. Crossroad Publishing Co., 1997

[3] For All the Saints, Prayers and Readings for Saints’ Days, The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada; 2007 (paraphrased)


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