First, I would like to thank Annette for inviting us to remember the “saints” in our lives, today. It seems like many people think of “saints” as superhumans, perhaps the historical martyrs of the Church. But Annette gave the Worship Committee a very helpful reading about who is a “saint.” It suggested that anyone can be a saint:
“When we honor the saints, we actually give the glory to God and not to the saints themselves. All the saints who now live in heaven were in their earthly lives exactly like us, . . . “ with flaws and limitations. It is God's grace that leads people to serve as saints.
Perhaps we could think of “saints” as those who show how to love others, like my friend Fred Sherrill, who can strike up a conversation with virtually anyone. He would get into heart-to-heart conversations with a homeless person on Kirkwood, and then do the same thing with an IU administrator who was generally “stand-off-ish.” He cared about them all and wanted to show them how meaningful their lives can be.
We could also think of “saints” as those who show us how to live a life that is faithful to God, like Donna Ritter, a former member of UBC. When I knew her, she seemed to take one minute at a time. Delays or changes of plans didn’t seem to phase her. She also had a wonderful joy for life, and she could really help people feel loved. And she seemed to live in the confidence that God cared about her and others, and that things would somehow work out.
“Saints” could also include those who inspire us. For me, one of those people is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I have recordings of many of his sermons on CDs, and in one of those sermons, he spoke of a late-night epiphany he had, while waiting nervously for some anonymous person who had threatened violence against him and his family. That night, he clearly heard the words of God in his mind, “Martin Luther, I will never leave you alone. Never, no never, leave you alone!” That was what he needed to go on and speak of God’s love for all; of God’s desire for peace and dignity here on earth. I often hear that audio-clip in my mind when I feel overwhelmed by circumstances, or feel distant from God.
Finally, “saints” can surely include those who lead us to faith, or help us grow in faith. There are many here this morning who are these types of “saints” in my life. However, I don’t want to try to list them, because I am sure to leave out at least one of those “saints.” Instead, I would like to tell you about the person who first led me to follow Christ. When I was a freshman in high school, I started attending a small church similar to UBC. Our minister was named Tex Miller. He was not much taller than 5 feet, with deep red hair, and he would wear a western hat and boots to church. He was not one to stay behind the pulpit; instead, he would roam about the sanctuary during his sermons. If he was preaching on how our view of time keeps us from faithfully following Jesus, he would pull his watch off of his wrist and throw it to the ground. He kept our attention!
One spring, he gave a series of sermons about the life of Jesus, leading up to the crucifixion. I had heard isolated passages from the gospels, before, but this was the first time I heard the arc of the story of Jesus. I was deeply moved by Jesus’ mercy and care for others, his desire to heal and to free people from what imprisoned them. And when the story reached the crucifixion, I was surprised and cut to the heart; how could people be so cruel to Jesus, after all that he did? I wept that Sunday morning, as well as for the next week. After that, I felt like I needed to follow Jesus; this Jesus who was Goodness and Mercy, even in the face of the worst that people could do. Tex then led a confirmation class, where he insisted that anything could help us learn about God. He might look around the room , pick up a pencil, and tell us how God sharpens our lives to write another story of God’s mercy lived out among people like you and me, and that God’s mercy also was there to erase the burden of our missteps. Finally, Tex invited all two of us in the confirmation class to visit other churches, and even explore other faith traditions. He told us that if we chose to return and follow Christ, he would gladly baptise and confirm us. For Tex, following Jesus was our choice to make. Soon after, I chose to be baptised and confirmed, and I can’t imagine living my life without Jesus.
Does it matter that we remember the “saints?” For me it does. This “remembering” is like counting my blessings. It gives me another reason to say “Wow, God, how amazing that you’ve created these people, and that I get to see You through them! Thank you! Thank you!” For me, it is also an invitation to consider how to emulate these people whom I admire. As I heard in a recent on-line sermon, following Christ is not a specatator sport. Perhaps God can work through me, too, to live a life of faith, adding to the cloud of witnesses that inspire others to live faithful lives. So I invite you to join me in remembering those who serve as “saints” in each of our lives. Thanks be to God!