Saints. It sounds kind of daunting, doesn’t it? Not only do we find it hard to earn that title, it is a title that is hard to live up to as well. I mean, we have no problem calling others saints. We see people doing extreme good in the world, we call them saints. We think about our loved ones that have died and the affect they’ve had on our lives, and we call them saints. We think about that football team that are actually called Saints, and we call them saints.
But ourselves? That is a bit harder. In fact, we often deny the title by saying things like, “I’m no saint,” almost to give us permission to fail, to make mistakes, to be… regular and ordinary.
Because that’s what a saint is to us, isn’t it? Someone who is extraordinary, someone who seems to have an unattainable moral standard, someone who is clearly set apart by how good and how influential they are. Either that or a lesser known football team that has never once won a Super Bowl (I was told after the service that the Saints actually did win the Super Bowl in 2010… Google fail on my part).
And yeah while we can cognitively say we know that in Christ we’re made to be saints, it just doesn’t always feel like it. It doesn’t always feel like we’ve done anything to earn that designation or if we even want it. It doesn’t always feel like we’ve been set apart in that we don’t see what we might think would be the benefits of being a saint in our lives.
As in, we don’t have the strongest faith in the congregation. We don’t have the peace of God in our hearts like all the time. We don’t only have good days. But we sometimes get frustrated. We sometimes feel really sad. We sometimes question God even being present in our lives at all.
“Lord, if only you were here.” That is the comment that Mary made when Jesus finally showed up at the tomb of his recently deceased friend Lazarus, Mary’s brother. “Lord, if only you were here” is a justified remark as Jesus wasn’t there at the time of death, even though he had the time to but for some strange reason just didn’t take it. “Lord, if only you were here” is something we probably think from time to time whenever something bad happens to us because we know Jesus has the power to stop those bad things from happening.
Well, maybe if we were actually saints, Jesus would have been there. Maybe if we were more like the characters in the bible, then Jesus would help us out when the going gets really tough. Maybe if we were more faithful, or more committed, or more good, then maybe, just maybe, Jesus would work on our side.
But hold on, this is Mary we’re talking about. Wasn’t she faithful? Wasn’t she the one that Jesus praises for ditching her responsibilities and sitting at his feet instead? Wasn’t she the one that was rumoured, especially in Dan Brown’s book “The DaVinci Code”, to be married to Jesus and even had kids with him? (Let me emphasize that is total conjecture in a piece of fictional literature and I am not in any way saying that it is true.) Either case, Mary and Jesus were tight. They were pals. If Jesus would do anything for anyone, you’d think that Mary would be on top of the list.
But Lazarus still died. They all still were heartbroken. Jesus wasn’t there.
Or was he?
Of course we know what happens next, after some words about being the resurrection and the life, Jesus calls out. Not call someone out for something they did wrong, but literally calls out. In spite of the protest and fear of the stench of a three-day old corpse, Jesus told the people to open up the tomb. In spite of the tears all around him and from his own eyes, Jesus stands and acts. In spite of the death right there, shrouding them all from his constant presence, Jesus brings life.
More specifically, Jesus bring Lazarus to life. He calls out into the darkness, calls him by name, and calls him into life.
Notice Jesus just doesn’t call Lazarus to new and resurrected life, but Jesus also calls him back into community, into the life of community, to care and be cared for.
How does Jesus do this? He calls the community, Lazarus’ community, to surround Lazarus and to unbind him. Unbind him from all that is holding him back from being Lazarus. Unbind him from the bands that tell him that he is something that he is most definitely not. Unbind him from that which identifies Lazarus as dead, and allow him to live life most abundantly.
Jesus calls, and they are unbound. Jesus feels their pain, and they are healed. Jesus shows up, and they are all united in community.
As it is with us. Today, on All Saints Day, the day we remember those we’ve loved and lost, the day that we maybe are most sensitive of how un-saintly we might be, the day that we might look back on our lives and wonder how different and better it might have been if only Jesus were there, we too, are called, unbounded and unshrouded, and brought into community.
You see, the term “saint” actually doesn’t mean really really good or exceptionally moral or even just better than others. It doesn’t mean someone who died and will be remembered for their large contribution to the world. It doesn’t mean someone who has earned special favour with God with their good deeds and compassion.
No, the term “saint” actually comes from a Greek word that means “holy ones” which came from a Hebrew word that means “set apart”. Set apart and holy saints. Honestly that still sounds kind of daunting, but when we realise what actually sets us apart, how we are made to be holy, and how God calls us, each and every one of us by name, we can understand that really, we are all set apart and holy by God’s complete and eternal grace.
For God calls us and leads us into life and into community. God calls us and strengthens us to love and to serve. God calls us out from underneath the shroud of death, wipes away the tears from our eyes, and reveals to us the overflowing and abundant blessing given us, allowing us to experience the peace that surpasses all understanding.
God’s call in itself sets us apart in our unique individuality and what we bring to the table. God placing us in community is what makes us holy and complete. Our part as servants in the body of Christ is what makes us saints.
It doesn’t mean that we have to be called to do something great or to make significant and lasting change. It doesn’t mean that we have to be the most skilled or able to do tasks that no one else can. It doesn’t even mean that we need to have to leave this amazing legacy behind to ensure that candles will be lit in our honour for the years to come.
No, even the seemingly smallest tasks are great in the kingdom of God. Even the most unnoticeable and forgettable moments in our eyes send ripples of graciousness and joy through the community. Jesus says that even those who offer a cup of cold water to the least of these is rewarded in heaven. We aren’t called to be great, but we are called to be. Be set apart. Be holy. Be saints.
Just as Jesus called the crowd to loosen the binds around Lazarus so God calls us to loosen what is binding our brothers and sisters and at the same time to have our binds loosened as well, that the shroud of darkness be lifted and we see how we are all connected as the body of Christ, how we are dependent on and depended on by the community, and how we, as saints, are called to come to the table just as we are, offering out of our own means, and contributing in whatever way we uniquely can.
If you recall about a month ago I was down in Minnesota attending a preaching conference and within it there were many workshops where we gained new ideas and skills. One particular one called “Using Poetry in Preaching” led by a recent Luther Seminary graduate Joe Davis, who serves as a poet and speaker of truth and gospel. He has this very unique and stylistic approach to preaching the word, one which I appreciated very much but could probably not in any way duplicate. So here is a video of him bringing a message that pertains to the themes we are talking about today…
We are called. Called to come to the table, called to be part of the body of Christ, called to live in the kingdom of God. We are called. Called to serve, called to be served, called to be a vital part of our community. We are called. Called to be loved and redeemed, called to be children of God, called to show up and be saints.
Thanks be to God. Amen.