For All the Saints
by Tim Mooney
Saints, the blessed ones. Who comes to mind? St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Francis, St. Augustine, St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross. I was tempted to preach about the impact these saints left on Christianity, on us. But there’s a danger in doing that. Are you familiar with the word hagiography? It’s a biography about a saint. They tend to exaggerate, making the saint heroic, miraculous, if not perfect. They often leave out the messy details of the saints’ actual lives. Written to encourage us to emulate the saint, hagiographies can discourage us: nobody lives like that, it’s too hard, I can’t do it. This can prevent us from seeing real sainthood in others, ourselves.
The beatitudes provide a different set of lenses for recognizing saints. Jesus does not say, “Blessed are the holy, the perfect, the miracle workers, the righteous.” He says:
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Here’s another scriptural lens from Micah 3:5-6.
The one who does justice.
The one who loves kindness.
The one who walks humbly with God.
And from Matthew 25, the saints are the ones who:
Feed the hungry,
Give something to drink to the thirsty,
Welcome a stranger,
Clothe the naked,
Take care of the sick,
Visit the imprisoned.
Each one of us is, and can be, that kind of saint – a messy one – for others.
There is no sense of perfection here, only a desire for, and a practice of, love. When we hear these different ways of understanding sainthood, now who comes to mind? What is it about them that inspires us? Calls to us? And what do they struggle with? What are their flaws? How are they just simple, messy, humans, slowly being transformed by love?
Let me offer one more scriptural lens to help us identify sainthood. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Eph. 3:16-19.
When we slow down, and remember, we can easily see the people who have been saints for us. They are flawed, but there is something about them that has a Godly impact on our lives. Each one of us is, and can be, that kind of saint – a messy one – for others. It’s hard to think of ourselves this way. But each of us are endowed with the Spirit of God, we each have unique gifts, talents, and callings, that are needed in the body of Christ, and when we are weak, we are strong.
The Book of Revelation says God will dry every tear. A promise to hold onto. But here and now, on All Saints Day, we remember the people who have died, naturally, through illness, through Covid-19, through injustice, through fires, through service. And appropriately we shed cleansing tears of gratitude, joy, and grief – missing those who have left us, who have loved us, who are messy just like us, who are saints. Amen.