All Saints – 2023 Matt 23

When we think of All Saints Day we tend to think about those big impressive saints…St Andrew, St. Chad, those with stunning windows made of them.  Those who are Patron Saints of countries and soccer teams.  However, saintliness isn’t about sainted glass or impressive honours, it is about faith lived.  And our gospel and our epistle today put a neat contrast on it.   We are a people easily swayed by appearances and from the look of the gospel that wasn’t much different in Jesus time.

They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi.”

If you dive into the rabbit hole of church and clerical finery, you will see that religious people today still like to be showy.  After all I am well aware that I have silk robes, trimmed with gold thread.  I have a fancy chair to sit in and a grand pulpit to preach in and the higher in rank you go the more pretentious your garb can be…doesn’t have to be, but certainly can be.   It seems like those in the gospel may have struggled with this as well.

Then in our epistle we get the contrast of the gospel pharisees, we read of those in Thessalonica and how they valued faith and action above titles and finery.

“You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was towards you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

It brings to mind the question of who really is a saint? And what do we value?

Sometime after high school I spent some time in a summer job at Crossways in Common, a multi church outreach center on Broadway.  The place had a variety of programs including an adult drop in center.  There were many people there who were not especially busy during the day, and need a safe place to spend their time.  They played cards, socialized, made use of the various programs, ate lunch together and read books.  The volunteer in charge of the library was Mary.  Mary was very important, she held the key to the library.

            Mary was also very old and fraile, very homeless, and very much in need of some hygienic assistance.  Not exactly stained glass worthy and she fit the bill of who I, with my self importance and philanthropic airs had come to ‘serve’. 

            One day or other, I was sitting at the card table whining about something or other, complaining of a sore back or such when I began to feel extremely awkward.  Mary had come up behind me…(I could tell *sniff*), and had said something to me in her cracked and soft voice.  Then I felt her touch my neck, both hands tapping on my neck and shoulders.  Very awkward…I felt very ….well not too happy with this and kinda confused.   When I turned my head to see what Mary was up to, all my distrust and ickiness disappeared.  It was abundantly clear that this very frail, very needy woman had heard my complaining and was doing her best to give me a shoulder massage.

            “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  

            Mary was clearly the saint in our midst, and I felt distinctly humbled.  She may not have had fine clothes, she was in fact be found riffling through a garbage bin the next time I saw her.  Yet, as I got to know her and her story it was clear that she laboured and toiled to lessen the burdens of others, and certainly did her best to go through life leading a life worthy of God.

            We each may enjoy having the occasional place of honour at banquets or being greeted in the market places, but that is not the goal.  It is a fine thing to have fancy clothes and a fine car, but if we do it is important to remember we are witnesses.

            It is also honourable to labour and to toil, day and night for a living.  To respect yourself for your upright conduct regardless of your attire or your education.  Because we are all to leading a life worthy of God, witnesses of Christ, wherever we are and what ever our sphere of influence.

            I may have been well dressed and well educated, but it was Mary who acted as a saint that day.  Her sphere of influence may have been small, but her impact was large.

Saint Martin Luther, had some wonderful thoughts attributed to him and this is a favorite of mine. “A dairymaid can milk cows to the glory of God. If your job is shoveling manure, than do your best and shovel that manure for the glory of God.”  If we look at the life of the saints, what they did and how they lived, it is easily seen that they come from many walks of life and had many and various areas of influence.  But as St. Martin Luther reminds us, it isn’t what you do…but rather how you do it.

When we celebrate All Saints we have the opportunity to look at the stories of the many faithful whose lives, devotion, work and deaths have been passed down to us, in fame and in humility.

In remembering the lives of the saints, famous or obscure, we have the opportunity to get to know people who had faith and kept their faith in difficult times and in ordinary times.  As we celebrate All Saints and we have the opportunity to hear the stories of how our faith ancestors, men and women both, not only kept the faith on a Sunday afternoon, but lived their faith 24 hours a day.  We have the opportunity to know the struggles that were faced by people from all different social statuses, races, and even religious backgrounds as they became Christians so exemplary that their names are still spoken today.

We celebrate All Saints because it gives us the opportunity to understand that each of us has the potential to challenge ourselves and grow in our faith so that we too can be what God has intended us to be.  Through the stories of the Saints we are inspired...inspired to walk in their footsteps and see the ways that ordinary people can be and do extraordinary things. 

Each of us... has the same Spirit in us that each of the Saints matter our context or our backgrounds we are not so different. 

If we act in a Christ like manner...not simply being a nice person but living as an imitation of Christ in our own little sphere.  If we remember that we are all students with one teacher, if we remember to serve humbly and work for Christ’s glory not our own that we too will be numbered with the saints.

If that sounds a bit much for you, remember Mary the librarian, easing my burdens with trembling hands.  Look up the many stories of the Saints who worked, prayed, lived, and sometimes died simply following where their faith called them to be.

 Men and Women who acted as Christ acted, lived as Christ lived and sometimes died as Christ died so that Christ’s light would be seen in their lives and they could be a witness to others.

We are called to be witnesses...we are called to be imitators of Christ...we are called to be Saints.  We may never have masses said in our honour, nor churches named after us, or feature in stained glass, but I’d guess the majority of saints wouldn’t have had those goals in mind.  The saints lived their lives as faithful to the calling of God as they could.  They aimed to please God and follow his path in thought, word and deed.

God grant that we, like Mary, may be inspired to do likewise.