We are blessed to have such a beautiful house in which to worship the Lord. To come together as a community, as a family in fellowship. And to use as a home base from which our mission work begins.
All of it and more — worship, fellowship, breaking bread as we will do later in the service, and helping others — this is what it means to be one of God’s children.
And there’s a name for that.
That word is saint.
This is what it means to be a saint. It’s what the Apostle Paul calls us — those who love and serve God — in 1 Corinth. 1:2.
The word Saint means to be set apart, holy, sanctified…”
In Latin, the roots of the word Saint is Sancier. Early translations into Old English is Sanctus — from which we get sanctify. And today, we have the word Saint.
So there you go. Paul wasn’t mincing words: To be a child of God, you are set apart.
Today, we celebrate All Saints Sunday. Remembering, specifically, those saints who have gone before us.
But now that we have the etymology nailed down, I want you to consider the images that often come to mind when we think of the word saint.
Now, in the Catholic church I grew up in, there were saints in every stained-glass window.
My boys and I recently visited the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.
Throughout the colossal Catholic sanctuary, and not just limited to stained glass windows, were images of saints — sculptures, icons, paintings, and, sure, the windows had them, too.
Aren’t these are the images we get when we think about saints?
Beautiful and colorful flowing robes.
Their hands always giving that three-fingered blessing, which is Greek symbology for the name “Jesus Christ”: IC XC — the first and last letters of the name Jesus Christ (IHCOYC XPICTOC).
Or there’s often the bright white light or golden halo around their heads.
But if we turn to the Bible, we don’t see any of this.
The apostles — these saints — aren’t wearing anything colorful.
They might be blessing people, but we see them more in the trenches with the suffering people than somehow above them, calmly blessing them.
And there are no such halos or lights surrounding them. At least we read nothing of this in the Bible as they toil alongside of Jesus or later trudge on to spread the Good News, and 11 of 12 are martyred.
And so, when we depict these saints in stained glass or sculpture, we tend to think of them in their resurrected state.
In their heavenly place alongside Jesus. Peacefully looking down upon us.
And that’s comforting to me.
It’s comforting to me because that’s where I want to be one day.
And that’s how I want to picture my loved ones who have gone to the Kingdom Triumphant before me.
But this also can present a problem for us.
Because it’s hard to live into the image of a saint if we think a saint looks like this or is no longer with us on earth.
To be clear, yes, today we are honoring those saints who have gone before us.
The difference is that they didn’t become saints upon their entry into the kingdom in the afterlife; they became saints when the kingdom entered them here in this life.
They became saints when they were imperfect, here on earth; not just perfected in heaven.
And so if we think we have to wait until our perfection in afterlife to be sainted, we’re missing out on a very special gift — an inheritance that Christ has given us all here on earth, among one another.
What does a saint look like?
So, would you look at your spouse or your teen-age child, the person sitting a few pews behind or in front of you and call them saints today?
Would you look at those Christ followers who didn’t make it to worship this week, or to the believers out there who are busy sinning and call them saints?
We need to be careful there.
Because, again, if we’re looking at these stained-glass images for the definition of what it means to be a saint, then we’re not getting the whole picture.
Look at how the apostles — who surely were saints — lived.
The Apostle Paul wasn’t a saint when he was a pharisee. But he was changed. Transformed on his way to Damascus when Jesus called to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?!” (Acts 9.4).
After his transformation, what did Paul look like? Physically, the same guy. But he was changed inside. He was set apart. He had become a saint.
And what about the Apostle Peter? Think he had a halo and bright flowing robes when he was cowardly denying even having known Christ as the messiah was being beaten and scourged in front him?
In fact every apostle —every saint — that God set apart abandoned Christ in his final hours.
And when he was taken to the tomb, every single saint thought everything was over.
The lack of faith… These were saints?
The suffering servants
We suffer. We do. We wear our humanness more than we wear our saintness — if there is such a word.
We live in a broken world and we are born into original sin.
There is a choice we make in our lives, and that is whether we accept Christ’s salvation or not.
It’s whether we accept the inheritance that God promised and delivered to each one us.
When we do, we are changed, from the inside out.
Our appearance may not change much. Our situation may remain the same. In fact, we might look worse the part, according to the world’s standards.
In his letter to the Ephesians, which we read this morning, Chapter 1, verses 11-23, the author — which probably wasn't Paul, but a disciple of Paul — writes in Verse 11 that we’ve received this “inheritance” through Christ to accomplish God’s will.
He says when you accepted Christ, you were marked with a seal of the Holy Spirit, Verse 13.
And you were given this inheritance.
This is a very ancient Jewish idea. It’s not just a reward of something at some future time; it means you have been accepted, adopted into God’s eternal family, the kingdom.
And the writer takes it a step further and connects it to Christ, that we have obtained this inheritance now through Jesus and become part of a holy body, set apart.
That means you have been set apart as God’s child. Christ did this for us through his sacrifice to pay for our sins.
Set apart. Holy. Hallowed. A saint.
Saints here and gone
And so today, we are called to remember those saints.
Who were they? What did they look like?
Where was their faith like?
In a few moments, I’m going to read the names of all the saints who have gone before us in this past year.
Friends, family, people who helped us become who we are today.
I want you to think of the ways that they helped shape who you are, what they have done for others, and what they’ve taught you, which you carry today.
They are saints. They are saints. They have been set apart.
Did they look in this life like the images in the stained-glass windows that we all know so well?
Probably not. But then again, neither did the people depicted in the stained glass windows.
See, that transformation isn't complete until they meet face-to-face with God.
But make no mistake: They were saints among us.
So right now, I’d like to take a few moments to honor them, yes, but also to remember them.
And as we do, I want you to think about where you saw God in their lives. Where you could see how they were set apart.
And let’s remember them in this way today.
(Reading of the names, ringing of the bell)
As I read each name, you will hear the church bell ring.
We’ll take a moment of silence between these names so that we can be contemplative and prayerful in our remembrances.
Kenneth F. Keeler
Greta J. Moeschbacher
Vida Lucille Saxion
Martha Ann Mensch
Martin R. London
Donald R. Smith
Arthur Whitney Evans
Coy Michael Lutz
Patricia J. Beddia
Sharing in the names of the saints
Now, I’d like us to continue in this contemplation, but I’d invite you to call out the names of anyone else in your hearts, that they hear us today as we remember and honor them.
They can be the names of any saint who have passed before us at any time in our lives.
Where do we go?
My prayer today is that God allows these loved ones to hear us call their names.
So let us always keep them in our hearts.
They are gifts to us to be cherished always.
As followers of Christ, we are like parents being watched by their children.
Always watching, always learning.
That is who we are as we walk through this world.
It’s unfortunate that we sometimes fail. We set bad examples. We sin.
And the world watches and asks, “There, you see? He’s a hypocrite!”
Or “She lied, did you see that? That’s why I don’t go to church. I don’t want to be surrounded by sinners like that!”
And you know, they are right. Or at least partially right.
We are sinners. We are in need of a savior. There’s no two ways about that.
We live in this world, what with all its temptation and vices.
With all its pain that makes us bitter, jealous, and always comparing.
But that doesn’t mean we’re not striving to live up to that set-apart life.
Some people strive for fame, or money, or some great windfall of luck; we come here, and we strive to find the kind of peace that is promised by God.
The true peace.
We come to hold hands, to sing, to share, to learn…
Why? Because we reach for the promise.
Because we know what Jesus has done for us.
Because our identity is in him. Set apart. Holy.
We claim the gift of our inheritance.
So what do we do?
A saint perseveres.
A saint is willing to be transformed.
A saint looks for opportunities to transform others.
A saint gives of himself or herself in a way that puts themselves second and Christ first.
So as we remember the Saints who have passed before us this year, know that in this world that they were not perfect.
They couldn’t be. Only God is.
But also know that in the next life — where they are today — they are in the presence of Perfection.
This is what a saint achieves.
This is what a saint is promised when they receive Christ into their hearts.
Not passively trapped in a stained-glass window, no.
Actively living out the inheritance given to them by God.
And those saints who have gone before us?
They are celebrating the riches of God’s steadfast love.
Amen, Amen and Amen.