Saints and Aints

Saints and Ain’ts
First Presbyterian of Lafayette, Loisiana
November 7, 2010 – All Saints Day (Year C)

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

I believe God’s word is contextual. It comes from a particular time and place, and we receive it in a particular time and place. The past few weeks I have taken advantage of the free internet and ambiance of C.C.’s Coffee Shop to receive and consider God’s word. Daniel Hixon, the Campus Minister we support at U.L., joined me for a portion of my study time, and then met with a college student who did not believe in God.

I’m not saying I was eavesdropping, but I can tell you that our support of Daniel is well placed. He was curious without demanding, assuring without condemning, and inviting without expecting. Daniel was a model for what I believe the scriptures call saints and a testimony to the faith handed down through others. This faith, as we have received it, surrounds us and comforts us like a warm blanket on a cold night, and Daniel was weaving threads in the hope that they might offer comfort in a dark and lonely world.

Today we remember and celebrate those whose quilts we wrap around ourselves, those saints of the Christian faith who have gone on before us. Now, I realize that you have to be careful about that in these parts. On the one hand there is a tremendous Roman Catholic influence on the region, and for another there is an even more zealous and evangelistic passion to support the New Orleans Saints. Each of them may offer something significant and unifying, but I do not think the interpretation of “Saints” offered by either meets with what we have come to celebrate today.

Interestingly enough, we have had this conversation more than once in our Adult Sunday School class. For the sake of clarity, let us turn to the scriptures. In Daniel we are given the promise by the attendants of God that God will give dominion of this world over to “the son of man” and through him to “the holy ones.” In Ephesians, Paul speaks of us as these holy ones. Those who follow the way of Jesus have inherited the kingdom because we have become the body of Christ in the world. Those he calls Saints are the ones we call Christians. These are not dead people.

Even so, we usually use the term saints to refer to people who were especially good when they were alive and who surely must be in heaven now. But we do them a disservice by doing that. They become the moral compass, the traffic light, the excuse for not measuring up, and the ideal that they never really were when they were alive. And we, well, since we could never live up to them, we can just shake our heads and say, “Isn’t it too bad that they are gone. If they were here things would be different.”

There is truth in that. Like a warm blanket on a cold night our memories can hold us tight and make us feel safe. If they were here, things would certainly be different. We cannot change that fact. But we can honor their memory. We can respond to loss with courage and see the comfort of memory as a challenge. This is about the point where Jesus comes in and yanks the blanket off of us, reminding us that there is more to life than loss and gain. There is more to truth than being right.

Daniel reminded me of this in the coffee shop when he acknowledged the context of the sermon on the plain. He said that Jesus was most likely responding to the culture clash between the oppressed Zealots who were planning a revolution and the Sadducees who were cozying up to the Romans. So in his blessings he was reminding them that the reward would come in heaven, and for the woes he was reminding them that trusting in worldly powers can only end in failure.

That leaves me to wonder, who are we – Zealots or Sadducees? Are we so fed up with the world that we are ready to take matters into our own hands, or are we playing the odds to see how we can make things work for us? I imagine, if we are truly honest, we’ll find that we are a little of both. Jesus leaves us to wrestle with this question, but he gives back the blanket at the end.

Last week, in the Lectionary Discussion Group that met in my office, there were two verses that stuck with people the most. The first is the command to love our enemies, and the second is the Golden Rule. The first is the pinnacle of discomfort, and the second is the most common thread of social morality you could probably find. Yet here they are, intentionally woven together.

A few years ago I was listening to a recording of an interview with a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that followed the atrocities of Apartheid in South Africa, one of the greatest social gambles of the last century. There is still debate about the effect of this commission, which offered amnesty and forgiveness to those who publicly confessed hate crimes. A woman told the story through tears of another woman whose husband and sons were taken in the middle of the night and killed without mercy and with great cruelty. When the men confessed to the crime she stood and said, “You have taken my husband and my sons away. You will now be my sons. I claim you as my own.”

Friends, that is what we have today through Jesus Christ. God says to us, “YOU. You are my son. You are my daughter. I claim you as my own.” Through our common union with all the saints, living and dead, we are so joined that we have the opportunity to look even those who hate us in the eye and to be moved by the compassion of God to see the humanity in each soul. Or maybe even better, we have the chance to become fully human by responding to the need of each soul to be recognized as unique, worthy of relationships, and offering us the presence of God.

That sounds real pretty (or at least I hope it does), but it is awfully hard to do when you have been hurt. It is awfully hard to do when you have been taken advantage of, or when you are expecting to be because it has happened before. To that I can say only this, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.

We are the body of Christ, which is the church. We do need to pledge and give our resources to provide for the building and to maintain the heritage of our Fathers and Mothers. We need to pledge and give of our resources to maintain a budget to operate and function as an entity and an organization. But we need to be more than a group of people who come to a specific place to do a few specific things. When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he wrote to a group of people who were not concerned about institutional correctness or even continuation.

He wrote to a group of people who had a particular experience of God’s active presence who wanted to live it out, share it, and be a part of something that gave meaning and purpose to their lives. Is that us? Are we the church of Jesus Christ? I hope so.

I often hear how we have so many members who just cannot do what they used to. Unfortunately, there is truth in that too. All the same, there’s not of one of us that can’t pray. There is not a one of us who cannot express care for someone else in some way. In fact, there are several saints who do this kind of thing all the time. Come to think of it, there is a whole mess of hand knitted scarves upstairs to go in our Christmas baskets. Come to think of it, I saw about 50 college students with full bellies and thankful hearts last Monday. I’ve seen happy children who have a new Sunday School room, and I can’t tell you how many jars of peanut butter come and go through this place for the UCO!

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I like thinking of all these things as threads in a blanket or patches in a quilt that tells our story, but I wonder if a cloak would be a better image. I know, cloaks aren’t really in fashion these days, but I think we are called to something more than sitting under a blanket. We are called to be the Body of Christ, broken for the world…not sitting in hear, but acting out there as the saints of God!

Stanley Hauerwas has been quoted as saying that we cannot become saints by our own actions. Saints are not heroes or heroines. They are people like you and me who have become more than they are by being engrafted into the Kingdom of God, a kingdom which is ruled by forgiveness and love. May it be so with me. May it be so with you, and to God be the glory both now and always. Amen.
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