Don’t call me a saint, unless…

All Saints Day / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 11-6-11 / John Stiles

Psalm 34:1-10
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.  O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.  I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.  Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.  This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.  O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.  O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.  The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Children’s Time: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.  What’s a ribbon for?  To wrap a present?  To tie in your hair?  How about to open a new restaurant or a library?  What if we imagined every Sunday as a ribbon-cutting day for church?  What if we couldn’t wait to invite others into this place to meet Jesus, to pray and worship, and to learn in Sunday School?  Let’s cut the ribbon today while the others give us a count down, and remember to invite others to know the same love we share in Jesus!

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Please don’t call me a saint. I’m no saint. It’s such easier to refer to saints as those who’ve passed away – or who’ve gotten special dispensation from the Roman Catholic Church. To be a saint you either have to have done something really remarkable with your life or you have to give away all your possessions and live in the slums of some third world country, serving the poor. Right? Not just anyone gets to be a saint.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought growing up. In just a few minutes we’ll recall the names of those who have died from our community in the past year and toll the bell in their honor. But why is it that we believe only dead people are saints? The saints are those who have crossed over to that heavenly home and become a part of that Great Cloud of Witnesses in the sky – cheering us on from the upper ionosphere. Today we honor them and carry the legacy of their faith with us into tomorrow.

But don’t call me a saint… unless… unless being a saint includes flawed human beings who get easily distracted from their calling. Unless it includes those who hurt others’ feelings or who send mixed messages or who drop the ball when others were depending on them.

Don’t call me a saint… unless by that you mean someone who lives each day by faith – trusting in the goodness of Jesus, rather than in my own. I just don’t / nor will I ever / cut the muster to be a saint.

Maybe this is why Martin Luther once said we are simul eustis et peccator (“simultaneously saint and sinner”). Maybe that’s what John meant in his vision from our first lesson (Revelation 7) by saying the faithful have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb – without the lamb they are simply clothed in filthy rags. Without the lamb – going silently to the slaughter on our behalf – we are simply blood-spattered in our own sin. Because of his death on the cross – because of his pouring out of blood at the Last Supper – for the forgiveness of sins – and only because of Jesus – can we, his people, shine like the sun.

There’s a deep humility that must accompany someone who dares call himself a saint. She who would claim sainthood in this life – does so only by first acknowledging her utter unworthiness to the title.

This is why the writer of today’s Psalm (34) could say in verse five: “Let not your face be ashamed.” Me, I get busy – or even worse: lazy. I get distracted. I get caught up in the trivial or all that glitters and woos for my attention. There are plenty of reasons to hang one’s head low.  At times like that, I find that I neglect the ‘pause button’ on life.

We sometimes forget to pause and fear the LORD. I don’t mean cowering in utter fear of God (though, that may be the case in some instances). What I mean is stopping all that we’re doing – to simply stand or kneel in awe and wonder of this LORD. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” (we read in Proverbs 9:10). There’s something so other-worldly about this God who has drawn you to worship today – something so wonderful – and at the same time so terrifying – so full of awe – so life-changing.

This is why we invite others to the ribbon cutting ceremony each week. If lives were unchanged who would bother to come? Hear the invitation from the psalmist: “Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD. Let us exalt God’s name together.” There’s this boldness in verse 5: “Look upon the LORD and be radiant. Let not your faces be ashamed.” It’s as if there’s this invisible, angelic encampment surrounding all who believe and put their trust in God.

This force field of faith gives us room to breathe and invite others to “taste and see” In verse 8: “Happy are they who take refuge in the LORD.” It’s not our own strength or fortitude that emboldens saints in this life. It all comes from the LORD.

We’re not saints by virtue of our own faith. When people say, “My mother was a saint.” (which I do believe). It’s not because she raised 4 boys who were more than a handful – It’s not because she held down two jobs while putting me through college – It’s not because she persevered through a marriage and home life afflicted with alcoholism. It’s not even because she had faith.

It’s because Jesus had faith in her.

And she believed that. And we should too. Not just anyone can be a saint. Only those who are readily acknowledge the sinner inside them – and their utter dependence on the Holy Spirit for everything in this life.

In this week’s lesson in confirmation, our students wrote prayers about “daily bread” – about all the ways God provides for us. We’ll be praying their prayers instead of the usual petitions I write each week. This is not only to thank God for providing for us but it’s to pray for all who are still hungry or in need of basic necessities.

The writer of 1John says it plainly in our 2nd lesson: “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us – that we should be called the children of God.” Don’t keep it to yourself. In v. 1 John says the goal is to be known by the world. So let it shine. Do not be ashamed.

That’s our stewardship theme this fall (5 for 50). Find five ways you’ll shine to honor our 50th anniversary in 2012. Find your spark to see how God has given you a unique way to shine in this world. Then let it rip! Don’t hold back. Stand tall and firm in the faith, shining as beacon, inviting others to come, taste and see, that the LORD is good.

Did you catch that? No saint says, “Come, see that I AM good!” According to Jesus, who gets blessed? The meek. The persecuted. The poor in spirit. The hungry. All those who thought they wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans! We don’t stand a chance at sainthood on this All Saints Day, so long as we stand on our own merits.

So, stand on the merits of this Lamb, seated on the throne. Stand before this one whose blood washed us clean of all shame and self-loathing. Stand up y’all! Go out as saints this All Saints Day and shine to all you meet. Cut the ribbon and invite others in until that day when John’s vision comes to fullness – of a multitude too great to count from every nation, tribe, people and language. Let your life shine and be the saint God created you to be.

Let us pray…
Most Holy and Gracious God, on this All Saints Day we give thanks for all who have gone before us, who rest now in you, remembering especially those who have died in the past year from this community of faith… Kenneth Wallin , George Marshall , Marty Boche , Linda Morency , Earl Carlson , Mary Kaye Niebuhr , Al Frank and all those we hold in the quiet of our hearts this day.  Make us your saints, this day, O LORD, ready to shine to all the world.

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