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How to Be a Saint

Luke 19:1 – 10

All Saints Sunday

Delivered by Rev. Ron Coughlin

Now, I know that when you saw the sermon title in the bulletin this morning: “How to be a Saint”, you were intrigued by it and thought this is my big chance to achieve my lifelong ambition to be a saint. Ron is going to tell me how to do this.

But you see, you do not need lessons from me on how to be a saint, I want to say up front that you are already a saint. You just need to claim it. When I was in North Carolina this past August, I saw this billboard which said, “You were born pre-approved – Bank One Visa.” It is a credit card advertisement of course, but I when I saw it, it was like a little parable to me. For Christian people it is a reminder of our original blessing. We are pre-approved through no effort of our own. God declares that we are loveable before we ever speak a word. When I was baptized in 1946 in Rosemount First United Church in the east end of Montreal, God said, “You are my beloved.” When you were baptized God said, “You are my beloved.” But then for the rest of our lives, we have trouble believing it. I am here this morning to tell you the good news. You are God’s beloved. You are a saint!

You see, sainthood is not something we earn, it is a gift of God. Either we receive it as God’s gift to us, or we will never experience it in the first place.

I know that the Roman Catholic Church has a tradition of elevating certain people to a status called “Saint”, like what just has happened a couple of weeks ago with Brother Andre, but the Bible says that we are all saints. A saint is a person who loves God and follows Jesus. By your coming to worship in this church you are professing your love of God and your desire to follow Jesus. That makes you a saint, according to the Bible.

In fact, the Apostle Paul, often wrote to one of the struggling churches and would begin his letter by greeting them with “To all the saints in this place”. They were just ordinary people, like you and me, who were trying their best to love God and follow the way of Jesus.

I know that sometimes we idealize the early church. Oh, they must have got it perfect and lived up to the ideal. But you know that it is not true. The Gospels and the Book of Acts, along with the letters of Paul prove that. In the Bible we find that the followers of Jesus were thick-headed and often appeared quite dumb. Even after Jesus told them three times that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer, die and be raised from the dead, they did not believe him and did not understand him. In the early church the followers of Jesus often behaved in petty and mean-spirited ways. They were swept to and fro by every new doctrine which came along. In fact, Paul had to remind people of Jesus’ principles and how they were to live a different life from the society all around them. They were to live by the principle of love and care for neighbour.

Yet Paul still wrote to those members of the early church, as flawed as they were, and called them saints. In letter after letter, his opening line is consistently the same: “To all the saints.” If Paul were to write to us here at Cedar Park, he would probably say, “To all the saints in Cedar Park United Church, Peace be with you and may the Lord our God through Jesus Christ, bless you.”

Now I know for many Protestants we have spent centuries avoiding talking about the saints, because we did not want to be like the Roman Catholics. But in this time of ecumenism, we no longer need to fear this, and also, why should let them have all the fun. So, I want us as Protestants to reclaim the biblical concept of the saints and give it our own meaning and interpretation.

So repeat after me, “I’m a saint”. “I’m a saint”. “I’m a saint”.

Now, I have some bad news. Saints are not perfect! I know you were sitting there just hoping that maybe, now that you were a saint that you would be perfect. But it doesn’t work that way. You still have to get up in the morning, you still have to make the tough decisions of life, you still have to figure out how you can best love God and follow the way of Jesus. And that is not easy.

Did I mention that you are saints?

In the passage we heard a few minutes ago, we find that Jesus invites himself to the home of the hated and despised chief tax collector of Jericho. You see Zacchaeus accumulated his wealth by collaborating with the enemy, the Roman Empire. He had bought the privilege of collecting taxes and his success depended on how ruthless he was in collecting them from his fellow human beings. He is rich as a result, but he is an outcast. The people of Jericho say, “He may be rich. He is cheating us. He is exploiting his power. But one thing is true. We may be poor, but we are Abraham’s children. He is rich, but he is lost.”

The big surprise in this story is that Jesus chooses Zacchaeus. There were many who would have liked to welcome Jesus into their homes, but Jesus chooses Zacchaeus. Jesus chooses the one who is lost. When Jesus looks up he does not see a thug or a bureaucrat or a traitor to the Jewish people. Rather he sees a human being who has been outcast by the social and religious stigmas of his day. Grace comes to the house of Zacchaeus. In the same way, Jesus chooses us today – as imperfect as we are – and grace comes to us, who are the saints of the church.

Yes, a saint is someone who loves God and follows Jesus.

Did I mention that you are all saints?

I am who I am today because of the communion of saints, because of ordinary folks through whom I experienced the love of God. I have experienced it right here on earth. I have experienced it right here, with you. When I look out at this congregation, I have reason to believe in the communion of saints. Right here, right now.

But there are others who are also saints, who can be an example for us, who can show us the way, who can be an illustration for our book of saints. On All Saints’ Day, it can be like looking through a photo album of the church and noting the saint-like qualities we find in the various people.

Who would be in your photo album?

In my photo album, I would find a Sunday School teacher, who welcomed me to her first-grade Sunday School class. I can still taste her animal crackers and her cherry Kool-aid. I can remember the way she stuck pictures of Jesus on a flannel graph board. She let me know that the church was a place where I was loved and accepted.

I my photo album, I would find a car salesman who tried to teach a Sunday School class of grade seven boys, most of the time with minimal success. Looking back, I realize that we gave him a very hard time. I don’t remember much of what he taught us, but I do remember that we were very difficult to teach. By God’s grace, I believe he forgave us. And by God’s grace he showed up week after week, and we knew that he cared about us and loved us. And that was important!

In my photo album, I would find a diaconal minister who was my supervisor for one of my internships. Her patience and persistent probing was a gift to me as I tried to figure out my call to ministry and my gifts for ministry within the United Church.

Some of you may have heard the story of a mother and her young son walking through a cathedral as the sunlight shone brilliantly through stained glass windows. The boy, looking up at the windows, wanted to know who was depicted in stained glass. “Mommy, who are they?” asked the boy. The mother answered “those are the Saints, sweetie.” Satisfied, the boy walked out of the Church holding his mother’s hand.

Later at Sunday School, the teacher asked the class “Does anyone know what a saint is?” The little boy’s hand shot up immediately: “The saints are the ones who let the light shine through.” There’s more truth in that answer than that little boy could imagine. A saint is one who lets the light shine through.

So this morning, I have two questions for you. The first question is this: Who are your saints? Who has a place in your photo album? The second question is this: Whose list of saints would you be on?

You see, we are saints through the love of God, by our membership in the body of Christ, which is what all of us, living and dead, remembered and forgotten, great souls and small, have in common. Some of us may do more with that love than others and may find ourselves able to reflect it in a way that causes others to call us saints, but the title has indeed been given to us by virtue of our baptism. The moment we came dripping from the font, we joined the communion of saints.

In a few minutes we will remember some of the saints of our community who passed away during this past year. It is a chance to give thanks to God for their love and friendship.

So All Saints Day is a family reunion indeed. At the party are heroes and scoundrels, beloved aunts and estranged cousins, relatives we adore and those who plainly baffle us. They are all ours and we are all included. Today, we worship amidst a great fluttering of wings, with the whole host of heaven crowding the air above our heads. Call their names and hear them answer. Remember a saint is one who loves God and follows the way of Jesus.

Did I ever tell you that you are a saint? Believe it! Claim it! Live it!

Amen

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