Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
Good morning. Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. This is a recognition of all the saints in our lives, particularly the everyday saints, the people who have walked with us, taught us, guided us, and shaped us along our faith journeys. This is all the saints, living and dead. Of course, today, we offer you the chance to light a candle in honor of a saint in your life who has left this world.
You might be surprised to hear this, but there’s a lot of talk about saints at the cigar shop. It usually goes something like this: “Have you ever met Jeff’s wife? She’s a saint.” To which another guy responds, “she’d have to be, for putting up with Jeff.” There’s even one guy, a loud, Irish Catholic who grew up in Brooklyn, who says that he’s a saint for putting up with his wife—though we all know it’s the other way around. In other words, a saint is someone who suffers a long time for some higher purpose.
Another common image of sainthood is found in the life of someone who seems impossibly holy, like Mother Teresa. In the Roman Catholic Church, a person can only be made a saint after they’ve died, and then the church convenes a panel to assess whether or not that person should be recognized as a saint. One of the criteria is that the person must have performed a miracle after his or her death.
All of which seems a bit excessive to my Reformed, Protestant way of thinking. Yet I believe that we’ve all inherited this line of thinking to some extent. We have too high a notion of sainthood. The word saint actually comes from the Latin word sanctus, which itself comes from the Greek word hagios, which means holy, or set apart.
The early Christian communities were very much set apart from the rest of Greco-Roman society. They believed in one God and one God, only. They believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God, and at the same time was God. That was very different from the rest of the world. They were set apart from most of the rest of society, which believed in the existence of many, many gods.
Furthermore, many of those early followers were Jewish. In their minds, they didn’t stop being Jews—the name Christian came into use a couple of generations after Jesus was crucified. Yet their belief that Jesus was the Messiah and the son of God set them apart from all of the other Jews.