All Saints’ Sunday

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-1-4

“Now let us sing the praises of famous men.” This familiar line, signals us, if we didn’t already know, that it’s All Saints’ Sunday. We may not be able to name the Apocryphal book from which it comes, but we certainly know the verse. And it is a most valuable teaching for us and for our observance of All Saints’. For it calls us to remember and honor all the godly people who have come before us and served the Lord. It speaks of valiant rulers and wise counselors, prophets and teachers, poets and musicians and the rich who gave generously to the ministry of good will.

But it speaks also of those good people who lived their lives in service to God and others, whom the world has forgotten. Those unrecognized by the world but honored and remembered by God for their faithfulness. That is what All Saints’ is about. It does not limit its celebration to one or a few: the most famous or the most powerful or the greatest of Saints, but it is for all the saints, for parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and neighbors. For Sunday school teachers and behind-the-scenes committee members; for banner makers and casserole bakers; for snow-shovellers and weed pullers, and soup line workers. There are many ways of doing service to God, and on All Saints’ we remember all of them. The godly men and women whose “righteous deeds” live on in our hearts, and in God’s.

You know, of all the great festivals of the Church year, All Saints’ might be the nearest to our everyday experience. The grandeur of Christmas, the radiance of Epiphany, the solemnity of Lent, the ecstasy of Easter, the power of Pentecost, the mystery of the Trinity. Yet, despite their centrality for the faith, all of these somehow seem more distant and “religious” than the memory of Miss Suzy on the edge of her seat telling the fourth grade class about Jacob swindling Esau out of the promise, or Mr. Jones wearing his ketchup-stained apron and swatting flies while working the parish barbeque to benefit the homeless shelter, or Father Tom’s uncanny knack for dropping by for pastoral visits right around cocktail time. Or, closer to the Cathedral’s heart, Deacon Joe in thread-bare shirts indicating years of sacrificial service, or Gertrude Stephens driving her mint condition, mint green, ‘71 Chevy classic to report every week, at 94, for duty as an office volunteer.

The sainthood we remember today does not center on the giants of spirituality—nor on the morally perfected, but on the great ones—the men and women–who taught us the blessedness of being poor in spirit and hungry and merciful and meek and pure in heart.

As Martin Luther said, “God rides the lame horse and carves rotten wood,” and that is true of all the saints we commemorate and look up to this day. These ordinary folk who bear distinction because of their relationship with Christ, and the way they have presented (re-presented) Christ to us.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, speaks of them this way:
Every now and then one meets them. Their voices and faces are different from ours, stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off…They are…recognizable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of “religious people”…They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than others do, but need you less…When you have recognized one of them, you will recognize the next one much more easily (p188-89).

And yet, no one can choose this way of life. We can offer ourselves. We can receive the gift. But it is only the grace of God which draws us and empowers us to be “saints.” We initiate nothing. We simply make a trusting and grateful response to the fact that God in Christ reached out to us.

The “seal” of the Living God is not something we earn by our works or even gain by birthright; it is the mark of recognition that we are grasped by God.

Which brings us to baptism. What we do today at the font for this newest member of God’s family is simply to recognize what God has done for him. Through outward and visible signs—water, oil, words—we celebrate the inward and spiritual grace—the gift of God’s Holy Spirit that makes him a saint. We welcome him as a true saint among saints. He joins us in the communion of saints; saints not because of who we are or what we do but because of what God has done for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The ritual act of baptism is simply our way of saying thank you to God – that we accept the gift. It is our way of saying to God “We love you too! We love you back!”

Baptism acknowledges that we understand, that through Christ and in Christ our sins are forgiven (and, as a child’s baptism declares, before we even commit them). We are not saints because we are so saintly, but because God makes us so.

As Christians, even as Christians, most of us are not called to piety or a pious life, but we are called to holiness and to belong to God. Being pious with folded hands and bowed heads all the time, is not the mark of a Christian, but being holy is the mark of a Christian, and being holy simply means belonging to God – and God’s family – by the fact of our baptism. Baptism affirms our belonging in a public and celebratory and communal (or tribal) way.

Our being saints is not based on what we do but on what God does for us. Saints are forgiven sinners, children of God and brothers and sisters of one another.
So sing a song for the saints of God, patient, brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.
They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, in the streets or at sea, in church or in trains or the mall or at tea. For the saints of God are just folk like you and me,

And Job, well, today, God means to make him a saint too. And we mean to baptize him, in the Name of, and through the power of, and by the grace of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.