All Saints’ Sunday
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14; Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17

“Let us now sing the praises of famous men.” So goes the familiar verse—the familiar ring—of All Saints Day. It is a day of grand celebration. Powerful, joyful, “up-beat” hymns. The collect, the lessons, the beatitudes; if we don’t know them by heart, we can, at least, mouth them and are tempted to do so as we hear them read. It is a day especially set aside by the church for baptism (and even though we don’t have any here today, all over the world thousands of men, women and children are being baptized, and we celebrate that with the wider church). It is a day for remembering and celebrating the past Saints. Those great Christian examples of history and renown, but also those closer saints that we have known and remember from our own lives. And it is a day that, maybe more than any other, makes us feel saintly, by the grace of and through the love of God.

Why? Why all of this “saintliness” and hoopla on a Sunday that comes right at the end of the very ordinary season “after Pentecost” and just before the beginning of Advent and a new year?

Well, I think, perhaps, to remind us of our goal as Christians, which is sainthood. I’ll bet some of you didn’t even realize you were shooting for that, did you?

Of course! The ultimate goal for every Christian is sainthood. That is what we are to strive for, to work toward. And the truth is, most of us live in a kind of “saintliness,” with a sainthood, that is in constant tension: we’re in, we’re out; we’re in, we’re out – or at least that’s the way we feel. So, perhaps I should say our goal is to obtain a permanent, a perpetual, an eternal sainthood, an eternal state of saintliness.

And so, to get there—in order to achieve our goal—there are some things we need to consider:
First among them, what is sainthood?

Sainthood is a gift of pure grace sacramentalized in Holy Baptism. It has nothing to do with merit or deservedness. It’s on the house. It’s free. It can’t be earned. The sinner, even one in diapers, is accounted righteous or justified before God, not because of works, but because of the love of God in and for sinners.

And this love is always in spite of. In spite of our sin, in spite of our obliviousness toward it, in spite of our desires and failures, in spite of our continual attempts to justify our lives.

That is the most important, basic, profound fact of sainthood. You can’t go any further toward becoming a saint until you get that truth down. It’s not doable on your part. Sainthood is a gift.

A dramatic expression of this in-spite-of-ness occurred with a fellow we heard about last week, Martin Luther, who seeking certainty that he had become worthy of fellowship with God, became an Augustinian monk. By taking on the vows of monkhood and getting a more sophisticated sin-counting calculator, he figured he could live a righteous life, confessing his sins, receiving the sacraments, and therefore becoming acceptable to God. Well, almost.

His over-scrupulous calculator wouldn’t let him believe that he had confessed every last jot and title of all his sins, so his relationship with God, as far as he was concerned, was always in doubt. He just never seemed to know where he stood. & The more he fixated on the concept, the worse he became.

But finally, Luther discovered the righteousness of God according to Paul. Whereas the medieval Church had generally seen the divine righteousness portrayed in the demanding justice of God, Luther discovered, through Paul, that the righteousness of God was God’s mercy. Acceptability to God was a gift, imputed or ascribed to a person apart from good works or any actual righteousness. Faith was nothing more and nothing less than acceptance of this grace. We all should learn, as Luther learned: Because God has accounted us righteous, we are totally saints; because of the actual nature of our lives, we are hopelessly sinners.

But what about, and this is the second question or concern: what about the “actual righteousness” thing as a component of being a saint? What about, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven?” The Gospel (like today’s beatitudes) is both full acceptance, in spite of, and full self-expenditure in the image of the sacrificial love of Christ Jesus for the world. Not one or the other, but both. One strengthens the other. Anything less than these two components taken together reduces the fire of gospel love to a flicker of false religion.

Now, with that out of the way, and now that you’re all perfectly clear on sainthood, and even though today is a day when we recognize all saints, especially those who have influenced our lives and molded us as Christians, I would like to declare you—all of you—every one of you—as this church’s Saints of the day. When you walk out of here today, you should feel quite honored and humbled, because this day is especially in celebration of you—your life.

You’re not perfect or polished, God knows! For most of us, we may think we’ve have had little or no “saintly” influence on other Christian lives. And yet, we are persons that God is using today, and will use tomorrow, for witnessing the coming kingdom of God and the ongoing redemption of the world. (Wow! But it’s true!)

You, if you are faithful to the calling God has already given you will help others (friends, children, grandchildren, acquaintances and strangers) in their pursuit of sainthood by allowing them to observe your Christ-like love and witness. Today, as you renew your Baptismal Covenant, you are promising again and anew to love and serve and nurture and support them in their life in Christ. And by carrying out that responsibility faithfully, you will prepare them and teach them to love and serve and nurture and support others toward sainthood.

It takes a lot to be a saint. It takes so much, in fact, that only God can make one. But thanks be to God, sainthood is a gift—a free gift—that is offered to all who would seek that grace, without seeking the title.

The good news is that sainthood comes even to us sinners. All we have to do to accept the former (what we can be) is to acknowledge the latter (what we are). We can claim our sainthood by striving to accept and extend God’s grace.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

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