Sermon 3 Nov 2019 St Ambrose Aranui
St Paul said, ‘I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all saints.’
What is a saint? Those of us who have grown up around Catholic churches may remember statues of the Virgin Mary, a plaster saint in a blue-painted robe. Or how about a stained-glass picture of St Ambrose, carrying a beehive? Often depictions of saints have their props with them, to remind people who they are and what they are famous for.
We can think of saints as people who lived a really long time ago, who were so holy that they didn’t seem to be like real people.
These days, the word saint is still in our vocabulary, -‘you’ve been such a saint,’ one friend might say to another, as she thanks her for helping out in a time of difficulty. Sainthood is equated with being really really good, super-nice, going the extra mile beyond what anyone would expect.
That’s the sort of saint we heard about in the Gospel, when Jesus urged us to love our enemies, and to give more than they ask, and not to ask for stolen goods back. But why is Jesus urging us to behave like that? Is it so others will say, what a saint Kevin is! He’s so kind, would give you the shirt off his back. No, that’s no why Jesus says it. People who do these things are a blessed part of our society, and often feature in the Good Sorts on TV, but it’s not enough just to be nice and good.
Many people in our society are lovely and kind and helpful, but they don’t acknowledge God as their creator, let alone their saviour. In our society behaving in that way is ingrained as what lovely decent people do, a kind of standard to aspire to. We know we all can’t be like that, but we celebrate it when we see it, and appreciate it when others treat us that way.
Let’s have a bit of a look at the context Jesus spoke into, and our own context. When Jesus spoke these words, there was not a universal sense that you should be kind to everyone, to love your enemies, to do unto others as you would have them do to you. The Jewish law certainly had quite a lot of ideas around treating others, but it was not the only way of living at that time. In Israel there were people of many races and religions who had come in with the Roman army, and the country stood at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe. It was the ideal place in that time for the Gospel to spread from, especially on the coat tails of the Roman army. These words about being kind fitted in some ways with Jewish law – we know the ten commandments, and know not to be cruel to others. But they go way further than the law. ‘If someone hits you, let them hit you other cheek. Pray for those who abuse you. Do good to those who hate you.’ It’s radical isn’t it! Typical Jesus, taking everything so much further. The Law at the time limited harm, but Jesus is urging a sacrificial love, a self-giving that will affect the hearts of those who receive this love.
If these words of Jesus are for all of us, for followers of Christ for all time, then they are urging us all to behave this way. To be what our modern society would call saints. Note that it doesn’t say, ‘go to church three times a day, pray for many hours, give all your money away.’ No, just pour out love on those who are hard to love. If everyone in Christchurch loved those who wronged them, the wrong would fizzle out. It’s really hard to keep an argument going when the other person won’ argue. If we extend love instead of vengeance, understanding instead of retribution, what a difference this would make!
So, let’s go back to the first question. What is a saint? It is someone who shows the love of Christ in their life, showing how much God loves them by letting that love flow forth to others. Every time you are kind to someone, you are being a saint.
When we pray for all the saints, as well as the ones with St as their title, like St Chad or St Ambrose, we are praying for Christians everywhere who live out the life they follow. The word saints then can mean all members of the church, living and departed. It comes from the word sanctified, which means blessed. So if you feel blessed, you are sanctified, made saintly. It doesn’t stop you being human though, and the halo won’t get in the way of your hairdo. It’s something that others can see in you, a sort of glow that shines out in love.
When we look at the next part of Paul’s prayer, he prays that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.” That sounds good doesn’t it? As we get to know God, we would receive wisdom and revelation. Getting closer to God means understanding more about the world and people around us. Why this, you may ask. Paul tells us why: so that we may know what is the hope he has called us to, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” Hope, glorious inheritance, immeasurable greatness. These are wonderful things to look forward to in our walk with Christ. There is a sense that there is more for us, more hope, more understanding, more awareness of God’s power, being revealed to us with every step closer to God.
Saints, then, are people who are a little way on that track of hope and understanding. We are saints too as we let God speak into our hearts, and as we let God flow through us, though our actions and words, our prayers and our hugs.
One of the newer saints is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She showed this selfless love, and loved those no one else even knew existed. Her love showed the way to love to the world.
Does your love shine out like hers?
Today, as we thank God for all the saints, remember those people who have been saints in your life, and give thanks for the love they showed you, by paying it forward and loving someone else.