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All Saints

Saturday morning, I had my first experience leading a contemplative program at Saint Paul’s downtown Augusta. Suzanne Pursley-Crotteau designed the Quiet Morning program to be scripture driven. We read the appointed readings for the day and then spent an hour sitting in the quiet of whatever place we chose at the church to hear God’s voice. We sat for an hour in silence after each reading. That means I spent three hours not talking! And by the third hour, my mind finally became quiet after the hectic week, and I was able to pray and listen. I did not know this was available for everyone in the convocation, so I will be sure to announce the next time Saint Paul's offers this opportunity. I believe there will be one offered in Advent and again in the time after Pentecost.

Well, that is how my day started. And then after being calm and quiet for 3 plus hours, I came home to THE GAME! No doubt in anyone’s mind that Georgia will be ranked #1 as she ought to be.

Somewhere late in the 3rd quarter, or maybe at the beginning of the 4th, one of the announcers said that Quarterback Stetson Bennet loved to read and he paraphrased one of his favorite quotes from Churchill. I did not catch what he said, but maybe Stetson chose appropriately: ..."if you are going through hell, keep going." Or maybe it was "Never, never, never give up." Either one of these fits what Stetson has been through the last few years.

Interestingly, I can see either one of these being applicable to today’s All Saints' Day service. Life as a follower of Christ is not easy. Sometimes we have to keep going, putting on a game face. Driving forward until we get to the other side of the mess that life often brings, never ever giving up, because giving up is not an option. These reflect the work involved in being a follower of the way. And they also hint to the fact that we may not always do it with grace. Which leads me to my point.

Nadia Bolz-Webber, a Lutheran pastor and a person who appreciates what being in recovery from life writes in her book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All of the Wrong People. “What makes us saints of God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinners.”

I have spoken about this before: when in seminary after studying about Abraham, I knew that God could use me too, a sheep of his own fold, a lamb of his own flock, a sinner of his own redeeming. Maybe you, at times, feel the same way.

I mean, think about Rahab, the prostitute who God sent to help the Hebrew spies. With her help, they conquered the city of Jericho. Or how God used King David, known as being an adulterer and murderer. Or Paul who before his vision of God, harassed and persecuted Christians. And then we have Peter… who denied Jesus three times. And I could go on naming other great saints who, well, were often sinners too.

In each case, their repentance made them courageous Christians. They figured it out. Sometimes they got it wrong. But when it counted the most, they got it right. They answered God’s call and did the best that they could do.

Even though they were sinners, each was used mightily by God to encourage, teach, heal, minister, lead and grow the early church.

The great saints of the church, the heroes of the faith who gave their lives for the gospel, were in fact folk just like us. We start there. And if we think about it, we really already know that.

We can easily picture a 21st century St. Peter losing his temper and making rude gestures in traffic. If St. Teresa of Avila lived today, she might use the last Keurig coffee pod coffee grounds in the break room and not them. If St. Bridget or St. Francis lived today, they might have embarrassing pictures on Facebook of their younger and wilder days.

We know that the saints were everyday human beings just like us, and we can be sure they made the same mistakes and had the same frailties. And yet something within them led them to do great things for the gospel, to live and sometimes die with incredible courage and boldness. How did they do that? If we are all saints, then we are all called to live as though our lives and our memories will still be important a thousand years from now. How can we live so that our legacy strengthens generations of the faithful to come after us?

What the saints had was an unshakeable commitment to follow Jesus, no matter where that took them. And we have an incredibly vivid portrait of where following Jesus takes us in our gospel lesson from Luke today.

After a series of blessings and woes, Jesus says, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt”.

This. Right here. God is calling us to love all of those who are hard to like much less to love: those who we would rather walk away from instead of being curious and asking questions on why they felt the need to reach out and hurt others. Listening to their responses and loving them through the hurt of their past, the brokenness of their lives, or maybe just the meanness of their heart.

Love your enemies. And this takes great time and patience and perseverance and trusting in God. This is not our default setting: to love those who hurt us. This is how God uses us best.

We may not feel like we can live like the people who bravely faced the lions in the coliseum and went down to glorious martyrdom, or even our “saintly” neighbor down the block who never misses Sunday worship (or an opportunity to remind you that she never misses Sunday worship). We may not feel like we can live like these people, and if we are honest, we do not really want to. Dying violently or living joylessly seem to be the two dominant models for sainthood in our society, and neither fulfills Jesus’ hope for us that we might have life and have it abundantly.

Jesus speaks to us from the heart of frail, suffering, flawed humanity, because that is where he lives. He chooses to be with and in the pain of the world, and he calls us to follow him there. That was the special charism of the great saints. They were not spiritual athletes, accruing an ever-escalating number of holiness points. They knew that their own weaknesses combined with the desperate need of the world created the very conditions for God to work miracles, and they gave themselves to that process wholeheartedly.

That sounds backwards, doesn’t it? It seems like the saints would bring all their strength and intelligence to bear on the levers of power and wealth. Instead, they entrusted their weak and wounded selves to the Jesus they found at the bottom of the world, at the bottom of the chasm within themselves, looking up at them and telling them they were blessed. They heard him there. They followed him there. And through them, he changed the world.

I believe this is why we have each other and the church: to cheer each other on; to remind each other to never, never give up; to recognize God’s working in each other and to reflect that back. This is why it is so important to come together every opportunity we can, so that we can remain involved in St. Augustine’s purpose to serve God, to remind ourselves and each other of our commitment to help those who are not easy to help or to love. Because in worshiping together, we are one.

Today we celebrate those who have gone before, those who have led the charge given us by God, but today is not just about heroes of the faith, and it is not even just about our own beloved departed who have gone before us. This is not “Some Saints Day.” This is “All Saints Day.” All of us. All of them. As our Presiding Bishop likes to say, "All y'all" are a part of something so much bigger than we can ever be by ourselves.

And as the hymn we so often sing on All Saints says, “for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”

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