Someone has described a saint as an ordinary Christian who does ordinary things extraordinarily well. That’s certainly not the New Testament definition, although it’s not a bad start. In the secular world we have all sorts of odd ideas about what a saint is.
If you look at the scripture lessons appointed for this week in the Lectionary, we are given a vision of heaven, filled with people wearing white robes praising God. It’s perhaps quite difficult for us to imagine ourselves in such a context. It has the same effect, in a way, as those stained-glass window depictions of people who look very holy and have soup plates behind their heads. It’s difficult to think that perhaps one day, we who follow the Christian way might be depicted in a stained-glass window.
St. Paul the writer of about only seven of the many letters in scripture attributed to him writes in Ephesians in a praising mood for a change. He uses the word “saint” to describe all Christian people and goes to some lengths to describe what a saint is like. But let’s focus on the famous Beatitudes or “Blessed” passages found in Matthew 5. Jesus identifies such experiences as poverty, hunger, grief, and persecution as marks of the blessed, and wealth, plenty, happiness, and being thought well of as marks of those who are not pleasing to God. It is a difficult reading for all of us in our world to hear.
Of course, we like to hear the Beatitudes just
as we like to hear St Paul talking about love. But where do we fit into all
this? Well we Christians are often told that in Baptism we become part of the
priesthood of the church. The laity is not a group of expectant observers, but
fulfilled ministers, each with an active vocation. Humans find it very hard to
accept this idea. After all that’s what church and clergy are for.
As Christians we are also called In our Baptisms to be and become saints. If we concentrate on the idea that saints are very, very good people, nearly perfect, then we will miss the point. Many saints have been very bad, while becoming rather good. However positive we may feel about ourselves, however strong our “self-esteem,” few of us think we are good enough to be saints.
We Christians ask the wrong question and get the wrong answer. We ask whether
we are good enough to be saints, when we should be asking whether we are
dedicated enough to be saints. Dedication means single-mindedness, the
sort of emphasis we put on our hobbies, our golf game, our
It is amazing how single minded we can be about our politics, particularly as we look to elections all around us and during this Covid Pandemic the performance of our leaders. This may come out even if we are following the elections for President of the USA or back at the elections in New Zealand. It is that kind of commitment, dedication, or single-mindedness that marks a realised saint.
In some churches this week, everyone will sing rousingly, “I’ll sing a song of the saints of God,” which contains the line, “And I want to be one too.” Perhaps it should read, “And I want to realise that I am one too.”
God’s grace, gift, enabling power is there for us to use as we live into our calling to be saints. Like all of God’s gifts, we realize that which we are being given when we actually do something with these gifts. Have you ever thought about the fact that there’s some saintly ministry in the universal church or community just waiting for you, personally, to become saintly about? Everything we attempt in Christ is aided by the prayers and fellowship of all those known and unknown saints who always surround us in love. In this company, we have security to do for Jesus the things we fear to do or even object to doing.
In Matthew 5:39-48, Jesus tells us to "love your enemies and do good to those who hate you". The passage tells us that even God is kind to the wicked. After what we have endured from people, we deem wicked, this is really too much. But is it? Do you recall an experience when you hated someone continually for a period of time? What did it do for your life? Did it not cause as much pain as anything else? I am reminded of this ancient story oft told:
“A Native American grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt. He said, "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one." The grandson asked him, "Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?" The grandfather answered, "The one I feed."
Saints are courageous because they insist on not letting hatred and evil gain control of their lives. They are faithful because they know without trust in God, they are weak and subject to whatever may befall them. Today the Church exists because they persevered with God, and each of us is invited to join their joyful company.