November 5, 2017

What makes a saint?

Saints are those we remember who were particularly good at following the way of Christ: whether through martyrdom like St Stephen or Archbishop Oscar Romero, through their good works like St Francis or Mother Theresa, through leadership like St Aidan or Pope John XXIII, or through their lives in general. They are people who stand out like Desmond Tutu; people who pass on their living faith to others – and I’m sure you can think of people you’ve known personally who did that. (Mum.)

Saints aren’t perfect. They don’t have to have performed miracles – despite that being one of the ways the RC Church decides who gets to be an official saint. They’re simply holy. There’s something about them that allows God to shine through. They are clearly following the way of Jesus. And that could be you.

St Paul, writing to the new Christians in the churches he set up, says they’re all called to be saints. Called to be God’s holy people. Called to follow the way of Jesus. And so are we.

All Saints Church on Sherbourne St in Toronto has a logo that says, “We Are All Saints.”

“We are ALL saints.” Get it?

It’s not about white robed perfection in heaven after we die, it’s about the very earthly way of living that the Beatitudes describe:

– of being open to God (poor in spirit and pure in heart),

– of being open enough to others so that you hurt when they hurt,

– of being passionate about justice,

– of being merciful/compassionate towards others,

– of being peacemakers rather than entering the horrible cycle of   violence and hatred that is causing so much suffering these days,

– of being willing even to suffer criticism and harsh judgment for following that path.

As Christians, this is the path we’re on. It’s the good way, the holy way, the way that leads to life. It’s the way of Jesus. St John says that we’re children of God, and we’re meant to become like God. (1 John 3:1,2) We’re made of holy stuff, godly stuff. And following Jesus on the holy path means becoming what we already are.

More and more, as I get older, that’s how simple I want to keep it when I’m preaching, or preparing people for baptism or confirmation, or talking about my faith. I’m focusing less and less on correct belief and complicated theology, and more on this idea of simply following the way of Jesus.

Today little Cole will be baptized. His parents and godparents will make vows on his behalf about turning away from what closes our hearts to God, and turning around to follow the way of Jesus.

Not so very long ago his parents exchanged their vows of marriage here – vows to walk along the path of love together, come what may, in good times and bad, in sickness and health. And Matt, who performed their wedding ceremony, blessed them in God’s name with the grace and power to live out their vows.

That’s how it is with Cole, and with all of us who step onto the path of Christ. It’s God’s power at work in us, God’s Spirit deep inside us, that slowly, slowly changes us, and makes us more open to love, more able to forgive, more willing to put ourselves out and go the extra mile, more like the children of God we actually are.

I want to believe – I do believe – that all of us here are wanting to be holy people, saints of God, followers of Jesus. And God already sees us as that. God already sees what we can become, and what we most truly are.

Yes, there’s some pretty grimy stuff that has to be dealt with, that we call sin. But God can handle that. God already has handled it, through Jesus. We just need to show up and accept the forgiveness and love that are pouring out eternally, and keep on walking along the way.

In one of our prayers we say that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” as we run our race. The image is of life as a great running track, and we’re making our way through it, with some hard uphill patches, some muddy stretches, some hurdles, and some easy coasting. All along the way there are angels and saints (the whole company of heaven, we call them) in the stadium seated in the stands cheering us on. We’re not running this on our own. And better yet, it’s not even a race. It’s a journey on a path that Jesus walks beside us.