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Of course, when most folks think of "saints" they think of folks whose incredible lives are forever enshrined in stained glass, or, if they think of a more recent vintage, people like the late Mother Teresa who was honored in St. Peter's Square two weeks ago. During the ceremony, Pope John Paul declared her "blessed," the first step toward official Roman Catholic recognition of sainthood. "In her," he said, "we perceive the urgency to put oneself in a state of service, especially for the poorest and most forgotten, the last of the last." Indeed. I suspect most folks figure Mother Teresa is a saint, whether the church says so or not. This was quite a lady.
Of course, we ran into this word, "saint" in our lesson a moment ago. Paul's letter to the church at Philippi is addressed "to all the saints in Christ Jesus." To all the Mother Teresa's? Not quite. The Greek word is hagioi - literally holy ones - holy meaning, not other-worldly pious with a halo around the head, but "set apart" or simply "different." I know, I know, we ALL know church folks who are "different," but the difference Paul refers to here is just that we are "in Christ Jesus." We have been baptized.
For Paul, this was an incredibly important concept. You cannot read his letters without noticing how often the phrases "in Christ", "in Christ Jesus", "in the Lord" occur. "In Christ Jesus" occurs 48 times, "in Christ" 34 times, and "in the Lord" 50 times. Clearly this was for Paul the very essence of Christianity. What did he mean? One commentator has it that when Paul spoke of the Christian being "in Christ", he meant that the Christian lives in Christ as a bird in the air, a fish in the water, the roots of a tree in the soil. What makes the Christian different is that he is always and everywhere conscious of the encircling presence of Jesus Christ.(1) I would go beyond that, actually. A bird is not conscious of the air, a fish is not conscious of the sea, a tree is not conscious of the soil. It's just there, and that is where you are. When you are a Christian, you are in Christ. That is where you are. You don't even think about it. You behave the way you behave simply because that is what a Christian does. That is pretty simple.
No question, that was Mother Teresa. Once, during a rare interview, she was asked how she could bring herself to go into the streets day after day and witness so much human misery, desolation, starvation and disease. Why didn't it devastate her? She pondered the question for a moment, and then answered: "I just imagine that every person I meet is Jesus in disguise. Then I know very clearly what I must do."
Such a special lady. Yes, a saint. She didn't have to talk the talk, because she walked the walk. She loved her God, and she loved her neighbor. She brought hope to the hopeless. And for the rest of us, she showed us what God is like, didn't she?(2)
There is a classic story of a pastor asking youngsters during the Children's Sermon what is a saint. One perceptive lad, thinking of those depicted in the church windows, responded, "A saint is someone who the light shines through." Wonderful answer. Amen and Amen!
Now we come to All Saints Sunday, 2003. Yes, we remember the incredible people. But we remember the not-so-incredible as well. Those saints closer to home. Our "communion of the saints" to which the Apostles' Creed refers is a more familiar crowd - those who died in our congregations in the past year, our own parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, our family "in Christ."
In a few moments we will remember some of them by name. Saints, each one. They taught you in Sunday School, took your offering, sang to you in the choir, prayed with you in worship, encouraged you on your journey, hugged you when you hurt. Why? Because they loved you. And they loved Jesus. They were simply "in Christ." Saints.
And now a new generation of saints is here...and here and here and here and here. Saint who? Saint ME? Yes, indeed. And on a day like today, someday folks will take time to remember you just as we take the time today to remember the saints who have gone before and the very best about them. Theirs are the shoulders on which we stand, the ones whose lives and witness have brought us to this new day. They are with us at the Table. The "Communion of the saints." Thanks be to God.
In how they live and where they move.
For mindful women, caring men
Accept our gratitude again.(3)
1. William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, CD-ROM edition (Liguori, MO: Liguori Faithware, 1996) used by permission of Westminster/John Knox Press
2. "Mother Teresa's beatification -- Serving others," Topeka Capitol-Journal, 10/23/03, http://www.cjonline.com/stories/102303/opi_teresa.shtml
3. John Bell, © 1996 WGRG The Iona Community (Scotland)