It is my sacred duty to dispel a myth or two: Despite the 12,700 references on Google, there is no Saint Arbucks, patron Saint of Coffee. Sorry.
When we talk about saints, we could talk about what makes a saint, well, famous. What gets a college or city or a submarine named after one? We could talk about their sacrifices, their perfection, their witness, and their selfless deeds.
But how about today we instead hold up the “rank and file,” the ones who brought Jesus to others one relationship at a time. The saints, who exhibited Christ even when they didn’t feel like it, know it nor understand it. Most of these saints don’t have a name or a date, but I think you may know one or two.
Christianity is passed along by word of mouth, through example and through relationship. No one ever comes to faith entirely by themselves. We are all brought to and sustained in our faith, because someone or some people, brought us and nurtured us. These people were God’s ambassadors of reconciliation—showing off Jesus—and inviting you along.
Saints are by definition imperfect. No one is totally pure and no one is above corruption in thought, word and deed. No one has ever completely put aside any one or all of the seven deadly sins. If you talk to a person whom you or I might consider saintly, they would be startled and think you were making a mountain out a molehill.
I never met a firefighter who was a hero. Not one. When you tell them they are heroic, they will tell you that they were just doing their job. Most saints are just the same way.
In the early Church, “saint” was the term used to describe all followers of Jesus. All of us who live attempting to imitate Christ get the title “saint.” The first step to sainthood is to decide to follow Jesus. The entry point is baptism.
At the same time, saints are made not just born(-again!). Ask Saint Paul about the saints with whom he dealt through his pastoral correspondences we call Epistles. The saints in Corinth were willful and quarrelsome and others were sexually irresponsible. There were saints in Philippi who used their position in church for purely selfish ends. Even big-shots like Peter and Barnabas could act like hypocrites. And Paul himself admitted to the saints in Rome that even he did not understand his own actions—he did things he did not want to do, the very things he hated.
Sainthood should not be confused with being “nice.” Even Mother Teresa was known not to be nice all the time. But let's give her a break. If you’re focused on caring for the poorest of the poor you might end up ruffling a few feathers.
Living into our saintliness is not about niceness but about newness.
In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of a man who is brought back to life from death. Lazarus is resuscitated by Jesus, and that is a miraculous thing. We think of this as the ultimate of Jesus’ miracles…the one with the most “Wow!” But there is something else going on. The raising of Lazarus comes smack dab in the middle of John’s Gospel. Everything up until now in John has been about Jesus’ teaching and his encounters which show him to be God’s Son—the Word—from now on everything heads towards the cross where Jesus’ glory will be revealed and to the resurrection. Raising Lazarus is the pivot point of the Gospel. I suggest that what we see in this miracle is not just the raising of a dead person, what we see here is a type, a model, of baptism.
Paul describes the baptismal ritual of the early church when he asks in Romans “do you not know that when you were baptized you were buried with Christ in a death like his…?” I think that John’s community would have recognized Lazarus as one of us: a person buried with Christ in a death like his and raised to life to live a life like his. Of course, Lazarus will die again…he gets to do that twice. But so do we. Even as we have been raised to newness of life, we will also still age and die. All saints, like you and me and Lazarus are raised into newness of life.
Every single saint takes part in God’s new creation, where God transforms a broken, angry, destructive world into a world of peace, reconciliation and wholeness. That is at the heart of the language in both Isaiah and Revelation this morning.
We saint can make that choice everyday as we choose to focus just a bit more on what God would have us be. Frederick Buechner wrote:
As we move around this world and as we act with kindness perhaps, or with indifference or with hostility toward the people we meet, we are setting the great spider web atremble. The life I touch for good or ill will touch and other life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what place my touch will be felt.You are here because some place, somewhere, a saint touched you. Somewhere, some place you have touched another human being with grace. Somewhere someone cut you a break, told you the truth in love, or cared for you in a moment of crisis. Somewhere someone showed you what it was like to be touched by God. Having been touched by the holy, when you said “I want to do that, too” you took another step towards saintliness.
Saintliness is about newness--choosing to live this one day in one new way--choosing compassion over selfishness, mercy over revenge, kindness over disregard. I was impressed to read and see stories of runners who came to New York expecting to run in a Marathon but who instead chose to put on work boots and gloves to go help where they were needed this morning…some of them before the race itself was called off. These people remind us that we are all running a race; not for glory but of faithfulness. Choosing just for this moment to serve God in the people God gives us and to look for Christ in the people we are given will change us.
As Saints go, you may think we have a ways to go. Well, don’t we all? We may at time feel uncertain, overworked, we can be short-sighted, fearful, tired or hypocritical, that’s for sure.
It’s true. We are not perfect, we saints; we are everyday discovering newness.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.