The Oasis

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NOTES FOR SERMON – 30 Oct 2016 – All Saints

 All Saints' Day, along with All Soul's Day, which this year actually fall on Tuesday and Wednesday of the coming week, is part of a three-day season of remembrance, once known as All Hallows' Tide or Hallowmas.  We’ve chosen the option to celebrate All Saints today.  Of course, we all know about the first of the All Hallows days because that is the Eve of Hallowmas or Halloween; now observed in the secular world by pumpkin carving, dressing up in macabre costumes and generally making a nuisance  around the neighbourhood by trick or treating.  I don't know about you, but I never did get into Halloween as a kid and I don't much care for it today.  When the bizarrely garbed children turn up at my door I would like to keep a scary mask to hand to frighten them off – however, Linda says that I don't need to – my grumpy face does the job just fine.

So what exactly are we celebrating today?  In Roman Catholic and Anglican theology, All Saints' Day commemorates all those who have gone before us to glory in Heaven.  As you are probably well aware, here in France it's a national holiday; as it is in many historically Roman Catholic countries. 

And the sale of chrysanthemums goes through the roof, as folk visit and decorates the graves of their own dearly departed.  However, when All Soul's Day comes along, we do not share the Roman church's view that we should pray for the dead.  Instead we celebrate the saints in a more local, personal and intimate way; hence the equivalent Anglican service is called the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed; not all Anglican churches choose to celebrate this. 

499 years ago this month, a German monk, called Martin Luther, posted a list of 95 complaints and charges against Roman Catholic doctrine on the door of a church in Wittemburg: that simple but revolutionary action kicked off the Reformation.  Among many other things, Luther believed that praying for the dead wasn't necessary.  And he certainly despised the church’s con trick of making folk pay for special prayers for their deceased ‘rellies’.  He said that because he held that they were either already with God or not, and no amount of praying could change that.

So just who are these Saints that we're remembering?  What is a saint anyway?  The word 'Saint' comes from the Latin word sanctus, meaning holy; so it's someone who's been sanctified and therefore become holy. 

Now holy means set apart, so anyone who has set their earthly, secular life apart or aside to concentrate on being centred on God can be called a saint.  There's also one obvious answer to the question ‘who is a saint?’ and that can be found on all French calendars where virtually every day has a saint.

The Anglican Church celebrates only some of these saints’ days and our parish churches are often named after recognised, or in church-speak 'canonised', saints.  This practice goes back to pre-reformation days, but has been continued for many new church buildings since.

The author Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that “The saints are the sinners who keep on going”, in other words keeps on persevering.   There are at least three ways of categorizing saints.  The most traditional and biblical is that all the followers of Jesus are saints or holy ones.  But we’re not saints because we ourselves are so good.  As St Paul observed in his letter to the Christians in Rome - we’re all sinners and constantly fall short of the way that God wants us to live our lives. 

However, if our lives are blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, the association makes us holy.  Because we sinners are made holy by God’s grace, and not by our own actions; we’re able to keep on going as Stevenson says. 

But keeping going on in life often involves suffering.  That suffering may involve being poor, mourning, being hungry and thirsty and being persecuted.  This happens because the world often praises dead saints and persecutes living ones. 

Another category of saints is that of those special people from ages past who are held up for the world to emulate.  Some of these are people who were poor, hungry, weeping and hated as mentioned in today’s gospel reading.  

Some others saints are better known, like Francis of Assisi or Lady Julian of Norwich, and many similarly extraordinary people.  But let’s not forget that each and every one of us is called to be extraordinary, even if in the end history doesn’t remember us.  We can be extraordinary mothers, astonishing farmers, amazing nurses, outstanding shopkeepers, exceptional bankers, stupendous bakers, dazzling car dealers, or just plain amazing people aside from our jobs.  Those on the calendar are not an exclusive group.  They are simply the ones that history remembers. 

Then there are saints not yet born, those still to come.  God is not bound by our time.  Right now God is gracing these people not yet born into sainthood, into holiness, into blessedness, into happiness. 

All these together, those from the past, those of us alive now, and those yet to come, we call the communion of saints.

So I suggest that for us here in this church this evening the word “saints" refers to all Christians and therefore, on All Saints' Day, it's the Church Universal, who are honoured and remembered.   In many of his letters St Paul shows that he regarded all faithful believers in Christ as saints. 

All Saints’ Day invites us to look way back to the very early days of the Church and at people whose lives are an inspiration for us. It also invites us to remember those whom we love that have been promoted to glory.  It calls us to notice those in our midst who show us a brighter way to live. In some mysterious way we are gathered, now, with all those who have gone before, with those we love who live in different parts of the world, as well as with those here with us. From the earliest days, the church has taken this opportunity to celebrate and we are invited to join in the celebration.

I said earlier that to be a saint we need to centre our lives on God, not on worldly things.  Set aside our secular lives so that our first priority is loving and serving our God.  Is that you?  Do you fit that profile?  If not perhaps ask yourself what you could do to change things.  And who goes to heaven?  Well the Saints do.  So let's claim that today – if we're all saints then today's our day – so let's celebrate and praise our God.