Message—The Episcopal Church of the Cross
Sunday, November 4, 2018
All Saints Sunday
The message began with the congregation singing the first verse of “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”
I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And on was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green:
They were all of them saints of God and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
If you sit down tonight and read everything he wrote, you’ll end up reading one quarter of the New Testament. He is the writer of the third gospel; and because he was convinced that the only way to tell the story of Jesus was also to tell the story of the Jesus-lovers and Jesus-followers, he also wrote the Book of Acts. Probably a Gentile, he was a travel companion of Paul and one of his closest friends.
Between his gospel and history, he speaks more of the healing power of Jesus than the other three gospel writers combined. Maybe because first, Luke was a physician.
One was a doctor.
Margaret was born in exile. At age twelve, she returned to England from Hungary. Nine years later, in 1066, she fled again when William the Conqueror conquered homeland. This time, she went to Scotland.
There she married a king named Malcolm, and served as queen of Scotland until her death in 1093. As queen, she did her best to bring spiritual revival to the Scottish people, in particular encouraging the people of her realm to receive communion regularly. An educated woman, she encouraged the building of schools. Unlike her husband, it seems she could read—and wanted others to be able to read—so she is often presented with a book in her hand.
One was a queen.
Born to a peasant family with a small holding of land during tumultuous times in her homeland, a thirteen year-old girl began to receive visions. Her beginnings were humble, but the Lord touched her. And so Joan or Arc rose to a position of leadership, becoming a young and often misunderstood hero to her native land and a person who even those who do not claim Christianity as their faith look to for inspiration. “One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying,” said this saint, wise and courageous beyond her years, who began as a shepherdess on the green.
The congregation then sang…
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong;
And they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake,
The whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wile beast:
And there’s not any reason no, not the least
Why I shouldn’t be one too.
He was born in present day Hungary, spent his youth in Italy, and finally settled in what is modern-day France. In the final days of the Empire, he served in the Roman army. He did not grow up a follower of Jesus. He became one. And one day, during his time of preparation for baptism, he was riding on his horse and a beggar came before him. The soldier drew his sword, cut off his cloak, and gave it to the man. That night, in a dream, Jesus came to him and said “Martin, a simple catechumen, covered me with his garment.”
One was a soldier.
There were eleven of them, from all over the United States. Their entire lives they had been told that though there were many ways they could serve God, they could not do so as a priest. Because they were women.
But while the priesthood needs pastors, it also needs prophets, those who unsparingly speak and reveal God’s call to justice and righteousness. In their baptisms, that was a gift God gave each of these souls.
So on July 29, 1974 in the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, with most of this Church saying “no” but enough of this Church saying “yes,” these eleven courageous women…now known as the Philadelphia Eleven…were ordained the first female priests in the Episcopal Church; and thereby serve as a reminder that sometimes, saints break things that should be broken.
One was a priest…in this case, eleven of them were priests.
And the one who was slain by a fierce wild beast…well, like the others, there were many. But how about this one: Ignatius of Antioch, an elderly bishop who taught his people and had learned of Jesus from John the Evangelist. He was taken from his city of Antioch, and transported all the way to Rome to be executed. During his journey, he stayed the teacher and pastor, furiously scribbling letters of instruction to all the congregations. Finally, he met his earthly end in the Coliseum, probably during the reign of Trajan…a Roman emperor no one remembers, though the life of Ignatius of Antioch is still celebrated today.
The congregation then sang…
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.
Lesbia Scott wrote this hymn. In the 1920s she was a young mother with young children, who wanted to teach her children the path of faithfulness. Recognizing that children remember through rhymes, especially rhymes put to music, she wrote hymns for them, to teach them the Way. This is the one that that stood the test of time. The music came from an American priest named John Hopkins, whose uncle wrote “We Three Kings…”
Now I have no idea whether when she wrote of a doctor, a queen, a shepherdess on the green; and a soldier, and a priest, and one slain by a fierce wild beast, she had in mind Luke, Margaret, Joan, Martin, or Ignatius. She certainly didn’t have in mind the Philadelphia Eleven, some of whom weren’t even born when she wrote her song.
Regardless, the theological elegance of the hymn is that it doesn’t stay with them the entire song. In the last verse, it turns…
…that the saints are not distant relics of the past, but there are hundreds of thousands still…and here, Scott underestimates the number.
And that they really can be met anywhere…when we show up at school or work tomorrow; as we’re traveling, whether it’s down 620 in rush hour or on a flight to San Francisco; when we’re out for dinner, when we’re in for dinner with our own family, or at the Lola Savannah or Starbucks for a cup of coffee or tea. If she were writing the hymn today, she’d probably include a line such as “you’ll find them now where’er you look, e’en Twitter and Facebook.”
…that there are still saints, she teaches, and you find them everywhere, and they aren’t necessarily the superheroes like the six in the first two verses.
…but still, they’re saints; and still, we’re saints…you can even meet them in church.
The word “saint” in Greek is “hagios.” Most literally, it means “the ones set apart,” meaning “the ones set apart by and for God.” It’s used sixty-two times in the New Testament. It’s never used as a title for a single individual. In the New Testament, there is no St. Elizabeth, or St. Mark, or St. Mary, or St. Matthew. Instead, it is the appellation given to all the people of God. “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…” is how Paul begins his first letter to the Corinthians. That’s what the people of God are called, and that’s who the people of God are. That’s who you are; that’s who I am; that’s who those are who have helped us on our walk; that’s what those are we are helping on theirs.
When Lesbia Scott moves to that last verse, that’s what she taught her children; and what she teaches us every time we sing that song.
Now I don’t always act like a saint. Maybe you do, but sometimes I miss the mark. I take heart, though, that not even the saints with a capital “S” always acted like saints. We’re all just works in process. We’re not about perfection. Just progress.
But still, we’re the claimed, and the called, and the set apart, and the anointed. Not because of what we’ve done, but because of what God does for us, and through us.
The Feast of All Saints is always November 1, but we move it to today so we can celebrate it together; celebrate what the Lord has done, and continues to do, and will always do: take people like us…clay-feeted souls…and make us saints; set apart for the purposes of God; for today, and the eternity in which we dwell.
In a moment, we’ll remind ourselves now of who has given us life, and to what we pledge ourselves when we enter the life of sainthood. We’ll renew our baptismal covenant because from time-to-time it’s good to be reminded who we are and to whom we belong. All Saints is one of those times.
And then we’ll say our prayers. And at the beginning of the prayers, our prayer leader will invite us to name the saints in our lives…just say the names; a cacophony of saints’ names. We’ll name those who have helped us on our way; who have encouraged us, and challenged us, comforted us and asked the best of us…and maybe those saints who were the first to teach us that we really do have a friend in Jesus. Some are still with us. Some are enjoying their eternal reward. All of them saints, given thanks for by the saints gathered here.
And as we continue with our worship, consider who’s looking for you to be a saint to them. None of us got here on our own. Somebody gave us something. Keep it, and it dies. Pay it forward…like Luke, Margaret, Joan, Martin, the Eleven, and Ignatius…and it grows.
A blessed All Saints Day to you, friends. God bless you, and peace be with you.