Let us pause for a moment to express our gratitude to God, in prayer…
Thanks be to you, O God, for everyday people,
past and present, whose faith and love
exemplify the Way of Christ.
They are with us, this communion of saints,
gentle and strong,
the challengers of hurt and wrong,
the comforters of those who feel lost and lonely,
the ones who pray for the sick and poor
and then follow their prayers
with actions of support and giving.
We are encouraged by this communion of saints
to have faith and trust in the days to come.
We are not alone on this journey of faith.
Thanks be to you, O God.
(Adapted from a prayer of unknown origin)
Today is All Saints’ Sunday, the day when we remember and give thanks for Christians throughout the ages who are part of our heritage and legacy as people of faith who follow the Way of Jesus Christ. People today often think of saints as being a select few people throughout history who were superlative examples of Christ-like living. However, the word saints as it is used in Christian Scriptures is always in plural form and refers to all Christians everywhere.
The apostle Paul in his letters to early Christian communities referred to saints when encouraging the early churches to be faithful in their following of Christ’s ways and in the knowledge they were unified by their faith with other Christians near and far away. Paul emphasized there is a place for everyone and a purpose for belonging to what he called the body of Christ. They were to share their spirit-given gifts for the good of the whole community. In his letter to the early Christian Church in Ephesus, Paul writes:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful to Jesus Christ. …I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. …The gifts given were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 1:1; 1:15; 4:11-12)
Jesus, himself, did not speak of saints but he exemplified a way of living in community that was the model for Christian communities that coalesced following his death and resurrection. Jesus travelled with others and reached out to all those he met with compassionate and healing love. He touched those who were deemed untouchable both physically and spiritually and he transformed their lives by showing them they were beloved by God. Jesus proclaimed liberation from the tyranny and oppression caused by the abuse of religious, economic and political power. He encouraged others to follow his example and to actualize God’s commonwealth through their words and actions in simple yet profound ways.
Saints are ordinary people, like you and me, beloved in the eyes of God. Imagine what the world would be like if we all thought of ourselves, and everyone else, as God’s beloved. That’s what Jesus is trying to convey in the Sermon on the Mount when he pours blessings upon ordinary folk and those who are not held in high esteem by the rest of society. Jesus literally turns the values of society upside down when he proclaims that,
“Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3); “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5); “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matt. 5:9)
These are radical words of inclusion and blessing for those who are devalued and disenfranchised by social and power structures. Remembering and telling stories from our faith tradition are important. In the stories from Christian scriptures we are reminded of the radical love shown by Jesus in his life and ministry and we are encouraged to emulate his actions in our own lives.
It is also important to remember, and to be strengthened and inspired by our communion with all the saints of the past. Those ordinary people, who by their example of faithfulness and courage, inspire us to live more fully, more faithfully, more compassionately, as Christians and as citizens in the global community.
We are blessed with the legacy of a faith tradition that spans time and space. We have a rich culture of story, faith, and community. We are a community of memory; a people who remember where we have come from in order to know who we are and how we will live in the future. This, and the empowerment and persistent love of God, is a blessing which compels us to respond to our individual and collective call to ministry.
This sense of mission and purpose is a gift and blessing not only for ourselves but one that we are called to share with others in our community and in our world. In the busy, often frenetic, North American culture in which we live the model of caring community that we exemplify is needed and yearned for by many people.
Last weekend, during the Kootenay Presbytery meeting, David Boyd offered a presentation based on a workshop he’d attended by Rodger Nishioka. Nishioka, of Columbia University in Georgia, proposes there are eight trends that are changing and challenging the church today. I’m not going to go through all eight trends – you can view the presentation on the Kootenay Presbytery website – but I will highlight a few points of interest. Nishioka’s study focusses on people he calls “post moderns” who are currently members of a church and those who are not currently connected to any church. He says that many people today are yearning for meaningful relationships and are craving human touch, quality time with others, and a sense of belonging. Some of the things people are valuing in churches these days are actions that exemplify compassion and caring such as gifts of Prayer Shawls, hand-written notes, home visits, responding to community needs by working in partnership with other community non-profit organizations.
Thinking of these few things we know that as a community of faith we have much to offer the wider community. Our Christian community is one that spans time and space. We have a rich tradition of faith, courageous action in the face of adversity, communal sharing of joys and sorrows, reaching out into the world with love and compassion. The experiences of our ancestors in faith can inspire and encourage us and we can glean wisdom from their beliefs and actions.
We also have a wealth of our own stories and experiences of faith that we can share with each other if we take opportunities to do so. We can be open and honest in our questioning of why we do things the way we do. We can grow and adapt to changing circumstances. We can find strength and comfort in knowing that we are not alone, that others have travelled this journey of faith before us and that others will continue the journey long after we are gone.
And so we remember, when we gather as a community of faith, Jesus is present in story and in spirit and he is also embodied in the ministry of love and compassion that we continue in his name.
Thanks be to God for the life and ministry of Jesus,
the communion of saints, past and present,
and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
that breathe life into our community of faith,
this day and always.