1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
1 John 3:1-3
1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
There is St. Francis who gave up a life of wealth and abundance to live in poverty on the streets and preach to the poor. Legend has it he even preached to a flock of birds. They gathered around him and not one flew away. He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment. Or there is St. Christopher who is said to have carried an unknown child on his back across a river. Upon reaching the other side, the child revealed himself to be Christ. St. Christopher is known as the patron saint of travellers. And, oddly, enough the patron Saint for the toothache. Or Saint of Joan of Arc, “who led men twice her size into battle. She preferred armor to petticoats and puzzled everyone by dressing like a man, but the voices of her critics were nothing compared to the voice of God in her head.” She is known as the patron saint of martyrs and military personnel. Or Mother Teresa. While not yet an official saint, she is widely believed to be on her way with her remarkable work with the poor and her willingness to draw close to those other’s viewed as untouchable.
Saint. It is a tricky word. It evokes images of halos and bleach white robes of the super-Christian and super-righteous who did miraculous and amazing things in their life. They are the ones we simultaneous aspire to be but also loathe because we know we never could be.
The interesting thing, though, is that as you dig into the stories of these saints, you’ll quickly find out that they were not all that…saintly. “Legend has it that St. Francis rolled naked in the snow to defend himself against his lusty thoughts and St. Christopher was on his way to work for the devil when a mysterious hermit recruited him for God instead.” Joan of Arc was put on trial for heresy and cross-dressing (of all things). And Mother Teresa was plagued with spiritual doubt, feeling nothing but emptiness and darkness when it came to her faith.
And that is what we often forget about this word saint. That it isn’t a word meant for those who have done amazing things in their life in the name of God. But rather it is a word that is meant for the people of God. All of them. All of us. Whenever the word saint is used in the New Testament, it never refers to the super-religious or spiritual, but rather it refers to the people of God whom God has declared blessed.
A brief look at Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 reveals this to us. Jesus declares: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
The meek and mourning. The poor and hungry. The persecuted and the reviled. These are not the ones we are used to claiming as blessed or saintly or belonging to God. But they are and they do.
God makes people into saints. People don’t make themselves into saints. How does God make people into saints? By claiming them as God’s own. By declaring that they belong to God and only God. And the only people that God ever uses to become saints are sinners.
Welcome to All Saints Sunday. It is this audacious day when we read and speak the names of all who have died. Not some. But all. Never knowing their full story. But today we claim them as saints of the church.
To be a saint is to be claimed by God. Which is a promise that God gives over and over and over again throughout scripture. In Genesis, God makes you in God’s image. In Deuteronomy, God promises – I will be your God and you will be my people. I am yours and you are mine. In Isaiah, God is referred to as the mother who comforts you, or according to Jesus, God is a mother hen watching over her brood. And in Romans, Paul says that nothing. Nothing can separate you from the love of God.
“What we celebrate when we celebrate All Saints is not the superhuman faith and power of a select few but is God’s ability to use flawed people to do divine things.” (Nadia Bolz Weber) And that is God’s great promise to the people of God. That they will be a blessing to the world. To be put aside for God’s use. In Genesis, the promise that God makes to Abraham and Sarah is that their descendants will be a blessing to the world. That’s God’s promise. That you will be a blessing to this world. Not that you should be, could be, would’ve been if you had been a better person. No….it is that you will be a blessing. And that’s a promise.
And today we lift up the flawed people that God has claimed as God’s own and used to be a blessing to this world. We speak their name and we light candles in their memory. We have St. Gladys who would faithfully bake communion bread for church, but who also had this remarkable way of welcoming in people who were different than her. Or St. Ruth, who faithfully hosted the church choir in her home during the winter months, because her house was heated and the church was not. Or St. Marvin who was notorious for always letting others go ahead of him at the creamery.
But of course these are not the only three who touched our lives. There were other saints whose lives touched different members of our community in different ways – some of which are known by all and some of which are known only to a few…And they belong in the list of saints as well. Saint Lester. Saint Marvin. Saint Adam. Saint Justin. Saint Colton. Saint Annette and Saint Jolene. Saint Ellsworth. And more recently, Saint David.
These people have been claimed by God, and through ordinary acts of love, they have helped bring the Kingdom of Heaven just a little bit closer. “We celebrate that we have, in all who’ve gone before us, what St. Paul calls such a great cloud of witnesses and that the faithful departed are as much the body of Christ as we are.” (Nadia Bolz Weber.)
We have among us the great cloud of witnesses that are just as much a part of the body of Christ as we are.
Many of you have probably noticed that it is becoming more and more rare for churches to have cemeteries beside them. Over the years, cemeteries were move moved away from the church. Part of it was because of lack of space and practicality. But it is also probably because of our fear of death. We don’t want to see it or be reminded of it every time we go to church. It’s kind of a downer. But now churches are starting to rethink that. Church are starting have cemeteries next to them again or columbariums where ashes of loved ones can be laid to rest. People have started to realize that we have missed the purpose of having our dead so close to us. It is because when we gather each week as the body of Christ, we gather with the whole body of Christ. Those who are present and here to day in these pews, and with those who have gone before us. In her memoir Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris writes about her time at St. John’s Monastery here in MN. And in the book, there is a moment where Kathleen has been at Saint John’s for a while, and the head monk comes to her one day and says, “I think it’s time you met the rest of the community.” The rest of the community? And he took her out to the cemetery and introduced her, one by one to the saints who had gone on to glory. That sense of worship being gathered in the presence of the communion of saints.” (Tom Long https://internal.calvinseminary.edu/continuingEd/resources/funerals/tomLong/transcript.php)
When churches have cemeteries right next door or columbariums nearby, it gives this great theological reminder that when we gather for worship, we gather in the presence of the communion of saints. All the saints from past and present are here. Even in our communion liturgy we say, “And now with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, let us them in singing their unending hymn…Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.”
Today is about the gathering of all the saints. And if to be a saint is to be claimed by God, then today is just as much about you as it is about those who have died in years past. You too are part of all the saints. To be a saint is to be claimed by God and you have been claimed. It is the promise heard and lifted up in baptism – that you have always and will always belong to God.
God has claimed you as God’s own. God has promised that you will be a blessing to the world too. In and through your small acts of love, you too help bring the kingdom of heaven near. Even today.
The reading from 1 John reminds us: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are…Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him. Thanks be to God. Amen
 Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way, “God’s Handkerchief.