Sermon: Who is a saint?
Revelation 21:1-4, 21:22-22:5
Trinity Episcopal Church, Southport
Evensong, Nov. 3, 2019
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God.
Who is a saint? How do we honor the saints? Today, All Saints Sunday, is not a funeral. We aren’t giving eulogies at gravesides. But today is a day when we are living in the tension between grief and praise, and honoring what is holy in this world can help us live in that tension.
Who is a saint? A saint is a holy person. Technical definitions have varied through history. How many miracles you had to perform and how to prove those miracles.
I have no specific assurances about who’s a saint. The Episcopal church doesn’t have any hard and fast rules. People have *tried* to make these determinations. In Revelation, not in the passage we read tonight, but in talking about who will be there in the new creation, there is a specific number of saints mentioned. 144,000 or something. People through history have tried to determine who’s in that number. Who’s a saint. I don’t know about that. Heaven would be a pretty empty place if only those few thousand saints were there. Perhaps the number is more of a symbol of completeness than exactness.
Who is a saint? In the passage from Revelation we did read tonight, we are invited into a vision of a new and resurrected creation. It is populated not with corruptible beings, but ones without falsehood or curse. The land itself is fully fruitful: the tree of life is in season all 12 months! And just so we don’t get bored, there is a different fruit for each month!
This new Jerusalem, new creation, it is populated with saints. There will be no death or sadness there, the vision says. That sounds pretty wonderful. And I can think of a very few people who might fit the description of without falsehood, without corruption. But that doesn’t mean we can’t catch a glimpse of this new and fruitful life even today.
I think about this whenever someone I know dies. I am sad, but then I hear the stories people tell. They always tell the happy ones. The ones praising God for their life. Like the Psalms we heard today. Praising God for the good we have experienced through the lives of others. Praising God as we look towards the good of coming resurrection. Praising God for the salvation and resurrection we experience through Jesus, the lamb who takes our mortal and cursed existence and makes us worthy to enter this new resurrected creation
Saints are holy people
And we are made holy through Jesus
2 weeks ago, Dr. Rodemeyer died. No one on this coast knows his name, but if you mention him in Fresno, California you’re likely to find someone who was taught o-chem by him during his 30 years as a chemistry professor. I knew him as the founding director of Fresno State’s honors college. He was my first mentor there, and was as passionate about my passions of linguistics and anthropology as he was about the chemistry students.
He cared about us all so much that even well into his retirement he would show up to weddings and graduations. As people posted tributes and told stories of Dr. Rodemeyer over the past couple weeks, I was reminded of the stories of ancient and medieval saints and how they always seem larger than life in the telling of their tales. Dr. Rodemeyer was that kind of person. Was he a saint?
According to the Roman Catholic church, the requirements for who’s a saint include 2 miracles performed after death. One of those miracles can be a monastic order that survives the founder. The Fresno State honors college is not quite monastic, though we did spend a lot of time studying in dorm rooms. But I like to think that its thriving today puts Dr. Rodemeyer halfway to sainthood.
Who has been saintly in your life? Who has lived God’s ideals of love and faithfulness and justice? We might think of holy people from the Bible like Mary or John. Or saints from history like St. Clare of Assisi or Saint Teresa: mystics who have shown how personal experience of God is possible. There are saints like Dominic or Benedict who founded successful orders that have impacted education and learning about God.
Maybe you tell the stories of brave immigrant grandparents or a friend who protected you from a bully. Or that first boss who gave the young kid a chance at a job and grace when the inevitable mistakes happened.
Maybe the saintly people in your life are known only to you and God. Maybe their deeds will never be told before bishops and popes in an attempt at canonization. But we remember them now. And we look to their example for how to live today.
Who is a saint? A kid in Sunday school this morning was asking me about this. He was sure that Bible characters were saints. And that his grandma was a saint in heaven. But he wasn’t a saint yet. Maybe someday he would be a saint. Maybe someday we would be saints. We might not yet be saints. I don’t know, maybe we are. But we *can* do the holy work the saints have shown us how to do.
Our present day human attempts at sainthood are shadows of the praise and glory that are coming. We see a description of this vision in the tree of life being ever fruitful in Revelation, and Jesus in his resurrection inviting us into that new life. And whenever a modern saint like Dr. Rodemeyer dies, I see a glimpse in this life too. I want to be sad because it is the culturally appropriate thing to do. But instead I find myself praising God for their life, and I see others doing the same.
When we remember those who have died, it is a holy time. When we praise God for the lives of saints we are making the wall between the present creation and new life thinner. Remembering the dead, speaking their names and the holy things they have done in the present world is a way of bringing the hope and expectation of resurrection into *our* lives.
We remember the holy and bring it into being in this world, we make this world holier. More saintly. This is a holy space. What we are doing is a holy act. Whether or not the one holy and apostolic church recognizes the sainthood of a person, to praise God with their lives, with our lives, is holy work. Amen.