Sermon: All Saints Day Year A

All Saints Day, 2023

Revelation 7:9-17

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12

Who is a saint? How do we honor the saints? Today, All Saints Day, 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. If you had to be mentioned in the New testament. If you had to be a martyr. How many miracles you had to perform and how to prove those miracles. How to prove your saintliness. How to prove that you were holy.

I have no specific assurances about who’s a saint. The Episcopal church doesn’t have any hard and fast rules. The best I can say is that a saint is a Christian who has finished their course of earthly life and whom we lift up as an example of a faithful life. 

People have *tried* to make these determinations of who counts as a saint. In the Revelation to John, not in the passage we read tonight, but in talking about who will be present in the new creation, there is a specific number of saints mentioned. 144,000. 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, John looks out and sees a great multitude, people from every nation, speaking every language, all praising God together. They have been through the great ordeal and now they rest in God’s presence, no hunger or thirst, no scorching heat, and God wiping every tear from their eyes. This is what we hope for those who have died here on earth and entered into eternal life in God’s presence.

God will wipe away every tear, the vision says. That sounds pretty wonderful. And I can think of a very few people who might truly qualify as those who are clothed in pure white, without blemish or stain. I trust that someday we will all be washed in the blood of the Lamb, we will all count as saints in that way. But we’re not there yet. We are still journeying through the great ordeal. But we can catch a glimpse of this new and glorious life even during this course of our earthly lives.  We can look towards the  example of the saints for how to live a life perfected in faith, clothed in white, praising God with one voice in all the variety of human life.

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 Psalm 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

Praise God.

A couple of years ago, Dr. Rodemeyer died. If you mention his name to a certain generation of Fresno State graduates 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 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 in the weeks after his death, 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 the Blessed Virgin Mary or John the Baptist. Or saints from history like Clare of Assisi or Teresa of Avila: 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. Maybe General Convention will never vote on adding them to our Epicopal Church calendar of commemorations. 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 once asked me about this. I don’t have a specific answer, and it has been a question that I have since asked people over and over again. We spent 6 weeks here examining the lives of saints in the history of the church trying to answer that question. I’m not sure we have a specific answer even now. I think we just made the question more complicated.

I asked my Sunday school kid who he thought was a saint. 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 shadowy reflections of the praise and glory that are coming. We reflect this vision in the great multitude of saints from all nations and languages praising  God together in Revelation. We reflect the Lamb of God, Jesus in his resurrection, inviting us to be washed and robed in white. Inviting us to be baptized  into that new life. And whenever a modern saint like Dr. Rodemeyer dies, I catch a glimpse of this glorious new life reflected in the life of that saint. 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.

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