Sermon for November 1st, 2015
1The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; 2for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers. 3Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. 5They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation. 6Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
The Saints Among Us
Today is All Saints Day, and so I thought I'd share with you one of my favorite "Saint Peter" jokes:
A wealthy man died and went to heaven. Saint Peter met him at the pearly gates, and after making sure his name was in the book of life, Saint Peter said, "let me show you to your eternal home." They walked through the pearly gates, down streets of gold, and past dozens of giant, beautifully-designed mansions. The first few were about the same size as the rich man's earthly home, but then they grew bigger and bigger, and his excitement grew as well. Finally, at the end of the street, Saint Peter stopped in front of a small, run-down wooden shack, and gestured to the man to enter. Shocked and more than a little dismayed, the man said, "But what about all those mansions? Surely there's one for me?" Saint Peter replied, "I'm sorry, but really...I did the best I could with the money you sent."
Did I mention this is also the first week of our annual stewardship campaign?
Today is All Saints Day. It's a Christian holy day that dates at least back to the 8th century, possibly earlier, that was designed to honor all those whom the church had named as Saints, or Christians who led lives of exceptional character. For some branches of the church, that's a limited number of people: 810 in the Roman Catholic Church, 811 in the Anglican and Episcopalian Church (they had to one-up the Catholic church, literally), and in Orthodox churches the number is in the thousands. In the Presbyterian Church (as well as Lutheran and most Reformed churches) the number is even higher than that...I'll come back to that in a moment.
But first, how does one become a Saint? This is the question asked by the Psalmist in today's scripture passage: Who shall asend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? The Psalmist then seems to give his own answer: Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Simple enough. Do these things and you're a saint. But it's not that simple. Just ten Psalms earlier in Psalm 14, the Psalmist (or perhaps a different Psalmist) says, "The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one."
That sounds pretty bleak. But look more closely at Psalm 24. This time let's ask the question, not "what" makes a person holy...but rather "who" makes a person holy? Who makes anything holy for that matter? Psalm 24, verse 1-2: "The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers."
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul puts it this way: "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours." The people Paul is writing to in Corinth are not exactly people of outstanding moral character. In fact, they are horrible sinners, which becomes obvious if you read the rest of the letter.
But Paul calls them saints...not because of anything they've done, but because God made them, and through the work of Christ, God redeemed them, sanctified them. God made us, too, and so we are holy. Christ redeemed us, too, and so we are saints, not because of anything we have done, but because of who we are, and who we belong to.
Verse 6 of Psalm 24 says: "Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob." As we seek God, as we live into that identity as God's people, as we draw closer to God and to each other, we become more and more transformed--we become people with "clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully." The good things we do are not what make us saints, but rather are signs of what God is doing through us as we continue to seek him.
We are all sinners. We are all seekers. And we are all saints.
And so while many churches celebrate All Saints Day by honoring those men and women of great faith who walked among us centuries and millenia ago, we celebrate by honoring...you. Us. Each other. We recognize and give thanks for the good and holy things done right here in our midst; for the people who do them; but most of all for a God who works through sinners, seekers and saints, loving us, redeeming us, and calling us his beloved, holy children.
Happy All Saints Day...saints!