Springwood Presbyterian Church
Gather to Me My Saints, My Faithful Ones
Someone has commented that for Catholics a saint is someone who has performed 7 verifiable miracles--but for Presbyterians, a saint is someone who’s brief!
Researchers James Patterson and Peter Kim learned that 70% of Americans believed that
We Christians need good role models for our children—and for ourselves. My informal survey last night of trick-or-treaters showed a large number of very young children in grotesque costumes. Who made the choice—or allowed it? Developmental theorists have long argued that modeling—rather than just teaching or speaking—is a cornerstone of human growth. I remember my amusement—and amazement—at watching my first son, when he was only 14 or 15 months old, walking behind his daddy, carefully imitating his way of walking. I continue to be astonished at how much like my sister her daughter is. My niece, by the way, is adopted. Blood kinship is not the main tie that binds us to one another. Jesus made that plain when he said, Whoever does the will of God is my family. (Matt.3:31-35) Obeying God is one mark of a saint. We learn to do that by following Jesus and the other faithful people in our own lives.
It’s time we reclaim the notion of sainthood—drag it out from the bottom of the box up in the attic—dust it off—and make it part of our lives. Saints aren’t folks who’ve been dead hundreds of years, and sainthood didn’t go out with the Protestant Reformation. In good Presbyterian fashion, we look to scripture for our definition of saints. The Hebrew scriptures speak of “God’s faithful”, “God’s holy ones”, using words that can also be translated “saints” (quadosh, hasid). Paul, writing to the new churches he founded, addresses most of his letters to the saints (hagios)…at
A saint, first of all, is one who loves God—one who tries to follow Christ—one who makes it easier for others to believe in God. That’s why I address the newsletters to “the saints at Springwood Presbyterian Church.” I hope you believe the name fits you. Fifth century bishop Nicetas wrote, “What is the church, but the congregation of all saints?” He didn’t say “the congregation of perfect people”, did he? But, with God’s help, we are perfect-able.
We enjoy reading the Biblical stories of holy heroes—Abraham, Sarah, David, Deborah, Mary Magdalene, Paul. These are real human beings trying to live in relationship with God and each other. Holy heroes, yes—but not perfect or always faithful. Consider the numerous missteps and misjudgments that Abraham and Sarah made trying to make God’s promises happen on their schedule--David’s sins of arrogance and adultery and murder--James and John approaching Jesus on the sly to try to reserve the best seats in heaven--Peter’s blunders and impetuous actions. All were far from perfect, yet God loved them and used them—and we name them saints. In Psalm 50, God calls the people “saints” and “faithful ones”, fully aware they often don’t act saintly. That makes themes them subject to God’s anger and discipline. But the psalm ends, as God always ends, with God’s gracious promise: those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me. To those who go the right way, I will show the salvation of God. God doesn’t give up on his saints acting like saints!
A hallmark of saints is that their love of God is linked to their actions toward their neighbors. They don’t shut themselves off from the world, but work at doing what they believe God wants them to do. People whose lives inspire us to live better, richer, happier, more faithful lives are saints. Who in your life does that?
It’s good to remember the saints in our lives. When we remember—re-member—we bring together the missing members of our lives, the missing people and the healing and goodness they brought us. Re-membering makes them present to us, in the same way Jesus Christ becomes present to us at his table, when he tells us, “do this, and remember me.”
Sainthood, like faith, is contagious. We catch it from those around us. You demonstrate your faith-in-action as God’s own when you make an offering, when you write a note of sympathy or congratulations, when you call to encourage someone, when you teach Sunday School or serve on a committee, when you make a dish for a bereavement meal. You also become a model of faith when you present a cheerful face to your family or co-workers, when you practice patience with people who irritate you (even if they live in the same house with you), when you observe someone in trouble and offer compassion rather than judgment, when you face adversity with the trust that God will help you through it. These are active ways to model your obedience to God and your love of your neighbor.
The saints in our lives may never be famous: a great aunt who reminded you how much you are loved; a neighbor who listened to you when no one else took you seriously; a 4th grade teacher who saw your potential and let you know it; someone who made a deep impression through his or her everyday integrity, compassion, genuine religious faith; someone who helped you believe there is a God; someone who led you to live in gratitude to God. Remember the saints in your life, and let them continue to guide you, so you can be a saint for others.
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