Surrounded by Saints
November 6, 2016
Hebrews 12:1-3 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I think All Saints day captures the fullness of the human experience. We celebrate life. We acknowledge death. We remember those that have gone before us. We consider our own mortality and whether we embrace or squander the blessing that is life. And, we try to figure out where God fits into all of it.
You know, we don’t tend to use the word “saint” very often. It’s not a part of our common vocabulary. And in some traditions, when we talk about saints, we’re talking about really holy people. People that were particularly close to God. Almost more divine than human. And, I wonder if the problem with that understanding is that it makes being a saint something unattainable, particularly for ordinary people like us.
Paul, as he’s writing letters to different churches during the first century, addresses people as saints. But, you don’t have to read much of his letters to realize that, in his mind, he’s writing to less than perfect people. He’s quick to point out their areas for growth. But, he calls them saints.
This word “saint” means “Holy person.” The thing about holiness is that it’s not all or nothing. You’re not either fully holy or just utter...fill in blank. Holiness is about God working in our lives. Being holy means being connected to God. And, God connects with us ordinary people.
These people, these loved ones, church members, friends, family, that we remember today? They were and are connected to God. Ordinary people, yet holy. Special. Not just to us, but to God. Because, with God, everyone is both ordinary and special. With God, those terms aren’t mutually exclusive. To be connected to God is to be a saint, to be holy. As we cultivate that connection to God, we grow in holiness.
Now, as we well know, ordinary people are flawed people. We all have our baggage, our blind spots, our bad habits. That’s one of the problems with the church, right? You spend enough time with a group of people and you begin to see past the surface. You see in each other that capacity for great beauty and selflessness, but you also see the faults, the messiness. We are ordinary and we are imperfect, but we are saints. Today, we remember ordinary, imperfect saints.
The thing about God is, God has this odd tendency to work through ordinary, imperfect people. I mean, our flaws pale in comparison to these people. Like King David. Great king. Presided over the golden years of Israel. Loved by the people, close to God. But, as the story goes, good king David saw a beautiful woman that he wanted to be with. So, being the king, he sent her husband off with the army to die on the front lines and took this woman as his wife. That’s horrendous. It was so bad that the prophet Nathan came to talk to David and told him how much David’s actions grieved God. David was deeply flawed, and yet, God did great things through David.
Paul. One of the most important people in the early days of the church. He started out a zealot and persecuted people that didn’t share his beliefs. He was violent, intolerant, mean. Yet, God used him, as he came to know Christ and became the greatest missionary in the history of the church.
Martha, a follower of Jesus, struggled with anxiety. She felt overwhelmed at times with this pressure to meet certain expectations. And yet, God worked through her life in a major way.
God consistently works through ordinary, imperfect people. God works through ordinary saints.
Who are the ordinary saints in your life? Those people that will never be a household name, that will never end up in a history textbook, but who have impacted your life in a significant way? It may be someone we name today. It may be someone who passed on years ago. Or it may be someone who is still living. Who are your ordinary saints? They people whom God has worked through to shape your life?
And, here’s a more personal question. Maybe a more challenging question. In whose life are you an ordinary saint? In whose life does your connection to God allow you to have a significant impact?
I love the way that Eugene Peterson, who created The Message version of the bible, rewrote this passage:
“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”
As we remember the ordinary saints in our lives and our church this morning, let us also embrace the responsibility we have to be ordinary saints. To grow in holiness through relationship to God and to impact the lives of others with the love of God. We are imperfect people, but God is used to working through imperfect people. As Eugene Peterson put it, we have all of the saints that have come before cheering us on, so “we’d better get on with it.” The world needs us to be ordinary saints.
Sermon Discussion Starters: Surrounded By Saints
1) Share about or or more of the "saints" that have impacted your life.
2) Share ways that you've seen God work through ordinary, imperfect people.
3) Share a character in scripture with whom you resonate, particularly when you think about their imperfections.
4) Share how you think God can use you, as an ordinary, imperfect person.