Friday, November 11, 2011

"Saints I have known: A Passion to Serve" - A sermon for All Saints Sunday

Preached by the Rev. John Good at 8 am at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011 
We all have had occasion, at one time or another, to characterize a person we admire as a "saint." For forty years in the ordained ministry it has been my privilege to know a number of them in every congregation I have served. Today is "All Saints' Sunday," and a good time to remember at least a few of them.

I think of Bruce and Cindy, from St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Florissant, who went from one parishioner's house to another during a winter storm, collecting food and warm clothing for an inner city church that had broadcast on television a request for help in supplying those things to the poor during that weather emergency.

I remember Harvey, from the same congregation, who risked his job by telling his boss that he would not implement the racist policies that his boss had established for hiring new personnel in his department at McDonnel-Douglas.

I remember Cliff, an African-American dentist and member of Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who worked tirelessly with both whites and blacks in that racially divided city to bridge the gulf between them, and was maligned by people of both races for his efforts.

I remember Bill, from St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Gallipolis, Ohio, who organized teams from five different congregations in that little town to prepare and serve a good dinner once a month for the hungry in that town. It was always scheduled for the last Sunday in the month to help those who had run out of food stamps.

I think of the sisters-in-law, Gloria and Susie, at The Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Mechanicsburg, Ohio, whose average Sunday attendance was only about 30. But they did not think their church was too small to start "God's Creation Youth Group" for all of the children between the ages of 8 and 13 in that tiny town.

I think of John and Diane, from a suburban Episcopal church in the Detroit area, who, more than ten years after they started, still lead Bible Study and worship once a week for those incarcerated at the Macomb County Jail

I think of Michelle who volunteered to start and run St. Alban's contribution to the Food of Faith program in Bay City, Michigan. The program expected our parish to fix and serve a dinner for 75 to 100 hungry persons about 3 or 4 times a year. Michelle volunteered us once a month plus an extra one on Christmas day. Before three years had gone by over seventy members of that congregation had participated in that ministry.

None of these saints is likely to be recognized as a saint beyond their own congregations. None of them is likely to have a day designated on the calendar of the Church year to remember them. But they are remembered today, along with the legion of Christians from all generations, whom we honor on All Saints' Sunday.

What sets saints apart is their passion to make a difference for good in the lives of other people. They regard their membership in the Church as a calling vocation—to transmit the love of God in Christ through service to others. They would never be content just to go to church on Sunday and bask in the fellowship of their congregation. They want Jesus to use them as his mouth, his hands, and his feet to make his love tangibly known to those most in need of love.

The saints of our congregations do these things because they know they are blessed, as Jesus defined what it means to be blessed, in our Gospel for today.

They are blessed by the joy of doing something significant with their lives that is of ultimate importance to the world.

They are blessed by the joy of knowing themselves to be partners with God in establishing his reign of love where they live.

They are blessed by the joy of knowing they have spiritual gifts to give to others that are more precious than all the accumulated wealth of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, combined.

These saints I have had the privilege to know would never have known these blessings, nor used them to make a difference in the lives of others, had they not been part of "the communion of saints"—that is, the Church. They learned in church that there is an alternative way of life that is not enslaved to the selfish pursuit of power, privilege, and possessions, which characterizes the quest of so many people in our world. They learned in church that seeking to be significant to others is more fulfilling than seeking to be a success on the world's terms. They learned in church to trust God, and follow where he leads, rather than trust the messages of our worldly media that lead us to worship things that cannot last.

The communities of faith that produced the saints I remembered in this sermon are still doing that. Saints are not found only in history books, they are found in every congregation of Christians that nurtures people to follow that alternative way of life. In other words, saints are found here, in this congregation, today. Take a look. They are all around you. They probably are you.

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