“Who Are These Saints?” was/is a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on November 5, 2023 — All Saints Sunday. To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20231105
Who Are These Saints?
All Saints Sunday John B. Valentine
Free Text November 5, 2023
WHO ARE THESE SAINTS?
I need to give you a heads up that today ... just for today ... I'm going ‘off-script'.
As most of you know ... for the most part ... Pastor Pam and I don’t believe in going “off script” ....
No ... for the most part ... ‘almost always' in fact ... we preach about whatever lesson it is that is the assigned reading for the day.
But not today!
• It’s not that I don’t like the lesson from 1 Kings 18 that we just heard read ...
• It’s not that I don’t think there’s real value in that story from 1 Kings about Elijah and the so-called ‘Prophets of Baal’ ...
• It’s not that there’s not lots of preachable connections in that text ...
It’s just that today is "All Saints Sunday" ...
It’s a day set aside to:
• thinking about the idea of ‘saints’ in general ... and
• remembering some ‘saints’ in particular ... and maybe
• rasslin’ with the question of what role the saints of God play in our thinking about the world and our thinking about the Kingdom of God.
And it seems to me that it is ‘meet, right and salutary’ that we should do just that.
+ + + + +
Now ... as some of you know ... it’s been a couple three weeks now since Bethany and I returned from our extended ... and lovely ... European vacation.
And ... if you were to sit me down ... I’d LOVE to regale you with our travelogue and all.
But while there are a whole bunch of things that I truly MISS being back here in the States ... like:
• amazing regional foods at amazingly reasonable prices ... and
• restaurant menus that actually reflect costs ... rather than having to add on 10% for taxes and 20% for a tip ... and
• and abundance of great hiking trails right outside our doorstep ....
The one thing I must confess that I DON’T miss is the hyper-abundance of ‘saints’...
• “Saint This” ... “Saint That” ... “Saint Whatever” on the road-signs.
• “Saint This” ... “Saint That” ... “Saint Whichever” on the church-signs.
• “Saint This” ... “Saint That” ... “Saint Whomever” in every museum .... and every statue ... and every painting.
You see ... it’s awfully easy ... when one travels around Europe to believe that saints are
a) People that lived a LONG time ago ...
b) People who had almost supernatural powers ... and
c) People who have (or had) an other-worldly look in their eyes and a halo around their head.
And it got me to thinking that whole line of thinking kind of misses the boat.
+ + + + +
So I rummaged through some of the books in my study this week to see what they say a saint might look like ... and get this:
• According to Webster's Dictionary ... the primary definition of a saint is a person who is eminent for their piety and/or virtue ... as in "she is such a saint."
• Then again ... according to the Oxford Dictionary ... the primary definition of a saint is that of the spirit of one departed who is in heaven ... as in "Oh When the Saint Go Marching In."
• While .... according to Harper's Bible Dictionary ... the primary definition of a saint is that of one who is numbered among the holy ones of God.
• Meanwhile ... according to the Catholic Dictionary ... "a saint is a person or a being on the spiritual plane who is officially recognized as preeminent for holiness."
• While then again ... the Augsburg Confession ... that document which is fundamental to Lutheran theology ... declares that saints are those "whose memory ought be set before us, that we may follow their faith and good works."
That's helpful ... isn't it!
If the book-writers can't agree on:
• Whether saints are dead people or living people ...
• Whether they're imperfect people or perfect people ...
• Whether they're super-spiritual people or simple ordinary people ...
• Whether they are "other-worldly" or "in-the-worldly" people ...
Then how the heck are WE supposed to know!
+ + + + +
So then I had this other idea ...
That we look at what the Bible has to say about saints???
And THAT avenue of inquiry was more than a bit more helpful.
You see ...
When the prophet Isaiah talks about the saints ... he refers ...
• To those who've had the Lord "wipe away all the tears from their faces."
• To those who've done nothing but simply waited for the Lord.
• To those who've been numbered among the saved.
When John the Revelator talks about the saints ... he refers ...
• To those among whom God dwells.
• To those for whom death and crying and mourning and pain will be no more.
• To those who've been remade as the people of God.
And when John the Gospel writer talks about the saints ... he notes them as being ...
• Those whose eyes have been opened ...
• Those who've been comforted ...
• Those who've been raised from the dead ...
Now you might argue that those descriptors are as scattershot as the definitions in all those dictionaries that I’d looked into previously ...
But there is ONE thing ties all of those descriptors together.
What's the one thing that all those statements have in common?
They are all based on passive verbs!
• It’s "Folks whose tears have been wiped away."
• It’s "Folks whose eyes have been opened."
• It’s "Folks who've been saved and/or comforted" ... and in some cases ...
• It’s even “Folks who have been raised from the dead."
The point being that saints aren’t people who so much DO ... as they are folks who've BEEN DONE FOR ... folks who've had something wonderful done for them by the Lord our God.
+ + + + +
You know ... in the context of our prayers in just a little while ... we’re going to remember some of the saints of our congregation who have passed away in the last year ... and as I looked at that list earlier this week ... I realized it was a litany of some pretty remarkable folks.
• Martha Billman was a champion for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia ....
• Jon Hudak was an attorney specializing in helping out school districts ...
• Jerry Petrone was still an ER doc over at John Muir at an age when most other physicians had retired ...
• Doug Timmons built a business out of being the most reputable truck mechanic in the county ...
• Barbara Schaefer was the central nervous system of the seminary over in Berkeley ... and
• Bev Riveness was all about being the best mom and grandma she could be to those who mattered the most.
Each of them ... in their own way ... was a person whose life was devoted to service to others ... and it would be pretty easy to try to make them ‘saints’ because of something they had done.
But ... at the end of the day ... they weren’t (and aren’t) saints because of anything THEY had done ...
But rather they were (and are) saints because of something that God has done for them!
• They’re “folks whose tears have been wiped away."
• They’re “folks whose eyes have been opened."
• They’re “folks who've been saved and/or comforted" ...
• They’re even “folks who have been raised from the dead."
They’re not so much people who DO ... as they are folks who've BEEN DONE FOR ... folks who've had something wonderful done for them by the Lord our God on a hill far away.
+ + + + +
You see ... when I think about saints ... and All Saints Day ... and whatever hope we may hold ... I’m reminded of a story of which I once was told about a young woman who worked at a college in Oklahoma.
She was a single gal ... in her thirties ... vivacious ... energetic ... a teacher of physical education ... who taught tennis and volleyball and basketball ... and from all accounts did all of it quite well.
Anyhow ... one night she was sitting in her apartment by herself ... grading papers ... when she heard a knock at the door.
And she ran to the door and opened it ... and there he stood ... ol’ Death ... with his yellow face and his bony fingers and his crooked nose ... and she slammed the door and she locked it.
And she ran to the doctor the next day ... and the doctor said "MALIGNANT."
Well ... at the doctor's urging ... she had surgery and did pretty well.
A few weeks later ... she even went back to work ... and things were going okay ...
Until a few months later she was sitting in her living room ... watching TV ... when she heard another knock at the door.
And she ran to the door to see who it was ... and there he stood again ... ol’ Death ... with his yellow face and his bony fingers ... and again she slammed the door in his face and she locked it.
And the next day she ran to the doctor again ... who this time said "CHEMOTHERAPY."
Anyhow ... the chemo made her awfully sick ... and she lost all her hair ... and she turned that strange color and she lost quite a bit of weight.
But eventually she was able to go back to work ... at least on a limited schedule.
Until ... one night in her living room ... when she that knock on the door again.
And this time ... she knew what ... and who ... to expect.
So she moved slowly to the door ... and cracked it open ever so slowly.
And there he stood ... staring her right in the face.
This time she slammed the door in his face this time ... and tried to lock it ... but the lock was broken.
So she called her family and her friends ... and they all came and gathered in the living room with her ... and each of them to a turn leaning against the door to keep "him" out.
And they leaned against the door ... and sometimes they laughed and sometimes they cried ... and sometimes they just wondered and worried and stewed.
Until one night ... she shouted out ... "Get away from the door!"
"Get away from the door ... get away from the door! You mean Death get away from the door ... don't you?"
"No" ... she said ... "I mean you."
"What? If we get away from the door ... He will come in!"
"Get away ... get away from the door."
And they all got away from the door ... and the door swung wide open ... and there He stood ... yellow face ... bony fingers ... and all.
However ... for the first time ... the woman looked at ol’ Death and noticed something about him that she'd never seen before.
He had a defeated look on his yellowed face ... it was he who stood embarrassed and broken.
And in that bony right hand of his ... he held a gift ... not a gift of his own ... but a gift from God ... a gift he'd been sent to deliver ... the gift of rest ...
And in his bony left hand ... he bore another gift ... the gift of peace.
You see ... ol’ Death had come ... but not so much to take as to give. For Death had been defeated in a battle long ago. He held no power anymore. Now he was just a messenger and a gift-bearer for the One to whom he'd lost his power.
“Get away from the door” ... the woman explain to her friends ... “Let death come ... for I know what he is holding ... and I've nothing left to fear!"
+ + + + +
This ... my friends ... is the real promise of this All Saints Sunday.
That they ... that we ... aren’t so much people who DO ... as we are people who've BEEN DONE FOR ... done for by the One through whom all things were made.
Happy All Saints Sunday! Amen!