Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 4, 2018
24th Sunday after Pentecost; All Saints’ Service
Isaiah 25:6-9; Rev 21:1-6a
While All Saints Day actually falls on the first day of November, I am grateful that we can gather on this Lord’s Day to remember loved ones that are no longer with us but who, in a mysterious way, journey with us, still. Already this morning, we have named saints who have entered the eternal presence of God in the past year. We remember them and give thanks for the endless ways they enriched our lives. We give thanks for their goodness and for other qualities that, perhaps, made them “saints” for us.
It may be that our only experiences of the word “saint” are in relation to All Saints’ Day or in relation to those who have been canonized by the Catholic church, like St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, or St. Teresa of Calcutta. For the purposes of our worship experience this morning, though, I want us to expand our understanding of the meaning of “saints” to include those still living who have demonstrated holiness or a closeness to God—anyone who is in Christ and in whom Christ surely dwells. In my proposed definition of saint, then, we may include those who have helped guide our faith, those who have shown us the face of Christ in ways large and small.
To help us along, I have recruited three church members to identify someone in our church who has played the role of “saint” for them. Please recognize that my intent is not to leave anyone out, but since I know how much you like short sermons, I’m convinced you will be happy we have chosen only one saint each. So, at this time, I invite Donna Gosnell, Bart Greer, and Jane Shelton to come forward to share their “Saint Alive” story.
(Donna Gosnell spoke of Jesse Spencer, who might be mistaken for St. Nicholas because of his beard and his generous heart. He might also be considered a saint of details since he has a reputation for being so organized. But, for Donna, Jesse is a saint because of his faithfulness—to God, to his church, to his family, and to his responsibilities as a chemistry professor at VSU, and to her—as a friend and mentor.)
(Bart Greer chose Eve Renfroe as his “Saint Alive.” Bart spoke of Eve’s gracious spirit that, for him, has been a vehicle of God’s grace in his life. He mentioned Eve’s generous heart, her welcoming nature, and her habit of reaching out to those who need a word of encouragement. For Bart, Eve has been an anchor and for that he is forever grateful.)
(Jane Shelton spoke of Libby George Clanton, who is known for her loving and accepting nature. Even on a recent cruise taken by Jane, Libby and a few others, Libby demonstrated her openness and friendliness by making friends with strangers upon hours of boarding the ship. Jane mentioned she was especially grateful that Libby had taught her how to be happy in the MORNING!)
When I think of saints in our midst, I see so many of you in my mind’s eye. I see Betty Tillman, Grayson Powell, Catharine Minor, Carol Busch. I see Florence and Lamar Cole. I see Gus and Sister Elliott, Grady and Judy Folsom. I could go on but I, too, had to choose only one Saint Alive so I chose Betty Sanders. Betty is pure joy. She has the greatest sense of humor. Two years ago, she showed up at the Tricks & Treats Costume Party and Potluck dressed as a woman of ill repute—pregnant. With a large pillow stuffed under her sweatshirt, she was a sight to behold. Another example of her humor came into play when she heard that Libby George Clanton was engaged. Betty couldn’t wait to reach out to Libby to offer her assistance. “Oh, Libby, I want you to know that Catharine Minor, Betty Tillman, and I would just love to be your flower girls. What do you think?”
While I adore Betty’s sense of humor, for me she has played the role of “saint” for another reason. You see, Betty Sanders has my cell phone number on speed dial and I am grateful. Often, she is the first person to call to let me know when my presence is needed at the bedside of someone who has been admitted to the hospital. Occasionally, for some reason, an individual or a family has preferred to handle whatever is going on in their lives, privately. When that has been the case, Betty has been good to explain the situation. She has been a truth-teller and, Betty, every pastor, everywhere needs truthtellers like you in their lives. Thank you for being that person for me. Thank you for being a saint in my life.
When we recite the Apostles Creed, we say we believe in “the communion of saints.” And during an All Saints’ worship service, we sing songs about our eternal home. We sing songs of the saints of God “who are patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.” In doing so, we express our belief in the communion of saints and we express our hope in being part of that communion someday—along with the Apostles, Augustine, Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, and a host of others. But let us not wait until that great by and by to make a difference in the lives of those around us. Let us seek a saintly life—even now.
By the grace of God, we are part of God’s salvation story. We are saints in the making. But some days we don’t feel much like saints, do we? We fall down and we get up. We fall down and we get up. If that’s how it seems, though, we may take comfort in Robert Louis Stevenson’s definition of saints: The saints are the sinners who keep on going. I love that! The saints are the sinners who keep on going. We aren’t saints because we’re so good. We’re saints because we are children of God, and day by day, God fashions us into what we could never be on our own so yes, we keep on going. Saints alive! Thanks be to God!
*Cover Art “ The Communion of Saints” by Ira Thomas; used by permission.