Ordinary Saints

October 31, 2021/All Saints’ Sunday

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

What does the word “saint” mean to you?

That’s one of the questions I ask students in our confirmation classes.  The responses each year are remarkably similar.  A saint is a really good person.  A saint is a holy person.  A saint is someone who is perfect and does everything God wants them to do.

The other thing that is remarkably the same in each class is the reaction when we travel over to Foothills Retirement Community to enjoy a meal and conversation with some of our senior members.  The question is a little different – I ask them if they consider themselves “saints.”  And they all answer no.  Because – saint equals perfect, holy, really good.  And none of them consider themselves perfect, holy, really good.

Every Sunday morning during the Apostles’ Creed we repeat the phrase, “I believe in the communion of saints.”  What are we talking about?  What is the communion of saints?  A gathering of really good, holy, perfect dead people?  People like Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi?  Or are those saints ordinary people – Aunt Lucy and Grandmama and my friend Elaine?

The Scots Confession says the communion of saints is that group of people who have communion with God the Father and Jesus Christ because they have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  The confession continues, “It is therefore called the communion, not of profane persons, but of saints, who, as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, have the fruit of inestimable benefits, one God, one Lord Jesus, one faith, and one baptism.”[1]  The Second Helvetic Confession helps us understand this saint label even better.  It notes: “The Church is an assembly of the faithful called or gathered out of the world; a communion, I say, of all saints, namely, of those who truly know and rightly worship and serve the true God in Christ the Savior, by the Word and Holy Spirit, and who by faith are partakers of all benefits which are freely offered through Christ.”[2]  The faithful.  Gathered out of the world.  A communion.

Guess what, folks?  That’s us.  You and me.  Our shut-ins and those who will worship using the video of this service.  Those who got here early this morning for Sunday school, the folks who came during the week to set up our sanctuary for worship.  The people who sat together Wednesday night to talk about Judaism and Islam and Christianity.  The people who packed lunches so that East End Elementary children would have food to eat this weekend.

We are saints.  Gathered out of the world, called by God.  The faithful who serve the world, serving as the hands and feet of Christ until he returns.

Saints have important work to do in this in-between time.  Good works, of course, but even more than that, the work of teaching and training and educating others in the service of the Lord.  Isaac Villegas, pastor of the Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, says, “All Saints’ Day is a reminder of the faithful departed who made room for God.  It is a time for us to remember the people who’ve made possible our faith.”[3]  And he notes “a quintessential mark of saints – that they don’t think they should be called saints.”[4]

Moses was providing “saint instruction” when he spoke to the people of Israel in our text from Deuteronomy.  God had delivered the Ten Commandments.  After walking through all the fine points of the law, Moses must have noticed the people drifting off, because he decided a recap was in order.  The Shema – so called because of the first word in Moses’ proclamation – is a summary of what Israel heard commanded of them.  Going forward, the Shema would serve as “a touchstone for Israel’s faith and life.”[5]  As these words were repeated by the people each day – when you lie down and when you rise – the Shema shaped their identity as a people defined by the confession, “Our God is the Lord, the Lord alone,” and by the demand, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”[6]

Those very early saints were charged not only with following the commandments of the One God but also with teaching their children these instructive words.  The lesson is echoed in Proverbs:

My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you (Proverbs 6:20-22).

We may not follow the Jewish tradition of placing a mezuzah on our doorposts to serve as a physical reminder of the Shema, but as God’s called out, gathered people in this place and time, we are ordinary people become ordinary saints as we “offer our lives as a home for God. …  Saints show us how to be disciples.  They testify to the miracle of grace.  They bear witness to the movement of God.  They share the life of God with the world.  … The lives of ordinary saints … proclaim a truth about God – that the Spirit dwells with people, that Christ welcomes us into his body.”[7]

Around the sanctuary this morning hang lanterns with the names of saints who proclaimed God’s truth here at Providence.  Folk like Betty Miller, who played a key role in launching the church’s preschool program.  Or James Donnald, who opened his heart to boys growing up in his neighborhood, giving them a second father, someone who they could look up to, someone who would listen.  Or Jill Campion, whose angelic voice and “crack” brownies could put a smile on anyone’s face.

No doubt there are people you immediately think of if you’re asked about folk who had a big impact on your life.  A parent.  A teacher.  A special aunt or uncle or coach or friend.  A saint.  Ordinary people, ordinary saints who taught us what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  Who offered a model for us to follow as we cultivate our own saintly acts.  Those people make it easy for me to say, I believe in the communion of saints.  I don’t think any of us would be here if we didn’t.

[1] Book of Confessions, 3.16

[2] Book of Confessions, 5.125

[3] Isaac Villegas, “Accompanied by a communion of ordinary saints,” Faith & Leadership, Duke Divinity

[4] Ibid.

[5] Patrick D. Miller, Interpretation: Deuteronomy, 97

[6] Ibid., 98

[7] Villegas

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