What makes a saint?

We’re not a people that spend much time worrying about the saints.

Our protestant ancestors did their best to change the practice of honouring those whom the church decided were especially holy –

you know the people I mean;

haloes glowing – faces shining – miraculous in their living and dying.

 

In the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions,

it is these dear, departed souls to whom you could call for specific help;

there is a saint for every day on the calendar – one for every occasion under the sun

but for most of us word Saint is now used to denote a “good person” or “exceptional behaviour”

 

At best, a saint is someone whose example we wish to follow –

someone to pattern our lives after –

for the Christian Church, Saints are figures from our history whose lives tell the story of their faith

in ways that help us bring our faith to life.

 

While most of the stories of the saints come to us from beyond the pages of Scripture

we are also met with those in Scripture whose life and actions could be called ‘saintly’.

But given how widely the word is used, how do you make those distinctions?

Which of your favourite characters would you be comfortable fitting for a halo?

Who among us today deserves to be held up as an example of righteous, faithful living?

Is everyone a saint?

Is no one?

 

Ruth’s story is one that tugs at the heart-strings;

a story of dedication and perseverance; a story of triumph over tragedy;

a story of a young woman, in a foreign land, trying to make a way for herself

with the help of her clever, sometimes manipulative, mother-in-law.

 

Nothing about the characters in Ruth’s story suggest perfection –

there don’t seem to be any saints here –

and as you read the whole of Ruth,

and discover the lengths to which Naomi and Ruth must go to ensure their safety and survival,

you might wonder what lessons there might be for us in the story.

The lessons, as it happens, are many

but I take great comfort in finding – in this story and many others –

the saints of the faith well represented.

 

I am drawn to stories of triumph and perseverance in Scripture.

As I look for ways to nurture my own faith, and help nurture the faith of others

I am drawn to characters who overcome great odds, and great personal cost

as (examples/relatives/kinsfolk) in this great adventure.

The imperfection of those folks who most commonly grab my attention is a comfort to me

to us – as we stumble along our own paths…

Jesus is our great example, but we can never hope to reach his heights.

We need to know that it is possible to fail, and yet prevail –

to fall short of the glory of God, yet still find God’s favour –

to blunder our way through the most difficult of life’s choices,

and still find God offering to stick to God’s promise –

recognizing us as God’s people, calling us friend –

the characters of these pages – and our treasured memories of the faithful

honour us with words of welcome, hope and life.

In short, we find – in these stories and all round us, the saints.

 

Perfection is not what makes a saint – Perfection makes a Saviour.

A saint is found wherever worship is offered in sincerity

where prayers are spoken in hope

where action is taken on faith – in faith – that gives glory to God.

and in the gospel this morning, another kind of saint is shown to us.

“what is the greatest commandment…”

the unnamed scribe is a keen student of the law – but more than that,

he is one who keeps the law in spirit and in truth – in other words, a saint.

Jesus recognizes in him a person of genuine faith – one who responds to the truth in joy –

and Jesus offers still more truth; “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

 

In his book, Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t and Why, author Kenneth Woodward notes the following:

A saint is always someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like — and of what we are called to be. Only God ‘makes’ saints, of course. The church merely identifies from time to time a few of these for emulation. The church then tells the story. But the author is the Source of the grace by which saints live. And there we have it: A saint is someone whose story God tells.

while he is speaking from a Roman Catholic perspective,

I believe he is sharing something that we can understand and accept.

A saint is a person through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like –

someone whose story God tells – someone whose life in faith inspires us to live in faith –

and that opens the field very wide indeed.

 

Today is the “feast of all saints”

a day we can recognize God in one another’s stories

a day to honour those stories that have inspired and encouraged us.

This is the day to consider,

that if our life is a story written by God,

and our job is to tell that story by our living, loving – in our work and worship –

then all of us are saints, waiting to be recognized.

All of us are bound up in God’s story – caught up with Christ in the telling of our various stories –

all blessed by God’s Spirit, and able to recognize God’s signature

on the work that is our lives.

 

Thanks be to God, for that gift of grace that is Jesus Christ –

through whom we are able to tell God’s story now and always. Amen

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