For November 6, 2016
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by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Mother Teresa, laboring all those years amongst the poor and dying in Calcutta. Saint Francis, abandoning his riches to become a beggar for the poor. Albert Schweitzer, leaving behind great careers as a world-renowned New Testament Scholar and Church organist to study medicine and go live in the jungle, serving those with no other hope of health care. A man in a small town in North Carolina, spending the last 15 years of his life tenderly taking care of his wife of over 60 years. A woman in Nashville who, after her pastor husband died of cancer in his 40’s, raised her four children by giving music lessons and serving her church as organist/choir director/education director, and social conscience. The list could on and on.
When I look back at “these saints,” both those I have known personally and those I have only heard or read about, I don’t feel very saintly myself. I feel like the little boy Lois Wilson wrote about meeting at her door on Halloween. He was about four and he was wearing a Superman outfit. He reached out his hand as he said trick or treat. Ms. Wilson couldn’t resist teasing him a bit, “Where’s your bag?” she said. He replied, “My Mom’s carrying it. It’s too heavy for me.” Ms. Wilson smiled and said, “But you’re Superman!” He looked down at the S on his chest and looked back at Ms. Wilson and whispered, “Not really, these are just pajamas.”
Though the Scriptures tell us that because we’re Christians, we’re also saints; most of us don’t believe it. We look down at the S on our chest and then plead with God, “Not really, I’m only human.”
This is the great mystery of All Saints Day. We are indeed only human, but we are also “The saints who gather” at Such-and-Such church, as Paul put it in many of his letters. We are, Martin Luther said, saint and sinner at the same time. While we do not go around in Christian pajamas, with a big haloed S on our chest, we do have an invisible cross on our foreheads, put there at our baptism with the words; “Delmer Lowell Chilton, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever.”
Each of us has that mark on our lives; a mark which calls us forward into saintliness. We are called to continual efforts at living into our name as “child of God,” a baptized saint. And, we never quite make it. We are always aware of falling short, of not measuring up.
We are also always aware that the other people in our family seldom measure up either. Unfortunately, we are sometimes more aware of the failures of others that we are of our own. Someone sent me a little poem a few years ago. It’s one of those things that got tucked away in a file. I ran across it the other day;
“Oh, to live above, with Saints we love, Oh, that will be Glory.
Oh, to live below, with Saints we know, Well, that’s a different story!”
The struggle of the Christian life is to remember that we are saints despite our failures, and to remember that the other people in our church family are Saints as well, despite their imperfections.
I am a Southerner and this means I have been to many family reunions; those of the various families I am a member of, and those of church members who graciously invited the pastor along to their family reunion for some good food and fellowship. One of the things I love about family reunions is that they are often the most grace-filled moments we share. It is a time when we look beyond the surface to see the mark of the family on everyone. More than once I’ve been told, “You sure do look like your mother.” And I have also been reminded, “You must be a guest or an in-law; you don’t look like a Beaver.”
The church is the family of faith, and we all bear, to some degree, the mark of our family, the mark of Christ. Regulars and irregulars, the faithful and the wandering, the staunch believers and “barely hanging on to their faith by the skin of their teeth,” doubters, those close at hand and those who came from far off; all together in one place, celebrating and enjoying their relatedness to each other and to God.
Our invitation this All Saints Sunday is to remember our saintliness, our blessedness, our holiness; which is a gift from God, a gift we were given for the benefit of the world. It is also a day to remember the saintliness, the blessedness, the holiness of others. To remember that they too are the beloved Children of God and that we are to treat them that way.
Amen and Amen.