Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Feast of All Saints, 11/3/2019. The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Revelation lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Feast of All Saints, click here.
Ever since the Chicago Cubs won the World Series – something I will be dining out on for years to come – ever since then, one celebrity who emerged, though he’d always been there cheering, was Bill Murray.
You probably know him from a lot of stuff in the ‘80s that you won’t admit seeing, or from the fact that he owned a minor league baseball team: the St. Paul Saints. But you may not know that he himself has been declared a saint, at least in a manner of speaking.
Even after such a great career, it must be an honor to be canonized; even if Mr. Murray has dodged some of the normal protocol. He actually came to this honor by way of his movie St. Vincent, which, you will be surprised to know, is not a biography of our own St. Vincent, who you all know quite well.
Whether you believe he deserves it or not, plenty of folks think about saintly status differently. In order to recognize a saint, the Roman Catholic church requires three verified miracles; the orthodox require a virtuous life of obvious holiness; Hollywood, as you might expect, requires just a bit less. It is some mix of dollars and box office stats, I’m sure; but still, even that we would hear about a saint in the secular world in the 21 st century: I think we should declare some sort of victory.
Some folks are obvious saints: St. Peter, St. Paul, and so on. And we as the Church are so grateful for the healing and the teaching and the help they have brought us, we are so grateful that they get their own day.
They have their own feast days to mark them and remember them – to say that our lives are kinder and richer and fuller and better, and maybe even easier for having known them, even if we only know them through tradition or books.
It is just as our Confessions say: we love the saints because they are examples for us. (Ap XXI) They are examples of divine mercy and virtue. But let’s face it. Most folks are not obvious saints.
Murray’s character, St. Vincent, is pretty invisible to those around him. And most saints today are pretty invisible as well. Still, visible or invisible, this day: All Saints, is your day.
It is a day to be grateful for all the less obvious, for all the anonymous, for all the invisible saints, even you and even me. It’s also a day to celebrate those saints who are invisible for plainer reasons: our own dearly departed, who now enjoy Jesus’ nearer presence.
There are so many ways to mark this gift from God in a church. Just down the street from where movies like St. Vincent are made in Hollywood is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels. In that cathedral, they don’t’ have stained-glass as many other churches do. They planned it for earthquakes. And stained-glass shatters when a building twists and turns.
Instead they have 25 giant tapestries featuring 135 saints: all standing in line, all with hands folded, all facing the altar, as if they are going to the Eucharist together. The names are written above them, so you can spot Peter and Mary and all the rest. But if you look closely, you’ll notice something else.
Among the congregation are 12 without names. Some of them are children. This is not a mistake. These are the less obvious saints, the anonymous saints, the invisible saints. These are those who walk among us unnoticed, on their way through the great tribulation.
Like Bill Murray’s St. Vincent and, I pray, like you and yours and me and mine. It’s important that we be very careful with our language here. The Church does not make saints. God makes saints, as you heard in the Epistle appointed for this morning.
It happens this way: God the Father loves us, and in loving us gives us a divine gift so spectacular, so holy, and so glorious, that it actually makes us children of God. He makes us saints – holy, forgiven, and pure. He makes us His witnesses. He makes us His own.
In just a few minutes you’re going to walk back out into a world that does not really know us; that does not understand us; and a world that would often be happier if we weren’t around. All of that makes the struggle even more difficult.
Even on a good day, with nothing else against you, it’s an immense challenge to imitate Christ as He reveals Himself in the Sermon on the Mount: chasing righteousness, being merciful, and making peace. Even on a good day, it is hard to live in hope and purity and mercy, especially when people persecute us and revile us or mock us; and, as is now becoming more the case, kill us for it.
And yet we carry on in hope, writes St. John. Sometimes we do this in very obvious ways, like Saints Peter and Paul and the famous martyrs. But sometimes we do so less obviously, even anonymously or invisibly.
Why do we do that? We do that because that is what we are made for. That is who we are. We have been made children of God. We know what our Father in Heaven has done to us: He has made us His saints. We know that the life He intends for us is pure and holy and loving and saving and blessing and forgiving and merciful, and we know that even if we suffer for that now, that someday Jesus will be back. Christ will reappear to us, and we will see Him as He is, and He will sort this messy world out.
It’s a very happy and freeing thing: because justice belongs to Jesus then, you and I can be merciful now. This is what simple saintliness is. To be loved, and forgiven, and merciful, to rest and rejoice and advance in the divine love that has saved us and cleansed us and made us children of God.
In this life, some people are going to be obviously better at it than others. That is why the church recognizes saints and gives them days. It’s part of why we still celebrate the Reformation, along with those saints whom God used to preserve the Gospel for us. We glorify those whom Christ Himself has glorified, seeing in their lives true love for God and for neighbors.
But on this day, on All Saints day, we rejoice in you and yours as well. We praise God that He has made you what He has made you. That Jesus has taken all of your unsaintliness to the cross and died as a crook, and covered you with His own righteousness, His own beauty and holiness;
That He has given you his Spirit; that he has called, gathered, and enlightened you; that he has loved you, and baptized you; that He has holied you; that he has heard your confession; that he has forgiven you; that he has made you a saint, a child of God.
And then we celebrate that He has sent you into the world to be merciful, and to tell your story: gently, happily, saintly; that he has put you here to chase righteousness, to make peace, to endure persecution, to push back the evil, to live and die in faith, even if nobody ever notices.
Even if nobody ever notices, it is still faith born of divine love. Even if nobody ever notices, we will still mark this Feast. Even if nobody ever notices, it is still the day for you and yours and me and mine: for Alena, Hazel, Tommie, Mae, Janet, John, Imogene, Richard, and Eugene. It’s their day, too.