All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, 13 March. Readings for this Sunday: Gen 15:1-12,17-18; Ps 27; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk
sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the
example you have in us. (Phil 3:17)
probably noticed that shortly after I joined you as your interim priest, I’ve
started referring to you collectively as “saints”. I say
that to remind you of the generosity of God, who in Christ wants us all to be
transformed and made better. The Greek
word “hagios” means holy ones, and when Paul would write his letters to various
churches, he would address them as “holy ones”. Today’s second lesson from Philippians begin
with this greeting:
the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Phillippi, with the bishops and
deacons: Grace to you and peace from God
our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 1.1-2).
using the term “saints” in part to compliment these new Christians and to
encourage them to continue in the faith, but he was also using the term to remind
these congregation were being remade in the new life and new identities that
God in Christ had called them to. The
same applies to us.
it’s important to keep in mind that God has plans for us, that God wants to
improve us and bring us closer to God’s self, and so I like that this parish is
named “All Saints”, because the name reminds us that we God has God’s sights on
all of us, that we’re all part of God’s improvement plan.
are saints – all of us – and then there are “Saints” with a capital S, the
heroes of our faith. How do we in the
Anglican tradition understand this latter group of saints. Our understanding of them is a little
different from that of our Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends, who see them as
means or channels of God’s grace.
we think of the saints as role models, as people that we should imitate. One
of our prayer books explain it this way:
history of God’s mighty acts of salvation is always a personal history.
The Church believe that the divine purpose of justice, mercy, and love is
revealed in the story of particular persons.
Indeed, it is through the stories of individual saints that the Almighty
renews and strengthens the witness of ‘the holy people of God’ (For All the Saints
of the role model is absolutely behind Paul’s exhortation to the Christians in
Philippi to “join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you
have in us”. This statement might strike
you as being quite egotistical, as many often perceive Paul to be. But think about what we all expect of
coaches, mentors, and role models.
Don’t we want such people to be examples of good practices and skills
that we want to adopt?
Imagine if you
were going to a gym and wanted to hire a fitness instructor. Wouldn’t you want to hire someone who was
clearly in good shape, who had studied disciplines such as anatomy, and who had
the experience and the skills to improve you?
Just as the same is true of music instructors and college professors, it’s
also true of fellow Christians who can be role models of our faith for us.
Joy and I liked to go to the monastery of the Society of St. John in Boston to
participate in one of their weekend guided retreats. One of the monks would lead us in several
sessions over the weekend, helping us to pray, meditate, and listen to
God. That a person would give up their
worldly life and travel to devote themselves to prayer and spiritual disciplines
gives the brothers authority and credibility.
Paul had the
same credibility. Whatever you may think
of him (as a Paul fan, I’m in a bit of a minority), remember that Paul used to
be Saul, a persecutor of the church, until he was literally transformed by Jesus
into Paul, the teacher and evangelist and church planter. When Paul told the Philippians to imitate him,
be was pointing to himself as a sign of how God could turn a life around.
If you don’t
want to imitate Paul, there are lots of other Christians you can turn to as
role models. Some are long dead, such as
those we call the Communion of Saints, those Christians whose lives across the
centuries have been memorable for their piety, their charity, their bravery,
and even their eccentricity! Some of us are
currently playing a game called Lent Madness, where we get to learn about 32
saints from across the centuries and vote for our favourite. You can learn more and play along at our parish
Facebook page or at www.lentmadness.org.
Your own saint
may be someone who was a role model to you in your own life, perhaps a Sunday
school teacher, a grandparent, or your confirmation teacher. It may be someone who is sitting here today,
who models a particular aspect of the Christian faith for you. For all you know, you may have helped someone
else as a role model of the faith. These
personal saints can play as transformative a role in our lives as any saint n a
stained glass window.
Here’s a final thought on why we need saints as
role models. Paul tell the Christians
in Philippi to “stand firm in the Lord” (Phl 4.1). Another variant of this thought occurs in our
Lenten prayer for the Breaking of the Bread: “if we hold firm, we will reign with
him”. What does standing firm mean?
In this season
of Lent, we are encouraged to think about the traditional disciplines of
prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and scripture reading that bring us closer to
God. We also acknowledge that there are
lots of things that are trying to pull us away from God.
Recently I read about a
spiritual retreat where “the retreat leader led participants in discerning
formational forces at work in our lives. Churches, schools, families, friends,
neighborhoods, media, advertising, employers, professional organizations, etc.,
affect us daily, for better and for worse. At the end, the leader reminded
participants, “Remember that as you leave, you will renter the multibillion
dollar formation machine that is American media and advertising.”
The leader’s point was that we
are exposed to many influences that try to shape our opinions, our
personalities, even our souls. Not all
of these influences are necessarily what Paul would call “enemies of the cross
of Christ”, but many of these influences seek to align us with selfishness, materialism,
hatred, and violence.
Looking to the saints is one
way of re-aligning ourselves with the values of our faith, whether the saints
are historic, stained glass figures, or personal saints who have shaped our lives. In an age where so many forces try to pull us
away from God, the saints are like those radar beacons that guide aircraft at
night and in fog. In short, the saints
are guideposts that lead us home to Jesus.