Friday, October 28, 2016

Some thoughts on saints

Over the next few days, Christians have the opportunity to celebrate history as well as their commitment to furthering the future of our faith.  For Protestants, October 31st is more than a day for trick or treat.  It is a time to remember the famous moment of the Reformation when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the proverbial church door.  On November 1, the Roman Catholic tradition and increasingly more Protestants are remembering the great cloud of faithful witnesses on All Saints' Day.

Ironically, the Reformation led to a general Protestant malaise towards talk of the saints. The end result, though, was that in eschewing excess, the reformers left their theological descendants (including we Baptists) with little interest in taking stock of a wonderful word that goes back to the New Testament era church: “saint.”

Saints are those people who are known not for their ability to be great. They rarely want “greatness.” And often it is not the fabulous excess that the world considers "great".  These are the people that really aren’t aiming to be noticed. They just do good work. They are kind. They do major things, but prefer not to be upfront about it. (Most of us aren’t given to this sort of way of life. We have to keep learning and just hope to get this deep down good someday.)

The wonderful thing about saints, in the New Testament sense, is that we are indeed able to be saints, if we choose to be. In his writings, Paul presumed that saints were just as much part of the mix. It’s a good thing to aim for a congregation to be a place where people learn the ways of living faithfully to God and neighbor.

I recall the rich words of Mother Teresa, recently canonized as a saint, who said, “I am Albanian by birth. Now I am a citizen of India. I am also a Catholic nun. In my work, I belong to the whole world. But in my heart, I belong to Christ.”  Teresa’s life was one given to Christ in the deepest way. “Saint” is the best title one could call her. And as you think about those people who have enriched your life--indeed, who may be instrumental in why you yourself attend a congregation and keep the faith, should we not give thanks for the saints of God know in our own lives?

The book of Hebrews talks of “a cloud of witnesses” who cheer us on, who encourage us in running the race. In a time when many churches struggle with a sense of relevance or seem to allow themselves defined by what they do not have or lack, I consider the past history of Christianity and suggest that God has provided abundantly and continues to do so. 

And we are that abundance.

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