This Sunday many congregations will be celebrating All Saints Sunday. In the next installment of The Immediate Word, team member Leah Lonsbury notes that there are many misguided concepts about what it is that makes one a saint -- in particular, the common belief that only people who seem flawless are qualified to be referred to as saints. The All Saints lections provide us with some telling clues about what really constitutes sainthood -- and it’s no coincidence that the assigned gospel text is the Beatitudes. Despite our many flaws and imperfections, God’s grace makes us all saints... something we demonstrate by doing the Lord’s work (for which, Jesus tells us, our reward will be great in heaven). But being a saint, as Jesus reminds us in the Beatitudes, is an often unseen and thankless task that leads people to “revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Leah illustrates this principle by looking at hidden saints -- those whose work often goes unrewarded and unappreciated by the world. There are many examples one could cite; among others Leah highlights is the plight of local translators and fixers in Afghanistan who have made themselves targets in order to work with Americans and other westerners. Despite the life-saving importance of their contributions -- and the fact that in choosing to aid Americans they have put their own lives and those of their families at risk -- the U.S. government’s labyrinthine bureaucracy has made it almost impossible for them to obtain special immigrant visas. That’s no small matter; as the U.S. withdraws its presence from Afghanistan, life has become much more deadly for them, as well as for NGO workers and other western expats. It seems cruel and unjustified to leave those who, in many respects, made our efforts in Afghanistan possible to the vagaries of existence without U.S. protection -- yet such peril is often the unfortunate lot of those who take up the mantle of sainthood. Indeed, Jesus continually cautions us against seeking rewards in this life, reminding us that those “who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Here’s a preview:
For All the Saints
by Leah Lonsbury
Matthew 5:1-12; Matthew 23:1-12
Many of us will be celebrating All Saints Day this Sunday, pausing to honor the lives of the members of our congregations who have died in the past year. But what is it exactly about a person that makes them a saint? William W. How gives us some ideas in his famous hymn “For All the Saints.” Saints, according to How, are those who profess their faith before the world; bless the name of Jesus; find shelter in God; look to the Lord in their faithful, bold, and “well-fought fight”; win the victor’s crown; and shine in glory.
Those sound like some pretty tough standards to live up to, right?
What if our saint standards weren’t based on the Platonic ideal of perfection but looked more to our scriptures for guidance? What does Jesus say about what makes one great? Who will be exalted in the kin-dom Jesus is creating? Who will be qualified to be called blessed and known as saints? Who will be rewarded with God’s mercy and called children of God?
It’s not who we might think.
Join us this week as we uncover some hidden and perhaps surprising saints whose work often goes unseen, unappreciated, and unrewarded. Just as Jesus warned his followers it would, this saintly work brings with it persecution and great personal risk. This All Saints Day we should all be paying attention, because despite our flaws and imperfections, God through grace is busy making us this kind of saint as well.
Be ready. Next stop... sainthood.
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