All Means All Y’all

Well, everybody… it is All Saints Day. Which means that November is here, and we are decidedly in that time of year where I get to wear flannels in the morning and by noon I cannot stop sweating. Thanks, Texas! It means that we are getting to the end of our liturgical year, that it’s coming to a close, and soon it will be Advent and we get to start the whole thing over.

And it also means that this sermon, which I have, of course titled, “All Means All Y’all,” is going to be about All Saints Day. And the question I want us to consider together is, “why do we celebrate All Saints Day?” The short answer is, because we’ve done it since Pope Gregory IV instituted it as a feast day in the 9th century, and we just sort of held onto it after the Reformation.

But, the longer answer, which, I’m gonna get into, cause I need, you know, SOMETHING to say up here, requires that we take a look into our own theology and belief around Saints.

In the Apostles creed, we affirm our belief in the “Communion of Saints,”; this idea that comes from today’s readings in Matthew and Revelation, and some other spots in the scriptures, like where Hebrews 12 calls them a “great cloud of witnesses”. And a great cloud of witnesses is exactly what they are: They’re our Christian siblings, our family in the faith who have come before us and can show us how we are to follow the way of Christ.

It also means that somehow, in some way, that even though these people who have come before us, some of them thousands of years before us, they are still, in some sense, alive. In Matthew’s gospel, in a debate with a group of Resurrection-denying Sadducees, Jesus says “…as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus identifies Israel’s Patriarchs as those who are biologically dead, but because of their trust in their God, they are still, somehow, someway alive. Because if they were not, God would not be God, as He’s the God of living, and not the dead.

But all this begs the question, what is a saint? And what makes a saint, a saint? Are they only the people who have performed miracles, and feats of endurance and strength and healings? Are they only the people who have shown such fervor in the face of death, that they’re now paragons of the faith?

Now, denominationally speaking, while there may be some requirements for sainthood, in the anglican communion, our tradition, and (I would argue,) in the Biblical witness, any person, ANY person, at all, who puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ is a saint.

We believe that any person who has “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” from Revelation this morning, they will be found “standing before the throne and before the Lamb,… singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’” We, who have put our faith and our trust in Jesus Christ, are they of whom Revelation speaks.

We. are. all. saints.

But, here’s the thing: we also live with ourselves. We know that while this may be the truth of the situation, more often than not, this feels, at best, aspirational, or at least, a long way off, well into eternity, and not a reality for right now.

Martin Luther, the reformer, identified these sort of dual realities as: Simul Justus et Peccator. It means “at the same time” or “simultaneously, Saint and Sinner.” These simultaneous identities, these dual realities, are real because we are human beings, who have put our faith and our trust in God, yes, but this side of eternity—before all things, including us, are made new—, we are also still humans, and that means that we are subject to the realities of sin and death.

We’re sinners because we’re human, yes, but we are still saints. Because, the thing that makes a saint a saint is not some sort of might or vigor, as it is easy to think when we look at the annals of history and see the canonized. It isn’t, as Rev. Fleming Rutledge puts it, “a triumph of the human spirit” that makes someone a saint, but “a triumph of the Holy Spirit.” // And yes that is about as corny as it gets, but we’ll remember it!

And because we are saints positionally by the working and provision of our God, it’s also a guarantee of our destiny! Just as the attaining of our Saintly identity was not of our own power, but the working of God, our ultimate destiny and the retention of the Saintly identity is not of our own power, but the working of God. Again from revelation, We will be raised up and “hunger no more, and thirst no more;”   and “the sun will not strike [us] nor any scorching heat;” because “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be [our] shepherd, and he will guide [us] to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.” This is the promise of our eternal destiny because of the power of our God.

But, this is is not a license to abscond our identity as saints in God’s family. If anything, it’s an encouragement to live up to the high calling that God has given us! When we look at the saints in the history of our church, we can find encouragement to do the things that God is calling us to do.
And, while the likelihood of us ever being called to be martyred for our faith, like Saints Perpetua and Felicity, or to preach the gospel AFTER having our heads removed like St. Denis, or being called to get into a boat with no oars and just let it take us wherever the seas wishes, like St. Brendan, is very low, AND while that has the potential to make us feel like we aren’t actually living up to the calling of our identity as saints, the reality of the situation is that most of the saints that have ever lived on this earth have not been recorded.
They are people who quietly live their lives everyday, submitted to the working of Christ, living out the fruits of the Spirit, and showing us, the vast majority of Christians, the vast majority of SAINTS, what it looks like to follow the way of Jesus.

In the eyes of the God that we serve, there is no difference. Mother Teresa was once asked if she perceived her inability to “save more souls” as a failure, and she responded by saying something along the lines of, “to God, there is no success and there is no failure, there is only being faithful to that which you have been called.” And Saints, known or unknown, are those who have been called by God, to do the work of God, and have been found faithfully following that call.

These are the sorts of Everyday Saints who have shaped us and formed us into the people that we are. Like my own mother, who is the most faithful person I have ever known. Or my Bible Professor from college, who was so convinced of the radical love and power of our God that he lost his job, rather than be unfaithful to that which God had called him.

These are just two of the Saints who formed me, and like the writer of Hebrews says, “time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,” time would fail me to tell of all the saints in my life, of Dexter, of Diana, of Cale, of Paige or Rachel, or Eric, or Tabitha who, have helped shape and form me into the person that I am today. The Saints whose faithfulness has spoken more of a sermon and testimony than 12 minutes in a pulpit ever could. The Saints whose faithfulness might never be known to history, but is known to God.

So, why do we celebrate All Saints Day?

We celebrate it to remember; to remember the Saints in the long line of Christian History who came before us; to remember the Saints in our own lives, who though their faithfulness have helped make us in to the people we are today; and to remember our own identities as the Saints of God, not by a “triumph of the Human Spirit, but a triumph of the Holy Spirit.”

So, today, on this All Saints Day, I encourage us to take some time to remember the people who came before us, in the grand scheme of history, and in our own lives, and to remember our identities as Saints. And in that remembrance of our identities, to look forward to the day when we, with all God’s Saints, as all God’s Saints, because “All” means “All y’all,” will be raised up and be numbered among the faithful, and all things will be made new.