For All Us Saints
Today we celebrate “All Saint’s Day.” This is a holiday much beloved by the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. But how many of you believe that United Methodists celebrate, pray to, or invoke “saints,” in our daily lives? Let’s take a poll: How many of you believe that United Methodists are supposed to believe in “saints?" [PAUSE].
Well the reality is that United Methodists, explicitly deny the invocation of saints by our denomination. In our Articles of Religion, which may be found in Article XIV – Of Purgatory, in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, paragraph 104, our fundamental articles of religion say that members of our denomination should reject the “invocation of saints.” As heirs to the Protestant Reformation, as we discussed last week, Methodists have always been wary of employing any intermediary between our experience of God, including that of priests, churches, and saints.
For his part, John Wesley had a fondness for “All Saints Day,” as it is celebrated in the Anglican Church. Wesley once wrote that All Saint’s Day “is a festival I truly love.” [November 1, 1767] On another All Saint’s Day in 1788, Wesley wrote “I always find this a comfortable day.” And lastly, the next year John Wesley called All Saint’s Day “a day I peculiarly love.” [Wesley’s Journals].
Now these sentimental statements completely contradict John Wesley’s theological beliefs, which oppose the veneration of saints because of their meaninglessness to our human lives. On All Saint’s Day in 1756, Wesley wrote, “How superstitious are they who [give] God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints!” So, John Wesley, who authored the Methodist Articles of Religion based on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, had no use for saints in the Methodist religion, which HAS TO DO WITH ONE’S PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD – UNMEDIATED BY A PRIEST OR A SAINT. [PAUSE].
It seems that John Wesley’s sentimental affection for All Saint’s Day, but his personal and theological rejection of any USE for saints, may be understood to reflect John Wesley’s appeal to “TRADITION,” as part of his “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” As you may have heard me preach on several occasions, one way to understand John Wesley’s theology, his religious beliefs, is to approach it from four distinct standpoints: Scripture, Reason, Experience, and Tradition.
By “TRADITION” Wesley means “all that has gone before us in the Christian Church.” Back to St. Paul, and the Apostles of Jesus, all of whom are venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as saints. Wesley always considered the TRADITIONS of the Christian Church, which include the creeds, prayers, sermons, books, music, and all other ways Christians have understood the work of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in their lives, as keys to understanding our fundamental faith.
So, while the United Methodist Church does not have a system whereby people are elected to sainthood, and while we have no prayers in our faith tradition that venerate saints, we nevertheless have a TRADITION, that on All Saint’s Day, we remember the names of all persons who are near and dear to us whom we would like to LIFT UP today in prayer. During the collection of the TITHES AND OFFERING this week, we will ask everyone to sign an index card with the name of the loved ones who passed in the last year. And, as is our tradition at Annual Conference, we will ring the bell after the invocation of each name.
[Saints and the Beatitudes]
As we celebrate All Saint’s Day, so we are made aware of the LIVING SAINTS of today. Jesus Christ pronounces US as BLESSED in the Beatitudes, a template for the LIVING SAINTS of our world. The next time you look in a mirror, you may see a saint. It all depends on whether you internalize the Beatitudes and live your life in accordance with the Beatitudes. It all depends on whether you strive to live like a saint in today’s world.
Today’s Gospel reading, from Matthew 5:1-12, records one of the most beautiful poems of all time, from the mouth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes are the “BE” “ATTITUDES”. How must we “BE” if we are to enter the Kingdom of God. What attitudes or actions must we adopt if we are to attain the level of sainthood? In the Beatitudes, we learn that Jesus is teaching us about the conditions of sainthood and what it means to aspire to sainthood.
Let’s review what Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount. And when we review the Beatitudes, let us think about how and whether these “BE” “Attitudes” apply to our lives today:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Sermon on the Mount, and particularly, the Beatitudes, were beloved by John Wesley so much, that he wrote 12 sermons about them, dissected them, and repeated and refined his 12 sermons ON the Sermon on the Mount throughout his life. Here is a short excerpt from one of Wesley’s sermons:
“The pure in heart” are those whose hearts God has purified “just as he is pure.” Through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, they are purified from every unholy affection and cleansed “from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.” Through the power of God’s grace and the deepest poverty of spirit, God purifies them from every unkind and violent passion. Through their meekness and gentleness, God removes every desire except to please and enjoy him. Increasingly, the pure in heart want to know and love God, and a hunger and thirst for righteousness fully occupies their entire souls. Now they “love the Lord with all their heart, and with all their soul, and with all their mind, and with all their strength.” [THE GREAT SHEMA].
And so, despite John Wesley’s problems with the veneration of Saints, Wesley preached that the Beatitudes are essential to personal holiness in our everyday lives. Through John Wesley’s belief in personal sanctification and Christian perfection, we see that Wesley believed in the possibility of OUR BECOMING SAINTS through our personal actions and personal piety.
If John Wesley were alive today, he would maintain that saints are ordinary people who have decided to do extra-ordinary things through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Saints are people who choose not to ignore, but to act. Saints are people who unite with Jesus Christ and run towards danger: they help the poor in spirit, they care for those who mourn, they feed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they are peacemakers, and they are persecuted. Saints help their neighbors, whose lives may be RAW AND TURBULENT AND BROKEN.
Saints are not born saints, but born like you and me, and saints make the personal decision to live a life of service to Jesus Christ. A saint lives “not to be served, but to serve.” The saints whom we find living among us are those people who choose to serve humanity and are thus blessed by Jesus Christ. Saints live their lives in accordance with the Beatitudes.
We can recall the names of saints like St. George, St. Mary, St. Stephen, St. Peter, St. Augustine, St. Catherine, St. Teresa, et cetera. But we must not forget the saints of the modern day: Henry Appenzeller, who brought Christianity to Korea, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who gave his life to stop Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Sister Theresa of Calcutta.
But let us look further, for the saints of today are not always renowned or public figures. There are saints among us from the rank and file of everyday life. We see them teaching in classrooms in the public high schools of our cities. We see them in hospital emergency rooms, comforting those who have just lost loved ones. We see them in retirement homes, speaking to the fragile ones who sit, mute and staring, locked inside minds with dementia. We see them volunteering to rebuild homes lost after a hurricane or a fire. We see them tutoring youngsters from poor neighborhoods who often must choose between food and books, or between food and electricity.
These are the saints of today who will surely leave an indelible mark on the history of humanity – but they will not be celebrated publicly. These saints will live IN AND ON OUR HEARTS, every day. And the next time you look in the mirror, ask yourself, are you living a life of sainthood? Do you embrace and live the Beatitudes? The next time you look at yourself in the mirror, ask yourself: DO YOU HAVE THE “ATTITUDE” to “BE” a SAINT?
May it be so.