“And, I Mean to Be One, Too”
This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, October 5, 2014.
Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
Today begins a month long celebration and season of the saints. In the Methodist tradition we recognize people whose faithfulness and devotion inspire others to grow in their love of God and neighbor. We do not pray to saints. We do not believe that saints have a special audience with God where they can intercede on our behalf (see 1 Timothy 2:5-6a). They are not to be worshiped.
Saints are those people who exemplify the Christian faith: those who “have the mind of Christ” and bear the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22). Saints—far from being prudish, holier-than-thou sticks in the mud—are real people like you and me who devote themselves, the best they can, to following Christ with all their heart, soul, mind and strength; people who seek to constantly grow in love with God and neighbor. Saints are people—living now and into eternity—who seek to know and grow in love.
We are, all too often, mistaken when we think of saints as being people of purity, in white flowing robes. Saints are just ordinary people who have allowed God’s grace to pick up the pieces of their lives and turn them into something extraordinary. They are regular people who carry baggage—the burden of the past: people who make mistakes and are broken by the effects of sin.
Saints are people who are defined not by their past—no matter how good or bad it might be. They’re not pure or perfect in a worldly sense. They are fallible. They make mistakes; but, those things do not define their lives. They are defined by living the possibility of God’s future. They seek to give themselves fully in love to God and neighbor.
Saints, in the words of Paul to the Philippians, “forget about the things behind [them] and reach out for the things ahead of [them]. The goal [they] pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 13b-14, Common English Bible).
John Wesley was fascinated by examples of living saints. As a missionary pastor in Georgia, he met one such saint and later wrote about him in his Journal. When Wesley met Henry Lascelles in 1736, he was dying. Wesley was astounded to note Mr. Lascelles’ complete serenity and peace.
Wesley writes, “After praying with him I was surprised to find one of the most controverted questions in divinity, disinterested love, decided at once by a poor, old man without education or learning, or any instructor but the Spirit of God. I asked him what he thought of paradise — to which he had said he was going. He said, ‘To be sure, it is a fine place. But I don’t mind that. I don’t care what place I am in. Let God put me where he will, or do with me what he will, so I may but set forth his honour and glory.'”
Wesley later found that pointing to examples of saints could be a useful way to help spur the Methodists on to receive God’s grace for themselves. In his famous book, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Wesley tells the story of a Methodist woman named Jane Cooper. In telling the story of her death, Wesley calls her “a living and a dying witness of Christian perfection.” He describes the way in which Ms. Cooper was buffeted by the full assurance of her salvation, even as she lay painfully dying of smallpox. Regardless of her situation, she knew Jesus’ love for her and gave her full trust to God. Wesley presents her as an example for other Christians.
People like Henry Lascelles and Jane Cooper are all around us today. While it is true that the full extent of their faith is most noticeable around the time of death, such faith is also present in life — usually in the quiet, unassuming way that living saints go about their daily discipleship.
Watching for the living saints among us can help us in our own faith journeys. They know something in their souls that we are all trying to learn. Their gift to us is that, in reflecting the light of Jesus so clearly to others, they give us a chance to receive it for ourselves.
Over the course of the last month and a half, the youth of Lee Church have been thinking about and naming living saints who have impacted their faith journeys. And over the course of the next month we will honor the living saints among us. They’re all around: people who are doing their best to be faithful; people who are inspiring others to grow in faith and love toward God and neighbor. There are saints all around us; and, I mean to be one, too. And, I pray you do too.