The Rev. Wilbert S. Miller
“Saints Unveneered and Not Airbrushed”
All Saints’ Day Sermon
At the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Luke 6: 20-31
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When most of us think of saints`, we think of the big ones, like Saint Paul and Saint Peter, Saint Luke and Saint John, Saint Matthew and Saint Mark. There are also the saints who have gone through the elaborate canonization process carried out by the Supreme Pontiff of Roman Catholic Church in Rome that requires two certifiable miracles; in that regard, we think, of course, most recently of Saint Teresa of Calcutta.
And then there are those saints who, though not Roman Catholic, are giants to us. Saint Martin Luther King, Jr., Saint Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and our own beloved Saint Martin Luther come quickly to mind.
All these saints have an honorific feel to them. You might say they are the giants of the faith. They are the people known worldwide and who make us proud to call ourselves Christians.
But, most of us have never known a single one of these famous people. The saints we know are the ones who sit in the cheap seats, the ones we just heard about in Saint Luke’s gospel: they are the poor and hungry, the ones who weep and who are hated by others, they are cursed at, abused, slapped in the face. We know these saints well.
At least for me, whenever I hear the word “saint,” it is hard to think of myself. Is it like that for you as well? It almost unthinkable that we are saints.
Our baptism was our canonization process. The only certifiable miracle then, and now, is that God called us by name, overlooked our rascally sinful nature, and said, “I love you.” That was and is enough for our sainthood.
That is so hard for us to imagine. The saints we think of are the ones for whom churches have been named, who appear in our stained-glass windows, and after whom we have named our children. But you….me? We are saints? It is almost unimaginable to say, “I am a saint!”
My favorite definition for a saint is Frederick Buechner’s: “In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.”
These are the saints we know: the ones who come fluttering into our lives. We love them and, yes indeed, they infuriate us. We rub shoulders with them and we run from them as fast as we can. We feel guilty as can be when they die and we weep at the emptiness we feel now that they are gone. There was and is not anything stained-glass about these saints—ever—and we know that! It is why we find it so hard to imagine that they or we are saints: we know ourselves best and we know how miserably we fall short of the glory of God.
And yet, in the prayers of thanksgiving you make this night, in the names you have inscribed in the book of names (if you haven’t done so yet, please write the names of those you love in the book of names after you receive communion), in the pictures that stand at the altar—these are the saints who have touched you most deeply.
We tend to idolize the big times saints, the famous ones. They have been airbrushed by history and veneered by popular piety. The saints we know, the ones baptized in churches in places like this, are a complicated combination of brilliance and imperfection, tenderness and cussedness, compassion and arrogance, selflessness and egotism, rages and kisses.
And yet it is theses saints who have been dropped into our hands from heaven. Their beauty, I imagine, the uniqueness, is the astonishing and yet quirky combination of flaws and brilliance all at once. In our Lutheran tradition, we call them saint and sinner… all in one breath and all loved by God.
On this holy evening, we keep thinking of those we love. They have infuriated us and broken our hearts and yet on this night, we realize there is something much more powerful afoot. Tonight, these people are saints simply because God has loved them and called them by name.
These are the blessed ones, just like you and I. We are God’s people who come fluttering into this world and, by God’s grace, touch a life or two and one day, on a night like this, someone will say of us, “She was a dear saint; he was a blessed man.” Oh, for all the saints. Alleluia.