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For all the Saints...

Fr John Reed, inaugural sermon,  Sunday, 5th November, 2017

Those who worship in churches spend their lives being looked down upon by saints,;they look from stained glass windows, some with serious faces, others with benign smiles, others with looks of surprise and some with a look of serendipity. Many have what one of my former colleagues called “pan lids” on their heads, a sign of holiness that their lives are different from ours. A badge of having made it into Gods presence.

A child was once asked the question what is a saint? Without hesitating she replied ‘See through people’

Our church calendar has many saints - women poorly represented in comparison to men - people from both sides of the Reformation who would have burnt each other at the stake, and even George Fox the founder of the Quakers whom the established church regularly sent to prison. Characters both ancient and more modern who in some special way have been recognised by others as having shown others something of God, of having been see through people.

Some years ago we visited Krakow, and like many we did the tour of Auschwitz.  It is a terrible place where many terrible things happened in what was a former bog standard army camp.  And that was the terrible paradox.  We were shown a simple brick hut, in which the Germans had built a brick box about the size of a coal bunker and periodically they used to incarcerate people in there and starve them to death.  Many people had suffered in this place, but yet it was embellished with a large wooden cross.

On one occasion as the guards were rounding up prisoners to go into the cell, a man was chosen who pleaded that he be reprieved because he had a family. A Polish priest, Fr. Maximillian Kolbe, stepped forward, he was old, had no family and asked the guards to let him go in the man’s place.  Then as he starved with his fellow prisoners he sang hymns.  The hymns were an inspiration to the many prisoners, and days after his fellow prisoners had died he lived on, singing.  For day after day his singing provided hope to many who had no hope. Eventually he was beaten to death.  In the mundanity of a brick death chamber, hope flourished. 

Saints are countercultural through their words and actions, taking the mundane and transforming it to the glory of God. The beatitudes literally proclaim Gods blessedness in situations where we don’t expect it. The poor in spirit will receive the kingdom of heaven.

Those who mourn will be comforted? The meek will inherit the earth? Those hungering and thirsting for righteousness will be filled? The merciful receive mercy? The pure in heart see God, the peacemakers will be known as God’s children. The persecuted get the Kingdom of heaven.

Given the scandals with politicians and other great people we regularly listen to on the news, we have a long way to go as a society and as a planet.  Yet very ordinary people are inspired to be different, to go against the flow, to know God’s blessedness in the mundane places we least expect blessings in.

Rowan Williams suggested in one of his books that we should have local saints in our calendars, maybe a special day for Beryl, another for Carol, for Ettie , Reg, Eva and many other wonderful people who in their own way have blessed our lives by their presence in them.  All Saints day was made for people like these who are not remembered in calendars. But people whose mundane lives we give thanks to God for.  And maybe we too have a place with them? 

St. John reminds us we are all God’s children, through our baptism we have a new dignity.  The saints remind us as God’s children that we are called to be a blessing to others.

St. Francis was once asked by a young monk what it was to be truly blessed; Francis taught him by saying ‘write this down’. And every time the young monk thought he had an answer he asked ‘is this blessedness?’  And several times Francis said no.

So blessedness wasn’t in having the biggest order of monks in the world, or having lots of Kings and Emperors following his way, or even building lots of churches all over the world.

It comes down to a rainy night when it was dark and the Watchman of a walled city refused to let people in till daylight, so they  had to sleep on the ground in the rain.  True blessedness was that Francis and his helper could still truly love that watchman when he opened the gate in the morning.

So as we give thanks for saints known and unknown, and think about our place alongside them, remember that lovely picture of that greater cloud of witnesses, in the grandstand of eternity, praying for you, that you as a child of God will enable others to know true blessedness.

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