Our little church on the hill in Reynoldsburg took quite a hit last year with the loss of some very special people. There are nearly 200 years of membership represented in these eight candles. Peg Pfautsch died suddenly just a few weeks ago, still a shock for this congregation who worshipped with her days before she died. Peg started coming here when only Fritz Hall stood on this land. Millie Peck, too started attending with her husband and two children in the sixties. Well into her 80’s, she worshipped every Sunday at 8 with us. Husband and wife Jim and Dorothy Morris, both passed away this year. They were active in our Senior Lunch Bunch, came to Messiah Night and Dorothy raised her voice in song for our Senior Saints. Susan Wright had not been able to attend the last few years because of a chronic illness, but she too worshipped and served faithfully for years, raising her kids here, allowing us the honor of grieving with her when her son died and later celebrating the baptism of her grandchild. Phyllis Moder died nearly a year ago but her encouragement and support of our worship life is still missed. I am sure our Chancel Choir will be remembering her place beside them when they sing at 11. We also grieve today with Florence Mbekem who lost her husband William, who we were never honored to meet. And our hearts break with Don Searls and his wife Julie as they continue to grieve Andrea who died at way too young of an age, just as she was graduating from college and beginning a life of serve to those in need.
While this congregation and the families who came to worship today still grieve the passing of these eight, today is about more than sadness. As the church, we declare these eight were not just fellow travelers with us in faith. They are saints. Saints that have joined the hosts of saints in heaven, and now they encourage us, even eat with us at the holy meal, on our continued walk of faith.
Admittedly, they are not saints in the Mother Theresa sense. Although sometimes in my funeral sermons I can get a little carried away when describing the lives of the people we come to celebrate. Once, I had a man tell me at the luncheon that followed, that when he died he wanted a funeral sermon like that one, although don’t start working on it anytime soon. More than once, I have heard with a snicker from a relative, “Cousin George never sounded so good.”
Honestly, funeral sermons for church members are easy to write because the love of Christ is so powerful and abundant in our lives, I rarely lack for examples of goodness to lift up. I may not balance my descriptions with negatives that were surely present, but honestly do you want me talking about your irritable bowel syndrome and how it could clear a room in your funeral sermon? No church members here are saints like Mother Theresa, but when you get right down to it, Mother Theresa wasn’t a saint like Mother Theresa either. Martin Luther chose to make his break with the church symbolically on the day before All Saints Day. He wanted to reclaim the title of saint from being a hall of fame Christian to being someone that looks like most of us.
Paul didn’t have hall of fame Christians in mind when he called all of the Corinthians saints at the beginning of his letter to them, because he followed that title with 16 chapters of complaints about all the things he thought the saints were doing wrong. Jesus didn’t expect us to be Mother Theresa saints, either. Really, he kind of redefined what it meant to be a saint, a blessed one of God. In his day, and frankly in our day, too, those who were blessed, sanctified, a saint, were obvious to pick out. They were the ones who lives looked perfect, either with lots of money and power or a great Godly wisdom with a big following of disciples to prove it. It makes sense, right, what else could it mean to be blessed? Jesus didn’t have the rich and powerful or the incredibly Godly in mind when he taught that the blessed, the sanctified, the saints are the meek, the poor, the abused, the motley crew that looks most often like us.
So, in funerals, I lift up the lives of saints. On All Saints Day, we celebrate their blessed life with us, a blessed life that continues with all the saints in heaven. But, every Sunday we gather as our creeds tell us as the communion of saints. This means we qualify as saint, too. You and I, not by what we have done or because we have passed from this world, but by what God has done to us in these waters. Being a saint is to live a sanctified life, a blessed life and what could be more blessed than being renamed child of God when we are baptized?
God has called us by name, chosen us before the founding of the world, and promised to do great things through us for the sake of all the other saints. I can say it even simpler than this. Saints are those people that we can identify most clearly as looking like Jesus in our life. The writer in I John this morning is clear from the day we were baptized we have been reformed into Christ’s body. We are Christ already, little Christs Luther said, we only need to trust the power of this. Who would dare not call us saints?
Of course, eventually there will be no quibbling about it. In the end, all of us will have the reflection of Christ unveiled fully. Here though on earth, our true identity often remains hidden. Sometimes it is our fear, sometimes our selfishness, sometimes injustice or poverty, sometimes great wealth and power, but daily something cloaks the body of Christ we have been formed into in these waters. Maybe a good preacher can sketch a picture of the saint within you in a twelve minute homily, but can your wife that saint within you today? Your children? Your parents? Your coworkers? Your neighbors?
God can and God knows our brokenness. God knows the struggles, pain and grief of this world. God knows that even Mother Theresa had bad saint days. Yet, let’s not let our true selves be submerged, coming to the surface only briefly when we act Christ like, full of love, compassion and forgiveness, then submerging again and remaining hidden. Our very presence in this world is a part of God’s plan to sanctify the world, bless it with love. God loves us. God blesses us, so that we may love others, so that we may bless others. God has made us saints so that we may join in the plan of redemption for all creation.
The flames of the candles lit today are a symbol of the Holy Spirit that called these eight saints to life. The flames of the candles we light when we come forward are a symbol of the Holy Spirit that lived in others, too. Those saints that before they left this world revealed Jesus to us, touched our lives, led us to church, shared with us God’s grace, fed us, clothed us, held us. They are saints, too, not Mother Theresa type of saint probably, there was that unfortunate joke they told at Christmas that nearly gave Grandma a heart attack, but saints none the less. Remember them today and ask that they continue to bless you from heaven.
After you eat the meal, the bread of heaven that all the saints in every time and place eat with us, sit and reflect on all this light. Be enveloped by God’s presence, God’s Spirit made alive in our baptism. Trust the blessing within you, the saint that you have become. Vow today again, to reveal Jesus to another just as that person you lit the candle for once revealed Jesus to you. Amen