All Saints’ Day November 1, 2009

Wisdom 3:1-9                                                                       

Revelation 21:1-6a                                                               

John 11:32-44

It’s wonderful when you suddenly receive a new insight, a new understanding or way of looking at something that’s maybe been around for a long time. I mean wonderful in the literal sense: something that causes you to be filled with wonder, to notice that this insight is a gift from outside yourself, nothing short of a revelation from God. We need to own those wonderful revelations, the small ones as well as the large. God does work in our lives!

I received such a revelation as I was working on a project to help one of our teenagers. Robert isn’t here this morning; he’s helping his grandfather put a new roof on his house. But many of you know Robert’s story. He lives just down the road. He’d never been to church, never been baptized; religious faith had never been a part of his life. But his dad, who’s raised Robert,  felt he should have some exposure to church, so for about the last year Robert has been coming here, all by himself, most Sundays. He’s been joining in worship, in the youth group activities, become an acolyte, even did an Adopt-a-Highway pick-up one Sunday – and if that’s not being part of Holy Cross, I don’t know what is.

Robert doesn’t receive Communion because he hasn’t been baptized. He and his dad want him to understand more fully what Baptism and Church membership would mean so he can decide whether he wants to receive this sacrament. So I’ve been working on a book – a little book! – that I call “Robert’s Book,” to try to communicate what I think would go into a thoughtful decision for a young man like Robert. And that’s caused me to do some thinking too.

I’m using as my structure for the book those “four B’s” that we talk about from time to time: Belonging, Behaving, Believing and Becoming.” You’ll remember: we talk about what order they should go in, and how in the Church, traditionally, believing grows out of belonging to a community and learning it’s ways – what we mean by behaving.

Behaving is an awkward word here. We use it in the four B sequence because it begins with a B. But we don’t mean behaving in the “sit up straight,” “don’t pick your nose,” “don’t pick on your little sister” sense of the word. Being a Christian is a whole lot more than being nice and polite (indeed, many of the saints weren’t either of these things!). So how to explain in “Robert’s Book” what Behaving means? That was my challenge. And  here was my revelation: we learn about Christian Behaving from the saints.

That was a new thought to me, and very helpful. Anglicans coming from a Protestant background tend to be leery of the whole business of saints. After all, we can pray to Jesus and God directly; we don’t have to go through some saint. And a lot of statues in church seem maybe a bit idolatrous to those of a Protestant mindset. On the other hand, Catholic Anglicans can make saints a little too “stained glass” and remote for practical use. All pious and pretty and long ago, they scarcely seem human.

But saints as models of Behaving, windows into Believing – well, I connected to that. Actually, if you think of it, most of us are Christians because someone else modeled Christianity for us, because there was something a little different in them that called out to us – like Moses and the burning bush. So in “Robert’s Book” I wrote about a saint who is particularly close to me in this sense, Jonathan Myrick Daniels. Jonathan was born the same year as me, right over in Keene, New Hampshire. He grew up in much the same milieu as I did, nothing special about his family or his background or his education. He wrestled with believing as I did, as many teenagers do. Like me, he was very unsure of what to do with his life. And like me, he had a distinct conversion experience, a moment that changed his life.

But here’s where our stories diverge. Jonathan Daniels took his conversion and went to seminary to become a priest. I got talked out of going to seminary by my parents, who wanted me to become someone important – so I went to law school. Jonathan Daniels went with other idealistic young seminarians to Alabama in what became known as the Civil Rights Summer of 1968. He was murdered – the Christian word is martyred, which in Greek means “witness” – when he pushed a young black girl to safety and took the bullet meant for her into his own body. I safely practiced law, representing big corporations and making money, until finally at age 39 I responded to what God had been calling me to do for 20 years. Jonathan Daniels is a saint, a saint who shines for me as a model of what Behaving means: courage, commitment, sacrificial love, utter trust in God and Jesus Christ, even unto death. Jonathan helps me to behave a little more like that in my own life.

This morning 11 teenagers from our youth group gave presentations for us on the saints they had chosen who said something about Behaving which spoke to them in their own lives. As we spoke, pictures of these saints were projected one by one on the wall. It was an amazing and diverse group. St. Patrick, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a teenager and returned years later to convert the very people who had enslaved him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship and refused to go along with Naziism when most other Christians kept silent – paying the cost of discipleship with his life. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who insisted that women were entitled to all the rights and privileges of men, when the men (including those in charge of the Church) told her to sit down and keep silent. Charles Stuart, King of England at the time of the Puritan revolution in the seventeenth century, who died for the Catholic faith and its embodiment in Anglicanism. Martin Luther, whoworked to reform that faith when it had become corrupt. And so many more.

I had this amusing vision of all these saints meeting each other in their white robes, holding their palm branches, up there in heaven – just as the Book of Revelation pictures them. I saw them being a little surprised to discover who else was standing there with them (I mean, Charles Stuart and Martin Luther?). And I saw that being a saint doesn’t mean you lose your personality, your individuality. Jesus calls us as who we are, not as some generic holy person. He sanctifies our individuality as he takes it up and applies it to his greater cause. And I thought about something I learned in art class in elementary school: that white isn’t a color at all, but the sum of all the colors put together. So maybe each saint is wearing a robe of a different color – his or her own unique, special color – but all together there in heaven the colors come together like notes in a symphony, and that’s why we see their robes as glistening white.

Think about it. Think about your own color, your own unique gifts and life. And then think of all the saints, and how they stand as models of Behaving, calling to us to join them there on the distant shore of Paradise and here and now in the battle of good against evil in this life.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, whose people are knit together in one holy Church, the mystical body of your Son, grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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