Finding God’s grace in unexpected places…sermon preached at Adel St John’s for All Saints’ Day 2019
Today we celebrate All Saints Day. So, can anyone tell me who became a saint on October 12th this year?
Any advance on John Henry Newman – Anglican priest, later Roman Catholic priest, theologian, scholar, poet? What about: Dulce Lopas Pontes, Marguerite Bayes, Giuseppina Vannini, Mariam Mankidiyan? Four women pronounced saints on the same day.
I wonder why our news outlets only mentioned Newman…because he was British? …dare I suggest, because he was male? I’ll just leave that thought hanging…
The Church’s introduction to this season of remembering says: “No Christian is solitary. Through baptism we become members one of another in Christ, members of a company of saints whose mutual belonging transcends death.”
A wonderful thought, that we don’t have to try to be Christians on our own, because we belong to a fellowship that stretches back, and forwards in time. Faith isn’t just something personal – our faith is fed by others…even those no longer alive.
The church also says: “All Saints’ Day celebrates men and women in whose lives the church has seen the grace of God powerfully at work.”
The Church of England doesn’t go in for pronouncing Saints as the Roman Church does – but still our calendar remembers many people – famous and less so – whose lives showed God’s grace. This book ‘Saints on Earth’ contains their biographies.
It’s a fascinating read…showing a huge variety of saintliness. From Agnes…Roman child martyr…through Russian mystics…to bishops and priests of all times and nations.
I’m sure there’s a saint in there to suit everyone. A saint to inspire us, whose struggles we can identify with. If you were here last week on Bible Sunday – you probably gathered I’m rather fond of William Tyndale who gave his life so the people of England might have a bible in their own language. A man who thought everyone should engage with scripture for themselves.
I wonder – do any of you have a favourite saint? Perhaps there’s an idea there for a magazine article!!
But if we go back to the question I began with…why we didn’t hear about those women saints from other lands…perhaps finding our ‘favourite’ saint is not the best way of making use of this tradition we inherit.
If we look for saints with whom we identify, might this just reinforce our picture of God’s grace…of what it looks like…of how it appears in human lives? And might that reinforce our picture of God…as perhaps a particularly good version of ourselves?
When I have time, I try to read the relevant pages from this book. It’s given me food for thought. There are some saints I just don’t get, and some where even the writers of the book seem to struggle a little to see God’s grace in the lives they record.
King Charles I…convinced of the ‘divine right of Kings’, who used the belief he was appointed by God to suppress church practices different to his own, to punish harshly those who disagreed. But who ‘was punctual and regular in his devotions, so that he was never known to enter upon his recreations, though never so early in the morning, before he had been at public prayers.’
Thomas More…in the face of criticism of the Roman Catholic Church and the search for a new way of being Christian: ‘More had no sympathy with either the reformers or their beliefs. He endorsed the burning of heretics.’ But who refused to support his King against the Pope – at great financial cost, and eventually at the cost of his life.
John Calvin…one of the great reformers who taught that God has already chosen who will accept his word – and who won’t…who will be ‘saved’ and who won’t. Him I really struggle with – and yet many found faith through him, and his faith led him to support hospitals and new industries, and care for the poor and infirm.
At my licensing service I chose the reading about Elijah finding God not in earthquake, wind or fire, but in the silence…to remind me that God is always bigger and different to what I imagine.
Perhaps All Saints’ Day is a good time to have our vision enlarged. To think about how other people might see God’s grace. How God’s grace might be demonstrated in ways we haven’t imagined. Those ‘difficult’ saints might be a way of enlarging my vision. And the internet makes it very easy these days. You won’t have this book, but you can sign up to a daily prayer from the Church of England that reflects these diverse but holy people.
The church though has an even wider understanding of what saints are…people who profess Jesus as Lord and try to follow him. So look around you – here’s a whole bunch of saints…people in whom the grace of God is at work. Perhaps more powerfully on some days than others – but at work never the less.
And here’s a wonderful challenge and opportunity…to look at the people who are different to us…the people who express their faith in a different way…dare I say it…the people we sometimes find hard work. To look at them ready to see God’s grace at work through their lives.
And if it’s not immediately obvious – look again. Maybe we need to get to know them better; maybe we need to pray for them, and for the grace to see them as saints.
At the end of last week I spent two days on retreat with my prayer group from training. I didn’t choose them…and initially found the range of theology and personality hard. But they’ve become one of my most important supports. We laugh lots and they constantly surprise me with different glimpses of God’s grace.
Let’s use the prompt of All Saints’ Day to be surprised by God. To be surprised by where God’s grace has been recognised – in people different to us. To be surprised by the way God’s grace is shown by the people around us in church this morning