Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Need for Saints: A sermon for All Saints Sunday



Let me begin by offering you greetings on our shared patronal festival Sunday from the Cathedral.  All Saints’ Sunday is a good time to be with you, and I want to assure you that the Cathedral prays for you regularly, and that you are in my prayers also.

But let me take you to another church in the Diocese, in the village of Newton Solney.  I know it well, because each year for a week it is used for the pre-ordination retreat.  This is a time for those about to be ordained to spend time in prayer and preparation.  As I have sat in the church, I have spent some time looking at the stained glass windows.  They have been bleached by the sun, so that it has taken me some effort to work out the stories that they tell.  As I worked out what those stories are, it also occurred to me that the windows now tell a deeper story than they did when they were easy to understand.  What the sun has bleached out is the faces and details of the characters in the stories.  What you can see are blobs of colour, in positions that allow you to work out the story.  But they are faceless, featureless characters, leaving what seems very close to a set of stories without characters.  The deeper story that the windows now tell is that the stories of the Bible, the good news of Jesus need people to inhabit them and make them come to life for others.

Let me repeat that, the stories of the Bible, the good news of Jesus need people to inhabit them and make them come to life for others.  And that’s a pretty good thing to remember on All Saints Sunday - the stories of the Bible, the good news of Jesus need people to inhabit them and make them come to life for others.  Today we celebrate that all the people who make up the saints of God.  We celebrate the quiet and the unknown saints as well as the famous saints.  We celebrate those who have played a part in enabling us to inhabit the stories of the Bible and the good news of Jesus.  And we celebrate that we too are numbered among the saints of God.

The stories of the Bible and the good news of Jesus need people to inhabit them and make them come to life for others.  We can see that clearly in the readings we have heard this morning.  Daniel tells us about visions, and those visions set out the whole of God’s plans.  But a vision that has no one to put it into practice is nothing.  It is just a picture with no detail, no life, and no stories.  Visions need those who will inhabit them, bring them to life and create the new world of which they speak. 

St Paul speaks of the church as the body of Christ, ‘the fullness of him who is all in all’.  These are great words, but until they become the foundation of people who ‘live for the praise of his glory’ (as he puts it), then they are only words.

Jesus gives us a very memorable set of blessings, they are justly regarded as central to his teaching. But the blessings are about people doing things that are often hidden, rarely glamourous, and always challenging.  They too need people to inhabit them, so that the blessings can be shared.  The blessings of Jesus need people who will love their enemies, who will do good to those who hate them, who will bless those who curse them, who will pray for those who do them harm, who will give, who will do to others as they would have them do to us. 

In short, the Bible readings this morning all need saints.  They need those who will give flesh to the visions, those who will bring words to life, they need those who will live out the blessings so that others may come to share in them.  The Bible needs saints, the Bible needs you and I to be those saints.

So as together we celebrate the feast of All Saints, after which this church and the Cathedral are named, let us remember that the stories of the Bible and the good news of Jesus need people to inhabit them and make them come to life for others.  Let us give thanks for all those who have brought the Bible to life in this place and in our lives.  And let us rejoice that we are invited to be part of the company of those who bring the visions, the words and the blessings of the Bible to life for the sake of a world that badly needs those visions, those words and those blessings.  Amen.



First given at All Saints, Breadsall. 30.10.16.

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