“Saints Among Us”
Rev. Sandy Johnson
November 1, 2015
All Saints Day
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born August 26, 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia. She was the daughter of an entrepreneur father, who worked in construction and medicinal trade and a mother who was described as a “pious and compassionate woman. She instilled in her daughter, a deep commitment to charity.” The family was deeply religious and was involved in the local Catholic Church. When Agnes was 8 years old her father died and she became extraordinarily close to her mother. The family had limited means but her mother believed that it was vital to “never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others.” Often the family dinner table would be filled up and Agnes would ask who the people were. Her mother would simply inform her that “some of them are our relations, but all of them are our people.”
Agnes attended a convent-run school and when she was twelve took a pilgrimage to the Church of the Black Madonna. It was there that she first felt a calling to a religious life. “Six years later, in 1928…she decided to become a nun and set off for Ireland to join the Sisters of Loreto in Dublin. It was here that she took the name Sister Mary Teresa.” “She was sent to Calcutta, where she was assigned to teach at Saint Mary’s High School for Girls, a school run by the Loreto Sisters. She taught the girls from the city’s poorest Bengali families. Sister Teresa learned to speak both Bengali and Hindi as she taught geography and history and dedicated herself to alleviating the girls’ poverty through education.”
Following her “Final Profession of Vows to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience,” she took the name Mother Teresa, as was the tradition of the Loreto nuns. She continued to teach at Saint Mary’s until 1946 when she felt God calling her to do something new. “She was riding a train from Calcutta to the Himalayan foothills for a retreat, when Christ spoke to her and told her to abandon teaching, and instead to work in the slums of Calcutta, aiding the city’s poorest and sickest people.” She left the work she was doing at the school to focus her attention on aiding the unwanted, unloved and uncared for in Calcutta. She established an open-air school, a home for the dying destitute and founded the Missionaries of Charity. “Over the course of the 1950’s and 1960’s she established a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic and a string of mobile health clinics.” She said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”
In her lifetime she established international institutions including the American-based House of Charity, and the Gift of Love, a home to care for those infected with HIV/Aids in New York City. She received numerous awards for her humanitarian work including the “Decree of Praise upon the Missionaries of Charity, presented by Pope Paul VI in 1965; she received the Jewel of India, the highest honor bestowed on Indian civilians, and in 1979 received the highest honor, the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work in brining help to suffering humanity.”
Following her death in 1997 at the age of 87 her writings revealed a woman who suffered a crisis of faith for most of the last 50 years of her life. She described an emptiness and darkness, reminiscent of Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane when he felt God had abandoned him. Although for years she appeared to be a public image of perfect faith, the fact that she worked so diligently and earnestly to follow God’s call in her life, despite her own doubts, makes her even more relatable than before.
In death, Mother Teresa is likely to be awarded sainthood, following the Catholic tradition, to honor those who imitate Christ to the fullest. In our protestant traditions we may not understand or accept the Catholic concept of saints. It is my hope and prayer that after this message this morning you will look upon saints and sainthood a bit differently.
Today we celebrate “All Saints Day.” As “United Methodists [we] understand saints to be believers who exemplify the Christian life. Hence, all Christians strive to be saints in how we live out our faith. United Methodists recognize early followers of Jesus to be saints. For example, you may know many United Methodist churches named St. Paul, St. Andrew, or St. Peter.” We differ from Catholics in that we do not “pray to or worship saints. We also do not think of saints as those who serve as mediators to God on our behalf. All believers in our Methodist tradition, enjoy unmediated access to God. The United Methodist Church has no canonization process for sainthood. The church does not set saints apart as a separate group of specialized believers. Rather, we call all believers saints.”
Turn to your neighbor and say “Good Morning, Saint!”
“Make no mistake; God makes us saints. We do not make ourselves saints, nor make others saints. It is God who does the work. Two attributes of a saint are holiness and righteousness. God calls us to a holy and righteous life. We call this process sanctification. Sanctification is God’s work of grace that helps us live according to God’s will and to strive toward holiness.
“To be holy is to be “set apart.” God sets us apart to be holy, to be sacred.” The early followers of Christ were encouraged to be as holy as God is holy. “Through our relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit works in us and through us, throughout our lives to make us holy. Our response to this process of sanctification is to live a holy life, a life set apart by and for God.
“To be righteous is to be in right relationship with God, which leads us to follow God’s laws of justice and mercy. This relationship is possible through the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. God calls us into relationship with God, so God calls us to righteousness. As Christians, we live a righteous life by doing the will of God in our lives, by following Christ’s teachings. For me, Christ’s teachings in Matthew 25:14-46 give us the best direction for living a righteous life. When we use the gifts that God has given us to further God’s kingdom by serving others in need, we live in right relationship with God. Holy and righteous living encompasses many attributes of a saint, including acts of mercy and piety. God makes us holy and righteous. How we live that out in our daily lives is how God makes us saints.”
This morning we honor the saints who have finished their course, who have gone on before us. In our scripture lesson we hear God’s gentle encouragement as we read in Revelation. God says he will be our God and we will be his people. We claim each other for all eternity. I chose God and God chooses me. God says “he will wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” In the coming of the new heaven and the new earth all this earthly toil and pain will pass away. God is making all things new!
As we remember those saints who are with Jesus, we must continue to do our best to be saints here on earth. “How do we honor our present and future saints? Well, every time we baptize someone, we honor a future saint. Every time we celebrate confirmation, we honor present and future saints. We encourage our future saints when we give children their first Bibles. Even openly welcoming children and youth in worship honors our present and future saints. When we honor our saints, we recognize that they inspire us to live a saintly life.”
It may be difficult to think of ourselves as saints, I mean, we know ourselves right! It’s especially difficult when we compare ourselves to “real” saints like Mother Teresa. But when we consider the day to day actions of each of us, as we share God’s love in the world, we might begin to see ourselves how God sees us, as his saints doing his work among the lost and lonely. I think about those from our church who served dinner last night to the families working to transition out of homelessness. They served as God’s saints as they selflessly gave their time and their resources to feed a neighbor through Family Promise.
We are “a community bound together in faith and common experience. This is the deep and rich unity we celebrate as the communion of saints.” The writer of Hebrews used two different words to describe saint. One is someone who is godly, holy, and merciful. The godly person reflects God’s character in his or her actions and life. In other words, a saint becomes a living testimony to God.” The second word means “sacred” or “set apart.” Putting these ideas together the Bible tells us that saints are people set apart by God who live their lives as a witness to the glory of God.”
We must draw inspiration from our current and future saints. We must not grow weary as we continue to behave as God calls us, as saints here in Boulder City. We must continually look for opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ in our own homes, in our jobs, in our volunteer work and especially here at our church. We must look for those we know who need a friend who is a saint, someone who can lead them into a relationship with Jesus Christ, someone who will love them for who they are and to embrace them as a beloved child of the King. We can take lessons from Mother Teresa and fill the needs of our local community; whether that is collecting food for local food pantries, sharing the story of Christ’s birth at Luminaria, mentoring students at Nevada State College or beginning a PFLAG chapter; we are responding to real needs here in Boulder City.
On this All Saints Sunday, remember those who came before you in this Christian journey. But remember, too, the saints who surround you every day. And as you leave this place this morning, think how can you be a saintly example to others; how can you be the hands and feet of Christ this week?
Let us pray: Gracious God, as we remember the saints who have gone before, comfort us in our sorrow and inspire us as we seek to be your saints for those in the world today. Let us not grow weary nor diminish our role as saints, but rather give us the courage to embrace fully the saintly role you have called us to take. We pray this all in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
 Revelation 21:4