St Bride's: Sermons

All Saints

Matthew 5 :1-12

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And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

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What does a saint look like?   Some years ago I was staying with some friends of mine in Hartlepool, who took me to visit one of their local historic churches.  On display in that church was a series of newly commissioned banners, each of which depicted one of the famous Northumbrian saints: St Hilda; St Cuthbert, St Aidan, St Wilfrid, and so on.  And I was told that the artist who had designed those banners had found his models for the images of the saints by travelling on the buses around Hartlepool, and sketching the faces of local people.

In traditional religious paintings saints are, of course, incredibly easy to spot: they are the ones with the pious expressions and the shiny gold haloes.  But that is very different from the way in which the New Testament describes saints - which is much more akin to the approach of that Hartlepool artist.  Because for St Paul saints are, quite simply, baptised Christians.  Look at the way in which he addresses the recipients of his letters:

'To all God's beloved in Rome who are called to be saints;'

'To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi;'

'To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus called to be saints.' 

As some of you may have heard me observe before now, were St Paul to be writing to us here today, I am in no doubt that he would begin his letter to us with the words: 'Paul, called to be an apostle, to all the saints who are in St Bride's Fleet Street - Grace, mercy and peace to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.'  In other words, if you want to know what a saint looks like, look around you!

Which is a bit of a startling thought - because I would hazard a guess that most of us don't feel terribly saintly most of the time.  But that is, I think, to misconstrue what sainthood is all about.

You see, there is a sense in which the idea of sainthood in the Christian life is very similar to the idea of sacraments: Holy Communion and Baptism.  Namely, that God takes something very ordinary - bread, wine, water, your life, my life, the life of the person sitting next to you this morning, and transforms it into something profoundly different; something that is charged with the grace of God.  That is what we are called to be; transformed by the love and grace of God.  We are called to be sanctified.  We are called to be saints.

Which is why it is very significant that the gospel reading set for this morning, All Saints Sunday, is that passage from the Sermon on the Mount traditionally called the Beatitudes, because each phrase begins with the words:' Blessed are they...'

And who are the 'Blessed' according to Jesus?  The spiritual superheroes?  The pious? The squeaky clean?  No, on the contrary: the blessed, Jesus tells us, are the poor; the meek; those who mourn; those who are persecuted; the broken; the damaged; the disadvantaged - but also the merciful; the peacemakers; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  In other words, the blessed are those who strive to bring light into the lives of those around them, and - importantly - do so, not from a position of strength, but from out of their very weakness and human frailty.

Seen in this light, the whole idea of the 'Communion of Saints' start to make some kind of sense.  Because those whose lives are being transformed by the love and grace of God are, in the process, drawn ever deeper into the life of God.  And a life with God - and in God - can only be a life of praise and adoration and prayer.  And a life of prayer only makes sense if it is a life that not only connects us with God, but which also reaches out, in love and compassion to our broken world, and draws us all up into that life of prayer surrounding God - the life of the communion of saints.

Every single church congregation of which I have either been a member, or where I have ministered, has had its genuine saints.  Including this one.  What do I mean by that?  Not that we have people in our midst with gleaming haloes, who live exemplary lives of pious devotion to God, and whose feet never quite touch the ground.  If we do have any individuals like that in our midst, I haven't spotted them yet, and if I did I must confess that I would be inclined to give them quite a wide berth.

No, the saints of which I am speaking are, like the saints of the Bible, complex, fallen creatures like the rest of us.  If you look at the lives of the disciples, and of St Paul himself, all of whom the Church now commemorates as its principal, Premier League saints, we can see from the pages of Scripture that they really are the most ramshackle bunch of misfits imaginable.  We glimpse them being foolish, mistaken, cowardly, self-centred, fallen.  In other words they are ordinary human beings like the rest of us.

Because the Bible is not remotely interested in idealised plaster saints.  On the contrary, the call to be saintly is a call to each and every one of us, whoever, and whatever, and wherever we are.  It is a call to open ourselves up to the love and grace of God and to be transformed by that love and grace into channels of hope and peace to others.  And we begin that journey towards sainthood simply by virtue of our baptism.

The saints that I have known have been precisely that: they have become people of such simple, transparent goodness, that they bring light and warmth into the lives of those around them, sometimes by their very presence.  There is a wonderful prayer after communion in Common Worship which includes words that sum this up perfectly:

May we who share Christ's body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring life to others; we whom the spirit lights bring light to the world.

And more than that, the kinds of people I am describing here are also characterised by a quality of inner peace and contentment, regardless of their external circumstances.  Indeed, some of them lived in circumstances that from the outside might appear singularly challenging, on all kinds of levels.  Because there is a profound and demonstrable connection between the quality of our inner life and our personal happiness.

Today we welcome Robin into the family of our church at the start of his new ministry here; and we mark the start of a new phase of David's ministry amongst us.  Jill and Ian, who were confirmed at St Paul's last night, have been launched on an exciting new phase of their journeys of faith.  But there is one thing that we share with all of them.

So, all you saints of St Bride's, Fleet Street: remember your calling to be saintly; which is a calling, not to be perfect, but to be loving; not to be a doormat for Jesus, but to live with a thankful heart; not to berate yourself constantly for your sinfulness, but to learn to look for the blessings of God even in the most broken of lives, and the most challenging of situations.

May we who share Christ's body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring life to others; we whom the spirit lights bring light to the world.  Keep us firm on the hope that you have set before us, so we and all your children shall be free, and the whole earth live to praise your name, through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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