God Calls Us Saints

Written by Joel on November 8th, 2011

Nov 6, 2011
All Saints
1 John 3:1-3

The New Orleans Saints are 45 years old this week. On November 1, 1966 the NFL awarded a franchise to New Orleans to start a professional football team. The name came naturally since the franchise was awarded on All Saints Day, but was officially the result of a fan’s choice contest in the city newspaper. What else would you expect from the city of jazz who brought us “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The team went to the archbishop of New Orleans to ask if it would be sacrilegious to name a football team The Saints. Archbishop Hannan answered no, of course not. The Saints is a great name, he said, but I must warn you that most saints were martyrs.

The All Saints holiday is an opportunity for us to remember all the saints known and unknown. Commemoration of saints, especially martyrs, comes from a time when the church was under great persecution. The church would remember the anniversary of a church member who died because he or she confessed the faith. That church would gather, pray, and fast on the anniversary of a martyr’s death. Each of the churches would share the saint’s story with neighboring churches who would share in the commemoration of one another’s martyrs As time went on, and persecution grew, there became more martyrs than the church could possibly remember throughout the year. And so we got the tradition of All Saints which goes back to the 4th century, observed on the first of November, but often moved to the following Sunday because it is just so important for us to remember those Christian brothers and sisters who have kept the faith before us.

In popular culture we get the name for this day: Halloween, from “All Hallows Eve” which points to the tradition of celebrating important holidays the night before just like we would for Christmas eve. All the ghouls, goblins, witches, vampires and other creatures that folks dress up as for Halloween certainly emphasizes the death aspect of All Saints Day (slash) Halloween. And the archbishop’s comments that most Saints are martyrs (or those who have died for the faith) caused me to pause and wonder: Who are the saints? What do you have to do to become one? Do you have to be dead to be a saint?

At least for me, when I think of saints, I automatically think of those who have died, of those who are in heaven right now as we speak. The really good super-hero Christians who went on before us. Like Saint Luke who wrote a Gospel and the Book of Acts. However, it astounds me time and time again when I read the words of Saint Paul to the various church’s he wrote to. For example in the address section of Romans he writes “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints…” Paul is writing to Christians who were alive, here on earth. You could walk up to them and have a conversation. And perhaps must puzzling of all….you could see their sins and their flaws. Reading on in the letter to the Romans certainly points out that the Christians in Rome were by no means perfect.

The phrase there is literally “Those who God has called holy.” To be a saint is to be called holy. What do you think of when you hear “Holy?” Holy, set apart, marked for a special purpose, belonging to God, something that was ordinary now made holy. Like in our communion service today we have ordinary bread and drink which are called holy because they are used in God’s holy work. And so Paul declares to the Romans, you are God’s holy people. I think that offers a lot of hope for us as Christians today. If it were up to use to be super-hero Christians, I think heaven would be pretty empty. But we are saints because God calls us so.

Saint Augustine reflects on his life and recalls a time when he was given into evil. Here is an excerpt from his Confessions:

“Yet I had a desire to commit robbery, and did so, compelled to it by neither hunger nor poverty, but through a contempt for well-doing and a strong impulse to iniquity. For I pilfered something which I already had in sufficient measure, and of much better quality. I did not desire to enjoy what I stole, but only the theft and the sin itself.

“There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its color or for its flavor. Late one night — having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was — a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart — which thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error — not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.” Book 2, Chapter 4 Confessions of Saint Augustine. These are the words and the action of a man who became a saint. He became a saint because he was called holy by God. He committed evil just for the sake of committing evil, and yet through God’s power, just his word, this man would become called a saint, a holy one of God.

From our second reading: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are! He called us saints, his holy people, his set apart ones, his people for a special purpose; his children. It all begins with God’s call, and God has it for us, those who are gathered here today because we believers. Our role is to live into what we are called – to know God more and more each day. To become more wholly-completely his. Holiness and sainthood is a continual work in progress, and one of the reasons God gave us the church; because it sure is hard to be holy alone.

How do you become a saint? God calls you. Who are the saints? I look around and I see the saints before me now. Be the children of God, that is what you are, that is what you’re called.


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