Although there have been inroads into what is called bullying these days, when you and I were in school, we all knew the kid that was different, who just did not see the world quite in the way that everyone else saw it, the one who did not ever quite fit in, who seemed that he/or she did not quite belong. Maybe some of us here were that child. Although I was never quite that child, I most assuredly was never one of the cool kids either. But I remember from days in grade school and high school those who always seemed to have a different view, as though they lived in el otro mundo, another world. So there was always the boy who was a little too shy, there was always the girl that was always a little more clumsy; whatever the characteristic that distinguished them, the whole school seemed to pick up on it, and generally picked on them for it.
As we come to this festival of All Saints this year, I could not help but think about children in the school yard. Have you ever wondered what makes a Saint?
Well, they seem to be somehow different from the rest of us. Maybe it is the hours that they spend in prayer. Maybe it is the strange point of view that often runs counter to the prevailing point of view. Not all of us share the same point of view, for example as Saint Ignatius, martyr of Antioch who wrote how he could hardly wait to be fed to the lions. Not all of us share the point of view of Saint Francis of Assisi who was willing to give away all that he had to become poor for the sake of Jesus. Not all of us would have the courage to go work in a leper colony, or to arrange for the adoption of children of leprous parents as did Sister Gladys Gertrude Spencer. Not all of us could muster insufferable patience to work with the ill, those in poverty, such as did Mother Theresa.
John Henry Hopkins, not the same as the one who wrote “We Three Kings of Orient Are..” was the author of a quaint hymn which is number 293 in our hymnal, “I sing a song of the saints of God,” which reminds us that the saints of God did not just live long ago, but they are very much among us now. “You can meet them at school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church or in trains, or in shops or at tea, for the saints of God are folks just like me, and I mean to be one too.
Like that strange child in the school yard, the saints do not necessarily have the same world view that most of us share. And that makes them different.
In the classic definition of what it is to live by faith, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us in chapter 11.1 that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. What’s being said here is that faith is based on a hopeful expectation that God will bring something to pass. And it is being said that there is an assurance, a certainty that brings hope in the present circumstances, even when the evidence of that hoped for thing is not evident. That assurance brings comfort to the Saint. Where we have the invitation to discouragement and despair; where we have the worry over things that are not; where we fret and fritter away in fear and anxiety over what may be, the saint has the comfort and the consolation and the certainty and the assurance that God will triumph.
Apparently, it was this sense of faith and assurance that brought the saints such confidence that they were able to face great difficulties and hardships. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us (11.35-38)
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment.
They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
While we may not be quite ready to sign up for the same hardships and difficulties that they faced, part of what we get through our acts of regular worship is the reminder that we human beings function best when we are called to live by faith, and not by despair. Saints attest to the importance of just how much we need to have that reminder in our lives.
The second thing that makes the saint different from the rest of us is the ability to have vision. Where we see only what may be expected of us next week, or the thing that we have to accomplish in the coming days, and the demands of what we call exigent necessities—those things that we must do and accomplish, the Saints are those who dare to have a vision. Most of us, bombarded as we are by various sorts of media: the internet, the TV, the, mail, email, print media, culture are left fairly visionless.
To be as saint is to have the vision of the kingdom of God: it is to hear the beatitudes of Jesus and to respond with the conviction that the beatitudes of Jesus portray a potential, inevitable reality for the coming kingdom of God; to be a saint is to hear the call as did Peter, James, John, and Matthew; and to say that we are willing to work for the kingdom even if we do not fully see it here and now.