The Saints of God Among Us
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
--Hebrew 12: 1
Today is All Saints Day in the life of the church. It is a day set aside on the liturgical calendar to remember those who have gone from earthly to eternal life. Liturgically, this day is a feast holiday, and although you might not prepare certain foods to celebrate it, I invite you to set it aside as a holy day to feast on the memories of those whose faith continues to have a lasting impression on you. In recent years, the term “saint” has been almost void in our conversations about faith. As a result, the mere mention of the word conjures up more secular images. Many think the term “saints of God” is likened to celebrity status, as if they are the select few of God’s A list who have received some special invitation to walk the red carpet into the heavenly palaces.
We are a culture obsessed and over-saturated with the illusions of celebrity status. As such, these images are more prominent in our psyches. But in short, the most significant difference between a celebrity and a saint is this: Celebrities distance themselves from us by their fame, whether it lasts fifteen minutes or a lifetime, whereas saints share our common ground and open a place in the circle of forgiven sinners.
In the New Testament, saints of God are defined as the forgiven who know it, act on it, and live by grace without angling for stained-glass-window status. The late William Stringfellow described saints as "those who relish the event of life as a gift and realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”
One of my favorite hymns as a child was “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” which Leslie Scott wrote for her children to teach them about All Saints Day.
I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave, and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord, they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green:
They were all of them saints of God—and I mean,
God’s helping to be one too.
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong.
And they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake,
The whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
And there’s not any reason—no, not the least,
Why I shouldn’t be one too.
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.
This hymn also reminds us of our music's importance—we sing our theology. The theology of this hymn is good theology—the saints of God are all around us.
We can see them teaching in public classrooms. We can see them in hospital emergency rooms, serving with skill and embracing with compassion someone who has just learned that a spouse of 60 years has died on an operating room table. We can see them in retirement homes, speaking to the fragile ones who sit, mute and staring, in the wheelchair line in the hallway. We see them as busy adults who make time for youngsters who desperately need their time, guidance, and support. We can see them in auto repair shops where customers receive an honest job at a fair price.
The list of saints is a long list of people. They are gifts from God to us, beacons that light the way. Today let us pause and give thanks for those who realized the only way to honor the gift of life that God had given was to give it away. These are the saints of God. And by their life and example, may we be challenged to be one too.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister