Saturday, October 30, 2010

All Saints Day - Remembrance, encouragement and challenge

This weekend its Halloween, as I’m sure many of you know. Time for dressing up, trick or treating, having parties and watching scary films. To be honest, I’ve never really seen the point in Halloween. I guess, being a church-goer my whole life, its never really meant anything to me.

But then I found out the real meaning of this day.

It’s All Saints Day.

All Saints Day has been celebrated for centuries. Its a day when, essentially, Christians remember all of those who have gone before. Now it would be easy to say its all about those who we would traditionally call ‘saints’ - St Peter, St Paul, and modern ‘official’ saints like the last Pope and Mother Theresa.

We get those people being called saints don’t we? After the lives they led, what they endured for their faith, the sacrifices they made and devotion to God, they somehow seem to ‘deserve’ that status don’t they?

Well at least, that’s the general understanding of it.

The problem with this understanding is that it implies that somehow God loves and blesses these people more than He does everyone else. That there’s this scale with God, this measure of how worthy you are of His blessing, and that only special people get this blessing.

Its kind of like saying some people are specially qualified for God’s special blessing.

Now I’m not for one minute saying that the people I’ve mentioned aren’t outstanding examples of disciples of Jesus. They are all great role models for us, they have all shaped our faith in one way or another, they show us what is possible and their example challenges us to live a more Christ-like life - or it should. 

It’s important that we take time out to remember these kind of people, to remember the freedoms they fought for that allow us to express our faith openly and freely in this country without persecution, the people who gave their lives to bring the message of Jesus to the world, those who carried on this message despite enduring immense persecution and suffering. 

Its absolutely right that we remember and give thanks for those people.

What I am saying though is that calling some people saints and saying others aren’t isn’t actually accurate. In fact, its an absolving of responsibility. 

The truth is that anyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus is in fact a saint.

That’s right, we are all saints.

God’s blessing, invitation and love aren’t just available for special people. It’s not just special people who are able to be used by God. 

God’s blessing, His love, His invitation and His call are for all of us. 

All of us are welcome, no matter who we are, what we’ve done, what we have or haven’t achieved, no matter what our status or wealth.

We are all welcome.

The invitation to be saints is one for us all.

But there is a challenge here too. 

Being a saint isn’t just about believing. Its about being a disciple, a true follower of Jesus, its about living the life that God calls us to, ordering our lives around the way of Jesus. Beginning everything with Jesus and ordering everything else around that, building our whole lifestyle around that.

It’s about being Jesus to those around us. 

God isn’t calling all of us to be missionaries, and not everyone is going to be Pope or Mother Theresa. 

But God isn’t asking that of us. Let me explain.

How many of you have had people in your life who have, at a moment where you’ve been confused, lost, struggling, had someone speak some truth, love or encouragement in your life? Or someone who when you were seeking, or when you were feeling lost and abandoned came alongside you and loved you? How many of you remember the person who talked to you about Jesus or invited you to church for the first time? 

Not a leader, not someone up front. But someone in the background, someone who maybe you haven’t really spoken to for a long time or you don’t really remember too much about, but you remember what they did?

There are many people like that. I’ve heard stories of people who have took time out to speak to people I know at the back of church sitting on their own, and they came back, became Christians and gone on to do amazing things for God in their lives since, which have impacted hundreds of people for Jesus.

But none of that would have happened without that person who spoke to them at the back one evening.

It wouldn’t have happened without that person accepting the call of Jesus to be like Him.

You see, that’s being a saint just as much as living a life like Mother Theresa’s. Doing something small for someone to help them when they need it, doing something good for someone without them, without anyone, even knowing it. 

That’s being a saint too. That’s something we can all do. Furthermore, its something Jesus challenges us all to do, and wants us to do.

Being a saint is about being human in the way we were originally made to be, about living the way of Jesus in our everyday, with the people around us, both in the small things and the big things, both in our church context and out.

Now, in reality, we don’t get it right all the time. We all make mistakes, we all don’t do things we should do or do things we shouldn’t do, no matter how mature a faith we have.

However, God isn’t expecting us to get it right all the time.

It’s our hearts God wants. He wants us to be seeking, hungering and thirsting to be more like Him, to be true disciples, to follow Him and become more like Him. If we’re doing that, then even if we screw up, we are still headed in the right direction.

In reality, God loves us all the same, even if we’re not seeking Him. He loves the people who don’t know Him at all just the same as He does those who have been Christians their entire lives, and His grace and blessing is available to all of us equally.

So if we do screw up, God isn’t suddenly going to stop blessing us. That idea is based on this conditional blessing, which comes from a view of the world where you have to earn everything, where everything has to be deserved.

That is totally contrary to grace. 

Grace is getting something we don’t deserve. Its available to all of us.

That’s why jealousy is so contrary to the way of Jesus, because it comes from a merit-based view of God, and God isn’t like that. God has grace, for all of us.

Which brings me back to my point. That although there is a challenge for us all to be saints, all to be disciples, all to live a Christ-centred life, that if we get it wrong on occasion God isn’t going to punish us, or condemn us, or stop loving or blessing us. We can trust that His love, forgiveness and grace is sufficient, no matter how much we screw up.

So on All Saints Day, don’t just remember the well-known saints, remember and be thankful for all those people who’ve been Jesus to you, in the subtle, little ways. The people who’ve made a big difference in your life through what they’ve said or done for you, how they’ve loved and served you. 

Recognise that you are a saint, that all of us are saints, but that the call to us as saints is to be saints to those around us. 

The challenge of All Saints Day is for us to try to be Jesus to all of those around us, both in the big things and the small things, in the choices we make, in how we treat people. To be true disciples of Jesus - knowing that even if we don’t get it right all the time, that we are still loved, accepted and welcomed by God just as we are.

All Saints Day is a day to celebrate the saints that have gone before, be encouraged that no matter who we are or what we’ve done or how many times we screw up, that the invitation to be a saint is open to us all, and to accept the challenge to be a disciple of Jesus.

In one sense, the entire Christian faith summed up in one Christian festival.

Posted via email from James Prescott