In the Name...
Lake Wobegon is a quiet sort of place, but, you won't find it on any map because it's the creation of author Garrison Keillor and was the setting for his series on small-town life “Lake Wobegon Days.” In this series, we follow the adventures of a kid who shares his observations about being raised in this community. In religion, for example, he says he belongs to a small church which meets in his Uncle Al's living room. "In a town where everyone was either Lutheran or Catholic, we were neither one. We were Sanctified Brethren, a sect so tiny that nobody but us and God knew about it. So, when kids asked what I was, I just said Protestant. It was too much to explain, like having six toes. You'd rather keep your shoes on."
Well, today we celebrate the feast of the Sanctified Brethren, but, not in Lake Wobegon. Rather, of a great many real men, women and children throughout history whom we call the saints of God.
Sometimes we speak of a certain day as St. so and so's day. For example, we all know St. Patrick's Day as March 17th, but, in Central Europe that's the feast day of St. Wenceslaus that "good king" of Christmas carol fame, while St. Gerasimus of the Jordan is the focus for Christians in the Middle East. There are thousands upon thousands of venerated saints and only 365 days in the year. In fact, there are millions upon millions upon millions of unvenerated saints; Christians whose undoubted sanctity has never received public attention. And as far back as the year 610, a day was set aside in the church's calendar to remember them all - an All Saints' Day.
But, what we're really celebrating today is not just a lot of people in the past, we're celebrating the work of God in our lives today. For, sainthood is not a human achievement; it is a gift of God and we can only receive this gift because of Jesus.
St. Paul begins several of his letters with the words, "Paul, an apostle...to all the saints in...whatever city – Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, etc." Now Paul is not sending his letters to heaven - the postmarks would have been worth saving. He is addressing people living here on earth, people who committed themselves to following the way of Christ in their lives. Even though in these letters he usually goes on to tell the saints how unsaintly they are behaving, that does not change the fact that, as far as he’s concerned they are saints by virtue, not of their own doing, but, by the grace of God.
The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. is filled with stained glass windows which depict many great Christians throughout the centuries. Among them are martyrs, bishops, priests and nuns, but, also artists, scholars, poets, soldiers and politicians, among others. I once heard a story of a young boy whose mother was explaining to him who the people in the windows were when the little boy said, "Oh, I get it. Saints are people that the light shines through."
That’s not a bad idea, really. Saints are people who let the light of God's Son shine through them. In other words, we are Heaven's windows. Have you ever thought of yourself like that? Heaven's windows. People should be able to look at us and see, through us, into Heaven. That's what sainthood means. Letting our lives be ways in which people can see God's life.
Think about that for a moment and think of the saints - not the famous ones like Paul or Stephen or Francis, but, think of the living saints who have touched your lives. People who have inspired in you a deeper faith in God. Those whose love and whose testimony have awakened something in your soul. Who do you think of?
Maybe a close friend, a relative, or a co-worker. Maybe someone you only met once and never saw again. And, don't worry if the people you think of are not 100% perfect. Even the most famous saints were not perfect. Saint Peter was inconsistent, Saint Paul had a temper and, before his conversion, St. Augustine had a son with his girlfriend. All the saints had, as the expression goes, feet of clay, but, they also had something worth imitating, something worth remembering.
Which just goes to show that the kingdom of Heaven is not populated by cardboard cut-outs or faceless robots. The kingdom is peopled with those who were old and young, rich and poor, wise and simple, who made bad choices and good choices, by those who have gone before us and those who live among us. And, just as those who have gone before us were active Christians in their earthly lives, so, they are still active in their heavenly lives, lifting us up in prayer as we lift each other up. They are a cloud of witnesses; a fellowship of prayer; a source of strength.
Yes, we belong to the sanctified brethren. At times, we may be uncomfortable with that fact - like having six toes. But, it is not something to try to explain away, it is something in which to rejoice. Yes, there have been many saints in the past, but, there will be many more in the future.
The sanctified brethren. They come from many places. They even come from the Lake Wobegons and the Kent Counties of the world.
In the Name...