06/01/14 Sermon (June 1, 2014) “Ordinary, Everyday Saints”

posted Jun 4, 2014, 12:43 PM by David Hawkins

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23  (Liturgist)

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Sermon: "Ordinary, Everyday Saints"             Rev. David Hawkins

Our Scripture today is from a letter written to the Church in Ephesus, which was located in modern day Turkey. The city of Ephesus had about 65,000 people in it, and was famous for the temple of Artemis, which was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

You Bible scholars may remember that the Apostle Paul got into a big fight with the artisans of Ephesus because they thought his preaching about one God depressed the market for handmade Artemis souvenirs for the tourists. It wasn’t the first or the last time that Christianity and Capitalism have found themselves on opposite sides of the aisle.

The letter to the Church in Ephesus begins with the words, “To the saints who are in Ephesus…” and then proceeds into today’s text, thanking God and the church for their faithful service, as well as encouraging them in their ministry with a reminder of God’s power, demonstrated for us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I wonder if it was hard for the church in Ephesus to hear themselves called ‘saints’. It’s hard for us to think of ourselves as saints, isn’t it? It would be weird if someone wrote us a letter calling us saints. There’s something so, I don’t know, holy about that word. Something about it seems like we should reserve it for really extra special people, like maybe Margene Webb, or Gaylan Goddard, or Mother Theresa. Do you know what I mean?

I had a friend named Bruce who called my wife Karen a “saint with an edge,” and I kind of like that. Because as you know, Karen is nice, and good, and friendly, but she’s also got a wicked sense of humour, and is not above the occasional um, colorful use of the English language. Sometimes it’s like living with a sailor. A sailor with a very slight Minnesota accent.

But these are my favorite kinds of people, saints with an edge. I think you know what I’m talking about.

Maybe the reason it’s hard for us to think of ourselves as saints is because we’re so used to thinking of saints as people who are perfect, who have performed miracles, or changed the world, that sort of thing. That’s kind of the stereotypical idea we have of the  word ‘saint’, but that’s not really what a saint is.

This last week, a great American poet died, Maya Angelou. I was reading one of her many eulogies, and the author said over and over again that Maya Angelou was no saint. And in some way, maybe he had a point. She had been a prostitute, a nightclub stripper, had been divorced and remarried a couple of times; her life was simply too unconventional for her to be thought of as a saint.

The author wasn’t trying to insult Ms. Angelou. In fact, I think he was trying compliment her, in his own clumsy way. He was trying to say that Maya Angelou was too human, too real, too authentic, she had lived too full of a life to be thought of as a saint. But that’s exactly the problem that we have these days with thinking about what a saint is. Because saints are human. They laugh, they cry, they burp, they get mad, they make mistakes. They sin, just like every other human.

Maya Angelou was not a perfect Christian. She had dabbled in many different religions, notably Zen Buddhism and Islam. There were parts of her past that were unsavory, to put it mildly.

But in her twenties she became a Christian after reading three simple words on a piece of paper: “God loves me.” She read these words over and over and over, and when she came to the realization that that they were true, even for her, she fell to her knees and wept. She was overwhelmed by bigness of God’s love.

In other words, she became a saint. She realized that God knew who she was, and from that moment she dedicated her life to a lifelong ministry of education and civil rights and she became a voice for millions.

I would like to read to you a couple of short poems by Maya Angelou that I believe capture the essence of her sainthood -- her own need for Jesus Christ, and the love of God that sets us free. I want to warn you that this is pure theology stripped of all the big words, stripped down to the bare bones of our deepest fears and hopes. The first poem is Alone.


Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014
Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Touched By An Angel

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

Maya Angelou might not be your first impression of a saint. If we’re honest, the person who looks back at you in the mirror every morning might not be someone you think of as a saint. But she was. And you are.  

You all out there, in the congregation, even me here at the Table, those working in the kitchen getting ready for the potluck, if you all can hear me, we are all saints. And it’s not just us. Catholics don’t just venerate the saints, they are saints. The Coptic Christians in Egypt who call God Allah are saints. The Russian Orthodox Christians in Moscow are saints. Even the Baptists downtown are saints. We are all saints. It’s hard to believe it sometimes, it’s confounding sometimes, but it’s true.

The thing to remember is that being a saint doesn’t mean that we are perfect. Being a saint doesn’t mean we are possessed of a superhuman patience, or wisdom, or compassion. Being saint doesn’t mean that we have given up all our earthly belongings, and moved to Papua New Guinea in order to evangelize the villages of Boga-Boga. Although, it can mean that, if that’s what you’re called to do.

Being a saint is actually a pretty normal thing. It’s the word that the Apostle Paul and other early Christians used to talk about other Christians. In fact, the term ‘Christian’ wasn’t really used by early Christians.  It was used by other people to describe Christians, and it was often a term of derision. It was used to mock and to insult people who followed Christ.

‘Saint’, on the other hand, was one of the words used by the early leaders of the Church to refer to those people who considered themselves to be called by God, to be set aside to do the work of God, to be a disciple of Christ.

And that could be anybody, really. Tax collectors, fishermen, Romans, Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, farmers, teachers, engineers, doctors, nurses, bookkeepers, lawyers, judges, secretaries, musicians, mothers, fathers, truck drivers, carpenters, democrats, republicans, pretty much anybody who believes in Jesus and does his work is a saint.

But still, the idea of being a saint is hard to accept. I don’t know about you but it’s much, much easier for me to identify myself as a Christian, than as a saint. But there’s no difference between being a Christian, and being a saint. At least, there shouldn’t be.

‘Christian’ and ‘Saint’ both are terms of belonging, of identification, but they are more than that. They describe someone who is living their lives in ways that are worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Lives of compassion, of generosity, of hospitality, of sacrifice.

Being a saint is not an easy thing. It carries with it tremendous responsibilities and expectations. But it’s important to remember that it does not require perfection. And this is the Good News of our scripture today.

We are not perfect, but we are moving forward. We are always learning more about the grace of Jesus Christ. The power of God is being revealed to us every day.

And while the journey is sometimes hard, we can take courage in knowing that the powers of this world, the very small gods of money, success, popularity, fear, and hatred that seem to be so important don’t stand a chance against the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

You know, as I was reading these words from the Apostle to the Ephesians, I couldn’t help but think that they could just as well have been written to our church here in Plainview. In fact, I can even hear the upper midwest accent of our Executive Presbyter Rich Schempp in some of these phrases, giving thanks for the many ways you all have touched the lives of so many in Palo Duro Presbytery and around the world.

You all really are a wonderful congregation, and you all need to know how fondly you are regarded by other folks in the Presbytery. Talk to Sue Lewellen or Dee Rice if you would like to know more. Every time we go to Presbytery meetings, we are reminded of just how special this church really is.We have every  reason to be grateful for the Christian unity and love that is found here, especially in a time when so many other churches are in turmoil.  

I confess that I am sinfully proud of the reputation you all have earned through the work and ministry of this church for so many years. But I know that this reputation was formed long before I came. You truly are known, as our scripture says, for the love you show toward all the saints in all places.  

There is something powerful about your witness here in this community, your quiet strength, your willingness to make  difficult decisions, to persevere in tough times, to get involved in the hard fights, to make a difference in the church and in the world does not go unnoticed. I am so very grateful to be your pastor.

And as your pastor, I can only echo the words that Paul writes to his friends and co-workers in the church at Ephesus: Keep up the good work. Trust in God, and rely on his Holy Spirit to guide and uphold you. Look to Jesus Christ as the head of the Church, and be filled by his love and grace for the his ministry. Be the saints that you are called to be.

Thanks be to God. Amen