Saintliness, and how to seek it out


Scripture: Luke 19: 1-10, Ephesians 1: 15-23

Three ideas about saintliness come together today. It’s All Saints. The Gospel story recounts Zacchaeus meeting Jesus, and we baptize Riley Hogg.

What is saintliness?

In the letter to his church in Ephesus, Paul wrote about of both living and dead saints.“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints ….” Then he went on to tell these living saints of their coming reward. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus … may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that … you may know the riches of [Christ’s] glorious inheritance among the saints” [the ones who are no longer alive].

Revelation is the key to the passage. None of us understands everything about Christianity. Revelation may come to us gradually through reflection and prayer. But also by action – carrying out what we believe to be God’s will. These qualities help to make us saints. That is why we pray that Riley may gradually come to saintliness. Lehman Strauss wrote that it is God who sanctifies us. We do not consecrate ourselves. Nor do we become saints by saintly behaviour. We strive towards saintliness because we are saints.

Tax collector Zacchaeus discovered his inner saintliness

Something like that must have happened to Zacchaeus. He was not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector. Zacchaeus didn’t just work at the CRA. He was the Director General! We met tax collectors last week. They didn’t just collect the taxes that people owed.. They skimmed extra for themselves. As a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus was especially deeply involved in that unfair system. But on that day, his life took a new turn. In a different way, Riley’s life takes a new turn this morning.

Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus

Somehow, Jesus and Zacchaeus knew about each other. Zacchaeus was short. So he climbed a tree to see and hear what was going on when Jesus came to town. Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for the night. They met on friendly terms. That ticked off everyone in the crowd, because they hated tax collectors. But Zacchaeus did something remarkable. He pledged half of his wealth to the poor, and volunteered to pay back anyone he had cheated with four times as much. That was far more than was necessary. Jesus acknowledged what Zacchaeus had done. He called Zacchaeus a ‘son of Abraham’ and said that the Son of Man had come to save the lost.  In that case, Zacchaeus.

Repeated themes in Luke’s Gospel

Saving the lost, reminds us of the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Like them, the turn-around of the tax collector would cause rejoicing in heaven. It reminded me also of the story where Jesus healed a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. Maybe her disability was spiritual, not physical. Now she could walk upright again, like a true daughter of Abraham. Zacchaeus, likewise, had become a true son of Abraham again. To put it another way, the hidden saint that lurked inside Zacchaeus propelled him towards saintliness because he was a saint.

Baptism as an expression of saintliness

This morning, Melissa and Riley’s sponsors are going to promise to help the small saint in their care to discover his inner saintliness. It’s not just because they will participate in the baptism ceremony That’s only part of it. Instead, I am thinking of the baptismal promises that they will make on Riley’s behalf. As a congregation, we recite those same promises to remind ourselves what kind of people we have promised to be: saints striving towards saintliness.

We first state our belief in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Putting flesh on the bones

I’ll put it in terms of Riley’s sponsors, but it applies to us all. They are going to state their aspirations for what kind of boy, and then man, they hope that Riley will become. Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? This question, and the next two, commit you to taking Riley to church regularly and teaching him the fundamentals of Christianity.

After that come two questions that commit you to teaching Riley the importance of loving your neighbour as yourself. Love, in the sense of respect for other people, especially those who are different in any way. Then finally the promise to care for God’s Creation. This one has special resonance as our society faces up to the implications of climate change and mass extinctions.

It all boils down to what kind of world do you hope that Riley will inherit. How will he see his place in that world? How will you treat other people and God’s creation, and how will you act as models for Riley to emulate? As I put it earlier, to bring out his inner saintliness.

Paul called his Corinthian congregation ‘saints’

The most important characteristic of a saint is not that you lived a long time ago, and so you have to be dead. The New Testament tells us clearly that the saints include those who are still here on earth. St. Paul’s first letter to the church he founded in Corinth begins, “To the Church of God that is in Corinth, to all those who are called upon to be saints and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ …”

The rest of the letter is a pastoral essay. Paul attempted to correct his converts for the many ways in which he believed that they had fallen short of proper Christian behaviour. They argued about who was best among them. There was a serious problem with sexual immorality. Some of them treated the church as basically an eating and drinking club. The rich didn’t share their food with the poor at their “pot-luck” Eucharists. Some of them even got drunk at the Eucharist. One of my teachers at the University of Toronto – a Presbyterian – commented that if there had been a church so dysfunctional in his presbytery, they would have closed it down. But for all their faults, Paul began his letter by calling the people “saints.

Saintliness in the here and now

We began our service today by singing the hymn, “For all the saints.” Perhaps we should have put the stress on “For all the saints” rather than “For all the Saints.” Because there are saints all around us. We just have to notice them and to recognize the good in them. In a lovely story I read several years ago, an elderly woman struggled through a crowd to get food from a late-night truck that was feeding the homeless. Someone asked her if the meal was worth the effort to get it. She replied, “Oh yes, but it’s not for me. It’s for another homeless lady, but she isn’t strong enough to get here.”

That little story shows what it means to see the face of Christ in those we meet in our ordinary lives. Saints are not just super-holy people who have gone before us. The Gospel writers and early Church martyrs; the Mother Teresa’s and Oscar Romero’s of the modern world. Though it surely includes them. Paul’s words can be restated. “To the Church of God that is in Lowville, to all those who are called upon to be saints and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ …” They remind us that all of us who turn out Sunday by Sunday – or as many Sundays as we can – are part of the company of saints. We come here to worship God and give thanks for all the blessings of our lives. In other words, to bting out our inner saintliness,

Paul’s saints in Corinth had their faults, just like the saints in our own parish. So will Riley and so do his sponsors. But on this All Saints Day we should remember that we are all, indeed, saints! Amen to that.