I love the “Far Side” cartoons. One of my favorites is a cartoon that has God standing in the middle of a shopping mall in front of one of those gigantic mall maps. God is reaching down and pressing the “where are you” button and the map is lighting up and saying, “You are here, and here, and here, and here, and here…”
As Christians we believe that about God. We believe that God is everywhere all of the time. Yet when we say that we don’t know exactly what it means. It has to do with God’s mysterious “otherness,” God’s incomprehensible omnipresence. That’s tough stuff to get your head around! Nevertheless, we’ve come a long from the days when our ancestors believed God resided in the Temple or in a particular part of the land. As the people came to know God better they came to understand that God was not restricted to their land or their Temple or even to them. They came to understand that God is God of all, all lands, and all peoples. By the time Jesus came and revealed God most fully and most personally to humanity, we came to understand that not only was God everywhere all the time, but God’s presence also worked in and through human beings; we came to realize that this is God’s preference — working in and through human beings, human beings who make up the Church.
That’s the gist of All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day is the day in the life of the Church where we specifically seek to remember that God does indeed work through human beings like our ancestors and human beings like you and me. On All Saints’ Day we remember that God’s presence, although everywhere all the time, is often made most real and tangible when communicated through ordinary people.
Just stop and think for a moment about all of the people, past and present, who have truly communicated God’s presence to you; all of the people who’s lives have shouted God’s love and presence to you and probably to many others.
We call such people saints. Too often the term “saint” is meant to refer only to someone who has died in the faith. Thankfully, there is a better definition of “saint,” a Biblical one, one that we can all “live” with. Saint Paul understood the “saints” to be his brothers and sisters in Christ, both living and dead. People of the faith are saints. The prophets, apostles, church members, both living and dead make up the saints. Sainthood is not something bestowed on us by other human beings, to be a saint is a gift from God that is built up and made alive through our following Jesus Christ. So it’s not a matter of doing anything “great” or “miraculous” by worldly standards, it’s more a matter of living faithfully as a forgiven sinner.
The role of the saint, according to Scripture, is to communicate God’s presence to others. Saints are living Temples to God. Here’s some of what the Bible says about who saints are and what saints do: saints are “members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).
Saints are built, not made says Scripture, “built into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:22). No longer is there one single Temple in one geographic place that is to serve as the Temple in which the Lord resides. Instead, all of the saints are “joined together and grow into a holy temple into the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21). We’ve got a word for this joining together and growing together of the saints, we call it the Church Universal; all Christians in all parts of the world from all times and places, whether they be Baptist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, black, white, purple, or green…all Christians together make up God’s new Temple. All Christians are saints and all Christians are living monuments to the Lord our God.
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Anyone who’s ever been to Washington, D.C., has seen the Washington Monument. You can’t miss it. Now, that monument didn’t just pop up over night. It took a long time to build that monument. In fact, work on the Washington Monument only stopped during the Civil War. The tell-tale line of where the work was stopped and resumed is still visible.
I believe can tell us something about our own monument building. I believe the Washington Monument serves as a reminder that waging war is the biggest obstacle to building our own monument to God. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can all admit to having stopped work on our Monument in order to wage war. For some of us waging war has been very personal occurs when we define ourselves exclusively by our failures in life. For others of us, waging of war has been an external battle in which fault and wrong is found with everyone and everything else. For still others of us, war is waged with the family, or former friends, or ex-spouses. Waging war is anything that keeps us from building our Monument to God. Waging war is anything that causes us to make abrupt stops in our Monument building because we’re distracted, we’re fooled into believing something is more important. Waging war is anything that keeps us from acknowledging our brothers and sisters in Christ as important parts of the one Temple to God we all make up.
This is exactly why we need other monuments. We need the example of other saints to cheer us on in our own struggle to build faithfully and to resist the temptation to wage war. We need the example of other saints who’s monumental lives were not perfect, but who nevertheless show us how to be faithful in spite of human imperfection.
These monuments to God are all around us and within us. They come to us through Scripture: Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Miriam, Rahab, David, Mary, Joseph, Peter, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, Paul, and the list goes on and on. And these monuments to God also come to us in the midst of our own lives: parents, teachers, friends, spouses, children, and the list goes on and on. Hebrews says there is a great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us and cheers us on as we build our lives in faith. This great cloud is the saints from all times and places. And it is through faith, through the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen that this great cloud of witnesses becomes a reality for us in our everyday lives. Their voices speak to us through the faith that flows within us like the blood in our veins.
So let us now call the roll. With joy and thanksgiving for the promises of God in Jesus Christ, let us announce who is here, with us, and among us, as we gather in the worship of our God. Would you please stand for the Roll Call of Saints, and would you please respond to the announcement of each saint’s name by faithfully proclaiming them to be, “PRESENT.”
Copyright 2003, Jeffrey K. London. Used by permission.