We’re all called to be radical saints, beacons of light

Mary Copping, 30 October 2022

Ephesians 1: 11–23; Luke 6: 20–31

Saint Augustine, the Christian philosopher and theologian, was born in 354 and raised by a devoted Christian mother, but apparently was a very difficult child and grew up to be an atheist. His mother, Monica, continued to pray for him through his gambling and dissolute life. The story goes that even after he entered a monastery he used to pray, ‘God, give me chastity, but not yet!’ At the age of 31, he had a conversion experience which convinced him to give up his career and his marriage prospects in order to dedicate his life to God. From then on he led a devout life, and he is now best known for his Confessions.

We know that St Paul, before his conversion on the Damascus road, was called Saul and was ‘a Pharisee of Pharisees’, who intensely persecuted the followers of Jesus. We’re told at one point in the Acts of the Apostles that he was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples and went to the high priest to report them.

Saint Joan of Arc was the daughter of a tenant farmer from a village in France. She was not taught to read or write but her mother, Isabelle, instilled in her a deep love for the Catholic Church and its teachings. She became a military leader and was known as the saviour of France.

As we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday we remember these saints – human and fallible – and others who have lived out lives of holiness with the light of God shining through them. The work of the Holy Spirit transformed the actions of these ordinary men and women into extraordinary acts of courage. They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things for God, and people of faith have looked up to them and tried to live like them ever since.

I wonder which saints you most admire. Mine is Saint Frances of Assisi, who gave up his wealth and his family and devoted himself to ministering to the poor and underprivileged, showing his care for nature and animals, and founding the Franciscan order.

But perhaps this celebration of the saints can encourage us not only to think about the wonderful Christian witness these saints were, but to think how we too might become beacons of light for Christ. St Paul often referred to the people of the churches he wrote to as saints, as we heard today in the letter to the Ephesians, when he said ‘I have heard of your love towards all the saints’.

We are all called to be saints. And that means seeking to be ordinary, everyday saints, making Christ’s love known wherever we are – bringing hope, making peace, releasing forgiveness and demonstrating Christ’s message of love.

Ordinary, everyday saints – bringing hope, making peace, releasing forgiveness and demonstrating Christ’s message of love.

In our gospel reading we heard part of the Sermon on the Plain. In the verses before our reading we’re told that Jesus was surrounded by a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of the people. They had all heard of the wonderful miracles he’d been performing and they were all trying to touch his cloak, all hoping to be healed.

Yet Jesus chose this time to give them sometimes difficult words about how they should live. These are radical, bold statements of how we, as his saints on earth, should live to establish his kingdom of heaven on earth – to bring true peace and freedom for all. They are almost a blueprint of the Christian life. We are all called to live differently as Christians, to live radically: to be kind to those who are unkind to us, to love and to forgive. Not to be doormats, as some have described it, but to be strong in our faith, to love radically and to share this love with all those around us.

We know that God so often chooses the most unlikely individuals to do his work. But all of us are the earthen vessels God uses to spread his words of hope to others.

We inhabit a world full of leaders who often seem weak or deceitful or untrustworthy – fallible human beings making many mistakes. When great institutions and those who are meant to be the good examples in society are shown to be wrong, then people become disillusioned and hopeless. But no matter how dark or uncertain life may be, we have a powerful message of love and hope to share.

It is heartening to know that people still look to holy places and holy people as sources of inspiration and hope. At the Queen’s funeral and from then on, there seems to have been a greater interest and concern for things beyond our knowing, for looking for light and hope. The Queen was such a wonderful example of exemplary living, much admired by so many, and was always open about her Christian faith.

We are called to be the saints, making a difference through faith in Jesus Christ and by the grace and peace of God. But we are not called to do this on our own; God gives us the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and he gives us this community of faith here in this church to encourage and help each other. He gives us his love and hope for the future, and this is what we are called to share, wherever we are.

We live in the now and the not yet – we live in the light of the crucifixion and ascension of Christ, but not yet in the perfect kingdom to come. We are all fallible human beings; we are not perfect and are often in pain ourselves. But as Christ’s people we can and do make a difference to this world.

The saints of old made a huge difference to their world in so many different ways and continue to do so in the legacy they left behind. We can learn from them, but we don’t need to try and be the same as them. We couldn’t, we are all different. But we can ask God to take us and use us in order that, as Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says, we might live ‘to the praise of his glory’. Each one of us can and does make a positive difference.

So let us respond as Isaiah in the Temple responded to God’s question, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ – ‘Here am I; send me!’