All Saints
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Edward F. Markquart

All Saints
What is a Saint?

Matthew 5:1-12    
All Saints Sunday     A responsive reading from the Old Testament and Ephesians on the word, “saints.”

Today is All Saints Day in the life of the church, not only in our congregation but also in literally tens of thousands of Christian congregations throughout the earth. It is also called “All Souls Sunday” as well.

On this Sunday, we remember the names of the people who died in our congregation this past year. If you would turn to the back of your bulletin, I would like to introduce you to the thirteen people who died in our church this past year. I would like to briefly comment about these thirteen people and these stories are part of your life and mine. Some of the names you will know personally; others you won’t.

The first name is Al Burdick. Al Burdick was a wonderful older man who drove his wife, Anne, to visit the elderly and retired members of our congregation. She did not have a driver’s license, so Al drove her everywhere. He was deeply loved his family. The second name is Jerry Digo and he was married to Winnie Digo. He was from the Philippines and was a short little guy who was an expert salmon fisherman and caught many a salmon down at Redondo. He was a wonderful grandpa and drove all this grandchildren to their baseball games and dancing lessons. Joan Mitchell had Alzheimer’s disease for many years and her husband Daryl took wonderful care of her. Arlene Meyer was the mother of Marcia McVicar and she joined our congregation just before she died and was active in Bible study and prayer groups. Dot Skelly was an absolutely wonderful lady in our church. She was an active member of our AA group and she often brought people from the downstairs to the upstairs, from the meeting rooms of the AA group to the upstairs into the sanctuary. She was a missionary to the AA group and downstairs. She was our number one missionary. She cared for many poorer members of our congregation and the AA group. Jim Brandt died this past year and he was felled by a stroke more than thirty years ago. In his prime years, before the stroke, he was the high school music director at Mt. Rainier High School and our church choir director. After the stoke, his left hand still worked on the piano and he became the pianist at the many nursing homes in which he lived. Carl Mau was the executive director of the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, Switzerland. He was as close to being a Lutheran pope as any Lutheran could be. In his retirement years, he would come to our men’s breakfast and share stories about his recent trips to China, the Soviet Union, and South Africa. He was enormously humble and the men loved and appreciated him. Joe Righi was the best greeter we ever had here at church and also the best dresser. He was a pure Italian, so he said. He was a World War II vet and still in perfect physical condition, married to Lois Righi, the grandma who says she owns and runs this church and no one disagrees. Karen Swanson, married to Dick, died young in her mid fifties of breast cancer but she was determined to hang onto life until her daughter’s wedding and she made it. A lovely and graceful woman. Sue Myhre also died young, in her fifties like Karen, and I often referred to Sue as one of the best mothers in our church. Sue was a single mother, divorced years ago, and she, as a single mom, raised two of the most outstanding kids in Kara and Kirk. Marjorie Bracher died, having been married to Ed for more than sixty-five years. She too was a fine, fine woman of fine, fine tastes. She was a published author, married to Ed Bracher, a bishop and leader in the Lutheran church for many decades. Leona Bush, married to Cal, both rock hounds. I wish you could have heard the testimony her son gave about his mother the other day at her memorial service.

So these are all the saints of Grace Lutheran Church who have died this past year and this sermon is dedicated to them.

Now, I would like to tell you a Jimmie Brandt story, a favorite story of mine that happened long ago. I went to call on Jimmie Brandt one day, years after his stroke, when he lived in a nursing home in the area. I was told that Jimmie was down in the activity room and so I headed there to see Jimmie. I also heard music coming from that activity room. It was singing, a group sing along. I came into the room and there were lines of chairs in imperfect rows with elderly people seated on each chair and they were singing along and there was this young man there playing his flute. The flute player was leading the singers in old favorite sons. I sat down on a chair at the end of a row, and soon learned that the flute player was named Bruce and he was from Boston and he was twenty-six years old. I found out that young Bruce from Boston loved to come to nursing homes and play his flute and have people sing along. So pretty soon it was birthday time and we as a group were to sing happy birthday to Martha who was very, very old. After singing happy birthday, the activities director came up front to interview Martha who was also up front but sitting in a wheel chair. The activity director shouted into Martha’s ear in loud voice, “How old are you, Martha.” And Martha shouted back at the young woman, “I am ninety-six years old…sweetie.” The young woman shouted, “What does it feel to be ninety-six years old, Martha?” “It feels like sixteen…sweetie.” “How were you able to live to ninety-six years old, Martha?” “Because I kept my nose out of other people’s business and so should you, sweetie.”  Everyone laughed. … So then they started to sing more songs, and I was sitting next to Bob who had had a stroke some years ago. He didn’t sing any of the songs. He didn’t sing the group’s favorites such as “Sweet Adeline” and “My Favorite Irish Rose.” He sang none of the songs. He just sat there, like a bump on a log, but enjoying himself. Them Bruce from Boston played “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” and that made Bob sit up in his chair and start singing. He must have been out to many baseball games in his lifetime and he loved singing the song from the seventh inner stretch. On the other side of me, on the other side from Bob, was an old lady who was humped over in her wheel chair, not saying or singing anything. She was just there, groaning on occasion. So, now it came to the end of the program and they were going to sing “O Beautiful For Spacious Skies,” and the activity director asked our Jimmie Brandt to come up and play. He did so, with the fanfare with his left hand that wasn’t frozen by a stroke, and soon they were all singing and playing. Bruce from Boston with his flute. Old Bob of baseball fame growling something that sounded like notes. The lady in her wheel chair, slumped over and groaning. Meanwhile, I am watching all of this and asking myself, “What is going on here? What is happening? Here is this wonderful symphony of praise to God. These are God’s saints. These are God’s precious jewels, diamonds and emeralds, kings and queens, princes and princesses. This is God’s royal family who are singing God’s praises.

About that time, I thought, “What is the meaning of life anyway? What is the purpose of life when one is confined to a wheelchair and one is croaking a song that does not sound very good?”  I thought of a flower. A flower graces the earth. There is no utilitarian value to a flower but a flower is beautiful, just because it is, just because it graces the earth. And as these people grow old, they grace the earth with their beauty and dignity. These people were an inspiration to me and to all who visited them.

I think of a quotation from the Jewish scholar, Abraham Heschel, who said that “to be is to be a blessing. To be alive is to be holy.”

I thought, what a contrast. What a contrast if this had been Hitler’s Germany. They would have taken out a long needle, put a poison in that needle, and put them to sleep as one would put to sleep an aging dog, put their bodies into an incinerator and thrown them away. There would have been no utilitarian value to them. But…these were God’s holy people, his royal people, his saints of God.

When I look at the list of the people who died this past year in our parish, these were holy people. Al Burdick, he was a holy man. Gerry Digo and his care for his grandchildren. He was a holy man. When I look at the name of Dot Skelly who worked with all the people upstairs and downstairs, she was filled with holiness. Jimmie Brandt, the way he lived his life for three young decades with a stroke and in a nursing home; he was a holy man. Joe Righi, the way he cared for his wife Lois when she had a stroke. He was a holy man.

This is what holiness. These are the people of God, God’s royal people, all infinitely valuable to God.

So I ask you the question: what is a saint? I would like to give you two thousand years of history, two thousand years condensed to a very short time. I would like to give you the definitions of a saint during the past two thousand years.

In the first three hundred years of church history, a saint was someone who got killed for Christ. These were the martyrs of the church, people who were killed for Christ. St. Ignatius said that the “blood of the martyrs were the seeds of the church.” To qualify for sainthood in the first three hundred years of church history, you had to be killed for Jesus Christ. Christians were killed by lions or burned at the stake in the Coleseum in Rome; that is how you became a saint.

Then, things changed in the year 313. In 313, Constantine became emperor of the Roman empire and he made it legal that everybody had to be a Christian. It wasn’t that Constantine was so religious; he did not get baptized until he was on his deathbed but he was a smart emperor and he was using Christianity to be the glue which held his empire together. So what was a saint at this time? It was the time of the power of the Roman Catholic Church and the church canonized saints, famous people who had died. The church built a chapel in honor of that saint; you would go into a chapel and light votive candles and pray to that saint. Praying to the saints who would intercede to God for you was very important to medieval Roman Catholic religion. For thirteen hundred years people prayed to the saints. These saints would have pillow talk with God up in heaven; these saints had the ear of God in heaven; so we down on earth would pray to the saints. For thirteen hundred years, saints were the dead religious heroes who were up in heaven, close to the ear of God, having pillow talk with God about all of your prayers to and through the saints.

Then came the Reformation. Martin Luther and all the other reformers did not like the idea of praying to and through the saints. You don’t have to get some saint to pray for you; you can pray to God directly. So during the Reformation, the meaning of saints change. The saints then began to refer to our Christian loved ones who had died and gone to be with God before us. Saints referred to our family members who had died, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers, sisters, friends. These people all died and went to heave and they are now up there with God.

About a hundred years ago, things again changed, and they started making lists of people who died the past year and published those names in the bulletin, like I have here before today. A saint is a person in the congregation who died this past year. If you die sometime during this coming year, you will get onto this list.

Other people have further definitions of a saint. A saint is a person who lives and puts up with a real unbearable person. Or the most recent definition of a saint is a person who plays for the New Orleans football team.

Now, in all of this, what is a saint? I have given you two thousand years of history of the differing definitions of saints but I have not given you one Bible verse. We have said previously that a mark of a Christian church is that they are a Bible centered congregation. If we want to understand the mind of God and the morals of God, we need to listen to the revelation of God which is the Bible.  … So we ask the question: what does the Bible say a saint is?

How does the Bible define and describe a saint? That is what I would like to do for you now? We will look at the readings about saints from the book of Ephesians, our Bible texts for today.

The word, saint, is never single. It is always plural. In Greek language, it is never the single noun but the plural noun that is used for saints. Hagio is a plural Greek noun for the word, saints.  So the Bible does not use nor does the Bible have a concept of Saint John, Saint Mark, Saint Luke, Saint Edward. The word is never singular; it is always plural like in the hymn, “For All The Saints.”

The word, saints, means, God’s holy ones. We are God’s holy people. Now, we are called holy, not because we ourselves are holy, but because God is holy and we are associated with God. God’s holiness becomes our holiness, not because we are holy, but because we are connected with God. God is holy and because we belong to God, we are called holy.

In the Bible, we discover that none of the saints are dead. Saints are not dead people in the Bible, living up in heaven. Saints are living people, living down here on earth. Our definitions of saints from the past two thousand years are not Biblical:  that is, saints as martyrs, saints as canonized people who have pillow talk with God up in heaven, saints as deceased mothers and fathers, saints as people who have died this past year in the church. None of these definitions of saints is Biblical. If you get into the Bible, you discover that saints are living people who belong to God.

I love the Bible verse which says, "I delight and rejoice in you." (Isaiah 62:4, 5) That is, God’s greatest pleasure is to delight in us and rejoice in us his saints. I understand that. My greatest pleasure is to be with my family. Honest to God, that is my greatest pleasure on earth, to be with my family. They love me. They like me. They actually delight in me and I love them, like them, and delight in them. There is no greater pleasure for me in life than to be with my family, my very own. So it is with God. God’s greatest pleasure, according to the Bible, is to be with his people, who talk with him, enjoy him, hang out with him. God’s greatest pleasure is to be with his very own family who love him and enjoy him. In the Bible, it always says “his saints,” not simply saints. The word, saints, always refers to his saints.

What is a saint? A saint is a person through whom the light of God shines. I would like to tell you a children’s story. Would you please imagine four stained glass window on the south wall of our sanctuary? The first stained window is really red, the next window is really blue, the next window is really green, and the next window is really yellow. The sun has come up in the south and wonderful light is coming through these four windows. A pastor and a little girl are walking through the sanctuary together, admiring the windows. The pastor is explaining the four stained glass windows to the little girl. He says, “This first window with all the reds is dedicated to St. Matthew and it has a picture of St. Matthew on it. The second window with all the blues is dedicated to St. Mark and it has a picture of St. Mark, the second of our gospels. The third window with all the greens is dedicated to St. Luke and has a picture of St. Luke on it. The fourth window with all the yellows is dedicated to St. John and has a picture of St. John in it. All the windows are so beautiful, especially with the sunlight shining through them.” And the little girl says, “I know what a saint is?” “Yes,” replied the pastor. “A saint is somebody that the light shines through.” Yes, the light of God shines through the lives of the saints. It is not your light that is shining; it is the light of God shining through your lives. The windows sparkle and inspire your lives.

And that is the last thing that I would like to say about saints today. Their lives inspire you and lift you up to be better people. A saint doesn’t say, “I want you to be a Christian. I am going to try to subtly force you to be a Christian. I am going to drag you to church today.” No. By then nature of their lives, these saints inspire you to be holy.

Let me explain by means of a famous example from the lives of Dr. David Livingston and Henry Stanley. Dr. David Livingston was a famous missionary in Africa and he had been there in the heart of Africa and had disappeared into the jungles. Henry Stanley went on a search for Dr. Livingston after he had long disappeared. Henry Stanley, after a lengthy search, finally found Dr. Livingston and gave us a famous line from history. “Dr. Livingston, I presume?” The two men lived together for three months and some time after that Henry Stanley wrote his memoirs and he said: “Dr. Livingston made me a Christian and he didn’t even know he was doing it.” He inspired me and didn’t even try to.

Saints inspire you to live a life of holiness. Please look at the bulletin again for today and let us look at the names of the people who have died this past year in our parish. But at this moment, I don’t want talk about dead saints, those who have died this past year, but I want to now focus on the lives of the living saints, the other half of the name published in the  bulletin. I am not going to look at the name of Al Burdick who died this year but the life of Anne Burdick who is one of the nicest ladies to ever grace this earth. She goes around and still visits all our shutins and sick people. Her life is an inspiration; the way she lives lifts us up and inspires us. She does not lecture about taking care of the elderly; she never says a word about it. She just does it. … The next person. And I will not look at all of the names. Gerry Digo. No, I am not going to talk about Jerry who is dead. I want to talk about Winnie Digo who is alive and in the Bible, the saints are always living. Winnie is quilter, making hundreds of quilts in her day for homeless strangers around the globe. She has been quilting for Jesus from time in memorial and she has so many grandchildren sitting on her lap. What an inspiration. Dot Skelly. I am not going to talk about Dot but about Bill, her husband who still grieves the loss of his wife. Bill is a quiet man and does not want attention focused on him, but I have watched the way he has taken care of his grandchildren during this epoch in his life. Bill is quietly sitting in the back row of church as he does every Sunday. He is an inspiration. Joe Righi. We are not going to talk about Joe because he is dead. The word, saints, refers to the living and that means his surviving wife, Lois, who has survived a stroke with dignity and humor for all these years. Again, what an inspiration she is to us. What a source of laughter she is to all of us. Karen Swanson died, but husband Dick lives on. Dick took such good care of his wife as she died a long, drawn out death. I talked to his son-in-law, Edward, at their wedding and I said to his son-in-law. You watch Dick Swanson carefully and if you follow his example, you will learn how to be a mature man. This is the best way for you to know how to learn to be a man, to be a loving man.

Now, in all of these people that I mentioned, they didn’t push religion at you. They didn’t say, “I am the model of the godly life.” They didn’t’ say, “I am a holy person and I hope that some of my holiness rubs off on you.” It was just the opposite. Quiet and common, plain and ordinary, and they were windows through whom the light of God shown. Their lives inspire us and we want to be like those kinds of people.

What is a saint? A saint is a person who got killed for Christ in the first three centuries. What is a saint? Those people who were religious heroes of the church, had chapels and churches built in honor of them and they are now up in heaven interceding with God for us. What is a saint? Our grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends, who have died and go before us into heaven. What is a saint? Someone who has died this past year in the life of the church. What is a saint? You. Yes, you. You are the living saints of God. You are God’s holy people. God takes enormous pleasure in your company. Your lives are an inspiration to one another.

Responsive Bible Reading:  The Old Testament 

Reader:  As for the saints in the land, they are excellent in God's sight.  God's greatest pleasure is to be with them.  Psalm 16:3

Congregation:  Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.  Psalm 30:4

R:  Love the Lord, all you his saints!  Psalm 31:23

C:  Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have all they need.  Psalm 34:9

R:  Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for God will speak peace to his people, to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts.  Psalm 85:8

C:  Let the saints shout for joy.  Psalm 132:9

R:  All of creation will give thanks to the Lord, and all of you saints will bless God.  Psalm 145:10

Responsive Bible Reading:  The New Testament 

R:  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 1:1

C:  I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints.   Ephesians 1:15

R:  Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, it is my prayer that you may know what is the hope to which Christ has called you, ...  that you may know what are the riches of his glorious inheritance for the saints.   Ephesians 1:18

C:  I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God.  Ephesians 3:17b-18

R:  And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.  Ephesians 4:11-12

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