November 6, 2016

All saints of God

Long ago in Sunday School I learned a hymn: I Sing a Song of the Saints of God*. It remains one of my favorites because of the emphasis on the fact that we are all saints of God. We may never be recognized with our own 'day' in the church calendar, but we each live our lives in sincere hope that we are doing God's will. The songs say, "I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. 
This past weekend I heard 2 sermons. Each was presented by a dedicated pastor/priest-a saint of God. Both were offered for the upbuilding of the hearers. One spoke about Christ’s ‘new commandment…[to] love one another’, noting that as we live this commandment we become more like Jesus and change the world. The other based his sermon on Romans 16:17-20, urging his hearers to beware of those who might destroy the community of faith, and stating that such people should be removed until they change their ways.
I could not help but be struck by the contrast. Yet both these preachers were sincere in their words and spoke to build up and encourage their audience. Each felt the Spirit working in their life. In fact, each is a saint of God.
One speaker referenced John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” noting that the “way of love is the way of life”. This was most fully shown at the Cross. Listeners were reminded that ‘we are not the center of the universe-God is’. Therefore, our life needs to look like Love so that the world may know Christ through us. This preacher took the broad view that our Christian lives lived in Love will change the world.
The other was speaking from concern for the good of the whole when urging that divisive entities must be rooted out. The congregation had previously experienced great distress from similar attacks and for love of the whole, the pastor stated that the evil must go. While admitting that from the outside, this might look un-Christian, he pointed to Paul’s words to the church in Rome “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offences, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good, and guileless in what is evil. The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
The pastor’s concern for keeping deceivers out of the ‘flock’ relates to the other speaker’s comment that ‘religion’ can be hijacked when the “golden calf of self [is] raised”. (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Not in God’s Name, Confronting Religious Violence). Because it is not rooted in Love, the same self-centeredness that caused the Israelites to form the golden calf in the wilderness, can destroy churches, families, countries, even the world. The pastor was, in fact working to protect the congregation from destruction by keeping trouble-makers out. The sermon was a declaration of love for the people of the congregation. With the hymn this pastor was proclaiming "They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong; and they followed the right for Jesus' sake the whole of their good lives long."
Without knowing all the details, I dare not judge whether the one pastor might have tried loving those who were a negative influence. Perhaps the love and reconciliation was offered and rejected. Perhaps the dissension was too deep rooted to be allowed to linger and grow and destroy. The pastor felt led by the Spirit to speak out against this division and to work to bring about healing in the congregation so people could find their way to living the commandment to Love one Another.
We are called, as followers of the One who gave the new commandment of Love, to live a life that looks like Love. The other preacher stated that the ‘way of Love is a game changer. It changes us, it changes the church, it changes the world. We should not be ashamed of the way of Love.’
It is not easy to live under the new Order that says, ‘give up self to live in love for one another’. Yet there is the promise that ‘if you love me, you will follow me’ in the path of Love that makes room for all. The way of Love liberates and is life-giving, while the way of self is destructive. With one another we ARE called to be saints of God who "lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus' will. You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, in church, by the sea, in the house next door; they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too." 
As we look at the saints of God in our lives, I hope we can see where they, and we, are living out the new movement that will indeed turn the world around. The way of Love breaks down dividing walls-of race, culture, religion, fear, anger and unites us. As the image says, "It will be OK" because God is with and in each of us. No matter how difficult it is to live the Way of Love-God is there. 

Consider who you know who might show you more fully how to live the Way of Love.
Take time to think about how you might give up some of self, in order to more fully show the Love of God.

Next time we’ll return to our series about the work of the Spirit by thinking about how the Spirit bears fruit in a life given over to following God. 

*1. I sing a song of the saints of God, 
patient and brave and true, 
who toiled and fought and lived and died 
for the Lord they loved and knew. 
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, 
and one was a shepherdess on the green; 
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, 
God helping, to be one too. 

2. They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, 
and his love made them strong; 
and they followed the right for Jesus' sake 
the whole of their good lives long. 
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest, 
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast; 
and there's not any reason, no, not the least, 
why I shouldn't be one too. 

3. They lived not only in ages past; 
there are hundreds of thousands still. 
The world is bright with the joyous saints 
who love to do Jesus' will. 
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, 
in church, by the sea, in the house next door; 
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, 
and I mean to be one too. 
 (I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, by Lesbia Scott)

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