Grownups, this little talk today is mostly for the children down here, who have been studying about baptism and who will be watching the baptism up close, but I hope you’ll find something for yourself in it, too!
Kids, are you Christians? That’s pretty cool, especially when you get baptized, isn’t it? Lots of celebration going on with these three folks who are about to become the adopted children of God and an important part of this parish, because they’re going to be baptized in a few minutes.
But I’ve got some news for you: don’t expect life as a Christian to be easy. That’s the message that Jesus gives his followers in the gospel today. He lists the situations that Christians can expect to face while living on the earth.
You may be poor.
You may be hungry sometimes.
Every now and then, you’re going to be sad enough that you’ll cry.
People may say bad things about you, or call you mean names.
Oh, no! Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? You may have already had the experience of not getting everything you wanted, or being hungry one night, or being sad, or having kids call you names. And how did that feel?
No, it didn’t feel very good.
But even while Jesus lists the hard parts of being one of his followers here on earth, he gives the promise of what is going to come in the next life.
You’re going to inherit the whole kingdom of God. How big do you think that will be? How amazing?
You will be fed until you are completely and utterly filled. Show me how it feels to be so full of good food!
You’re going to be so happy that you will laugh. Let’s laugh out loud together!
You’re going to be cherished and praised in heaven. Let’s wrap our arms around ourselves and hug ourselves to imagine what that will feel like!
Now that sounds a little more like it! That all sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it?
But there’s a problem…we don’t get all that good stuff until we go to heaven.
In the meantime, we as Christians are supposed to expect and even accept the fact that life isn’t always going to be full of fun and joy and food and laughter. Sometimes life is hard.
And it’s living life in the midst of the hard stuff that is what shows how we are followers of Jesus. The choices we make in how we live our lives are how we say “we know what is really important, and how Jesus would want us to live.”
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints, when we remember the people who were good and faithful followers of what Jesus taught us.
What do you think a saint is?
Someone who is really good? Holy all the time?
What would you think if I told you that, by and large, the saints were just ordinary people just like you and me? That they worked really hard to do what they thought Jesus wanted them to do, but sometimes they made mistakes. And when they made mistakes, they asked for God’s help to do better the next time. And sometimes, they had to make lots of mistakes until they finally figured out how to be good people. But they kept praying and trying…and they did some remarkable things.
Let’s think about some saints…how about St Paul, whose letters we read nearly every Sunday? He hated the followers of Christ and tried to punish them, until one day he was knocked off his horse and a great voice said “Why do you persecute me?” Paul was struck blind when he fell and it took him a while to figure out what God was expecting of him, but eventually he realized he was supposed to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. And he did that in all sorts of places, sometimes getting thrown in jail, sometimes nearly getting killed in a shipwreck…Paul was a saint.
How about Perpetua, who was a Roman noblewoman who became a Christian in a time when being a Christian was against the law? She was killed for her faith in the Roman Coliseum, attacked by a wild bull.
Now those sound like pretty dramatic stories of sainthood. How could we ever be saints like that? Nobody’s knocked us off of a horse, or threatened to send us to the Coliseum to be attacked by wild animals. Christianity isn’t illegal here. We can come to church whenever we want and no one will stop us. How could we become saints?
Maybe it’s time to look at some other saints, whose stories might be a little more like ours.
A saint might be the child who says a kind word to the girl who is always picked on and bullied because her clothes are all hand-me-downs. A saint might be the neighbor who calls to check in on you when you’ve been sick, to see if you need anything and if you are alright. A saint might be the man who delivers meals to the elderly, even though he’s not so young himself, just because he is grateful that he can still do it. A saint might be a teacher who spends extra time giving loving encouragement to a boy who is struggling with his reading.
A saint is someone who does good, not because it helps her or makes her feel good, but because it is the right thing to do. The sort of person who – you imagine – Jesus is smiling at and saying, “That’s right! That’s what I taught you to do!”
And sainthood starts with baptism, with the realization that God loves us and we believe in him and love him, and so we ask for this washing away of the old ways, of any sin that might be in us, and for adoption by him. We become a part of God’s family, and then God, like good parents everywhere, gives us some ideas about the right way to act and to behave.
Jesus tells us about those ideas in today’s gospel, after he warns us that we have some hard work ahead of us. It’s hard work, but it’s not complicated. Every one of us can do it, whether we are 5 or 105.
Love everybody, even those who don’t love us.
Be nice to everybody, even to those who aren’t always nice to us.
If someone tries to take your stuff away, even your coat, or your favorite toy, just give it to him.
If someone is hungry, share your food with her.
Most of all, treat everybody the way you would like them to treat you.
Now I cannot guarantee that they will treat you nicely in return. Jesus warned us that it wouldn’t always go that way. But what I CAN guarantee is if you treat people badly, they will NEVER treat you nicely.
But you’re not going to do it because of what you want from them.
You’re going to do it the best you can because it is what Jesus expects of you. It was what God, you adoptive Father in heaven, made you for. To love, and to show that love to everybody, every day.
That’s how you become a saint. It is not complicated, is it?
But it’s also not easy all the time…and that’s why we are baptized, and why we come to church, and why we pray for help when it gets hard.
This is the road to sainthood, and each and each of us here today is on that road together.
Every one of the saints we honor today on this Feast of All Saints started out on the same road. They were baptized. They faced challenges and made choices and eventually figured out what God wanted them to do. They became saints by walking this road. So remember the lessons that Jesus taught, about loving people and helping people and accepting that sometimes things will be hard, and live into those lessons every day. Who knows? You might be a saint, too!