“Following leaders” – a sermon for All Saints Day 2014

I was wondering what to say to you this morning about All Saints Day, about what it means to be a saint, and so I asked for some help. I asked the young people at Encounter to help me think about what a saint is.

For those who don’t know, Encounter is our group for children in school years 6-8, which means the young people are aged 10-13. We meet once a month to discuss issues of faith and life, and pray together.

And so I asked Encounter what they thought a saint was, what a saint was like, and here are some of the words they came up with: kind, helpful, iconic, true, good, gentle, compassionate, honest, brave, servers, dauntless, humble, famous. Perhaps you can think of some other words to describe saints.

And there are other words which the young people of Encounter wrote about saints. “Anyone”, “everyone”, some of them wrote their own names, or those of their friends or family, and one wrote in capital letters “ME!”

And they’re quite right. There are saints who are long-dead, saints who are famous, but there are also saints in our midst, in our lives, in our church, living lives of quiet holiness. We all have the capacity to be saints.

But how? Some of the ideas shared by Encounter gave us a clue. And there are some more ideas in today’s gospel reading. Let’s add some of them to the board [words for children to pin to board]. These are some of the things Jesus describes as blessed. [Deal with in order in which children pick them.]

“Poor in spirit” – this is to do with being totally dependent on the Spirit of God.

“Mourning” – yesterday we marked All Souls, when we remember those for whom we mourn. But “blessed are those who mourn” is not just about missing people who have died, it’s also about being deeply troubled by and sorry for the sin of the world.

“Meek” – this is to do with being ready to set aside ourselves and our power, in pursuit of God. The meek are those who are willing to give up everything and they will, we are told, receive everything – “they will inherit the earth”.

“Righteous” – “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” says Jesus. Righteousness is the yearning, the all-consuming longing, for God.

“ Merciful” – those who are merciful are those who practice forgiveness, who are ready to forgive people. And they are the people to whom mercy is shown, who are forgiven. Compare that to the Lord’s Prayer – “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.

“Pure in heart” – those whose actions and motivations are driven purely by what they see in Christ and what they hope for in God.

“Peacemakers” – people who want to see the peace of God come on earth, and are willing to do anything to pursue that end.

And finally we come to “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. This is perhaps one of the hardest of Jesus’ sayings to understand. We, in this place, are not persecuted for our faith, though there are many millions around the world who are. So what does this mean for us? It means a willingness to risk everything to follow Jesus, and not to count the cost.

I want to come back to something one of our young people at Encounter wrote. A saint is “a following leader”. Think about that for a moment. A saint is one who leads by example, but also one whose leadership is born out of following, whose sainthood comes from following Jesus.

[Line up children, with crucifer at front.] We are part of a long line of saints. Those we have known, those we have been told about, those who have worshiped in this place for almost a thousand years. We follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us in the faith. But all of us, past saints, present saints, and future saints for generations to come, need to know what and who we are following – [indicate cross] Jesus, the living, incarnate, risen Christ.

And we have to ask ourselves are we, like the saints through the ages, ready to lay aside all other considerations to follow where he leads? May we be ready to become following leaders, shining as lights in the world for others to follow, even as we follow the one who is the light of the world. Amen.

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