What is a Saint?
A reading from the
Old Testament and Ephesians on the word, “saints.” (See last
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
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,
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
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
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
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 today, “God’s greatest pleasure is to be with
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.
Bible Reading: The Old
As for the saints
in the land, they are excellent in God's sight.
God's greatest pleasure is to be with them.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name. Psalm 30:4
Love the Lord, all you his saints!
Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have all they need.
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.
Let the saints
shout for joy.
All of creation will give thanks to the Lord, and all of you saints will bless God. Psalm
Bible Reading: The New
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love
toward all the saints.
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
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
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.