Sometimes people ask me if we believe in saints in The United Methodist Church. And I say, “The answer is both yes and no.” On the one hand, the answer is no, because we don’t really have saints in the way that the Roman Catholic Church does. We don’t formally beatify or canonize people. So we don’t have any officially recognized saints in our tradition—not even John Wesley. On the other hand, the answer is yes, because we do use the word “saint.” But the difference is that we use this word to refer to all believers of Jesus Christ, whether they are still with us or already with God. Yes, in our Methodist tradition, saints are not just a few angelic people with haloes behind their heads. Rather, saints are all believers just like you and me, all believers who follow Jesus here and now, or who have already lived their faithful lives and gone before us.
I’m blessed for I’ve known many saints in my life. They have inspired me to be a better believer and to become a pastor. But honestly, they are not very special people. Their lives are hardly perfect or extraordinary. Just like me, they have suffered the same kinds of challenges; they have struggled with the same kinds of sins; they have received the same God’s grace, just as I do. Yet, they all have lived their ordinary lives with great faithfulness and courage. They are saints to me, not because they are so saintly without any blemish, but because they have faithfully walked their journeys of sanctification through all the ups and downs in life. I believe, you can also talk about such saints in your life, some people around you who have inspired you to become better believers.
Then, what about us? Do you think that we are saints too? Not sure yet? You may ask me, “You said, ‘We all are sinners,’ in your sermon last Sunday. Then, today you tell us, ‘We all are saints,’ all of sudden?” Of course, we all are sinners. That’s for sure. We are always inclined to do something wrong, and we are weak and in need of forgiveness. But still, we can be called saints. Why? It’s not because of who we are, our holiness or righteousness, but because of who Jesus is, his steadfast love that saves us, dwells in us, molds us and shapes us into more Christ-like people each and every day. Yes, in Jesus our Lord, we surely are saints of God on our common journey of sanctification.
In today’s Hebrew Bible and Epistle readings, for all God’s saints God promises many great things. Through the vision of Daniel, God says, in the end time, when the judgments is upon the earth, “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever” (Daniel 7:8). And today’s Epistle reading reminds us, “in Christ, we have obtained an inheritance, the redemption and the promise of the kingdom, and also, in Christ, we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:11; 13). Such grateful words of promise! Thanks and praises be to God who calls us to be saints on earth, who chooses us to inhere the kingdom, and who marks us with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
But for all God’s saints, God doesn’t grant those privileges only. In fact, there are things we should do as saints. Yes, privileges always come with duties, right? Let’s look into the Gospel reading. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus first assures that we are fully blessed even when we are hungry, poor, weeping, and persecuted, and our reward will be great in heaven. So, God’s saints always have a certain reason to rejoice even in the days of suffering. Second, Jesus also warns us that when we indulge in pleasure and comfort from our richness, fame, fullness, that is the time when God’s woe can be upon us. So, God’s saints always check themselves not to be complacent and lose faith when things are going all too well.
Right after this assurance and warning, Jesus finally tells us the things we should do as saints. Let us read them together. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-31).
I know, this to-do list is a kind of impossible-to-do list, or at least, a hard-to-do list. But Jesus is so sure and clear that these are what all saints of God should try and practice in their lives. This list of duties can be summarized in one single sentence: “Practice the love of Jesus”—the love that is unconditional, self-denying, and life-giving. We are saints, because Jesus’ sacred love dwells in us as we believe in him. And as saints, we are called to reveal this love and share it with others. It is not important how much successful we are in practicing love. But we should persevere always. That’s our holy duty. Live out the love of Jesus, and make life more holier, keep relationships more sacred, and change communities gradually into the kingdom of God.
Fellow saints of God, today we are celebrating All Saints Sunday and our 191st Anniversary. Today we shouldn’t forget all those ordinary saints in our church’s history, in the history of First United Methodist Church of Montclair and also in the 186 years of history of Verona United Methodist Church. Indeed, today, in this sanctuary, we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” from both churches’ history. Let us remember our saints and their legacy of faith as we celebrate the joining tougher of the two churches today and as we move ahead toward our future. Because of their love for God, for neighbor, for the two churches, we are here to continue the common history of saints today; we are here to share the same love with others.
Indeed, it was love, from the beginning, the love of Jesus. This love grants us the redemption and consecrates us to be saints at our baptism and to inhere God’s kingdom. It still is this love, today, the love of our Lord. This love marks us with the seal of the Holy Spirit and binds us together in the communion of saints beyond space and time. And it will be the same love, in the future, the unconditional love of Christ. This love will always dwell in us, continuously sanctify us on our spiritual journey, and always call us to the duty of sharing that love with others. As we live out this sacred love and our sainthood, let us be persistent. Let us take up our own crosses and follow Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:3) May God’s grace and love be with all of us in abundance, as we continue the work of saints with great faithfulness and courage just like the saints who have gone before us. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim