In April, Pope John Paul II will be canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition. It is the culmination of a long process of recognizing his contributions to the church and his memory. This canonization process includes an acknowledgement that various healings may be attributed to his life.
When this happens, Pope John Paul, II’s name and ministry will be placed along side the many saints in that tradition. Currently, there are more than 10,000 people who are remembered as a saint. This includes people such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, Thomas More, and, one of my personal favorites, John Chrysostom.
In the Methodist and Protestant traditions we do not recognize saints in this way. However, that hasn’t stopped us from thinking about saints in this sort of way. This idea of saints and sainthood defines much of our understanding of saint. When we think of a saint we automatically turn to this image. We believe a saint is someone of high morality and ethics, someone who has done something exceptional for the kingdom of God, and whose servant hearts goes beyond all measure.
What if I told you that we are all saints? This seems a little shocking or odd to say, especially given this background. We may not think of ourselves as morally good enough to be considered as such. We perhaps think we have done anything of transformative worth for the kingdom. We might question if our servant heart is truly servant-nature enough. Yet, each of us gathered, and everyone throughout the world and time, are saints.
Thinking of ourselves as a saint joins us with Paul’s words from Ephesians 1:11-23. The NLT uses “God’s people” where other translations describe the Greek as “saints.” The intent is the same. Paul is trying to connect us to something that we all share in common. That is that we have a spiritual inheritance as members of God’s kingdom. We have this inheritance of being one with God through our desire to claim faith in what Christ did for us upon the cross.
On this All Saint’s Day we are reminded that our spiritual inheritance is that we are saints who participate in something greater than ourselves. Everyone who has claimed faith in God throughout time are part of this community that is defined by God’s love and hope. The meaning of this inheritance is importance for us to understand. For this inheritance defines who we are not just today, but always.
It was an important message that Paul expresses in this letter. We’re not entirely sure what church this letter was written to. While the initial words of Chapter 1 seem to suggest it was to the church in Ephesus, there are some who believe this letter was part of a letter that would be read in various communities throughout Asia Minor. In these times, Paul was leading an effort of connecting Christians of Jewish heritage with those of Gentile background. So, bringing people to a recognition of their shared commonality as members of God’s community would help to foster this connection.
Our inheritance is a common identifier among us all. There are no boundaries that prevent some from receiving this inheritance. It is available to all people, as Paul would express in Galatians. Everyone can receive this spiritual inheritance.
So, what does this inheritance mean? Think about an inheritance for a moment. Someone gives us something of theirs so that we can participate in this thing, whether it is wealth or enjoyment of some memento that was special to them. We are given something that belongs to someone else, so that we might enjoy the benefits of it.
That is what our spiritual inheritance looks like. God gives us a gift of participating in the communion of saints. The Lord does this so that we may experience the benefits of this relationship. Those benefits are the joys of God’s peace, hope, love, presence, and, truly, forgiveness. This is a free gift given to us. We did not earn this inheritance, but God has given it to us. The blessings are many. Our spiritual inheritance allows us to connect to something greater than ourselves and brings us closer to God.
How might we receive this spiritual inheritance? How can we claim our participation in God’s kingdom, the communion of saints, this morning? Paul gives us an outline of how we can participate in the communion of saints in verse 13. It is a three-step process of how this inheritance comes to be in our lives.
First, we must hear the word of truth. That is we must hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the good news of God’s indwelling into humanity through Jesus and how Jesus offers grace, hope, and salvation to all. In order to claim our inheritance we must hear of Christ and what the Lord did for us on the cross and how he lives today and sits at God’s right hand. We have to hear God’s word and seek to understand what it means.
For this to happen we need someone to walk along side us. We cannot hear and understand God’s word in isolation. We need a community surrounding us and helping us work through what these words mean and what it means to live God’s truth out. We need someone like a Philip who helped the Ethiopian in Acts 8 to fully understand who Jesus is and what it means to follow his footsteps.
Once we have heard the word, then, in order to receive this inheritance we must believe that Christ died for us. We cannot claim our inheritance as saints as bystanders who never make a claim of faith. Hearing God’s word demands a response. That response is for us to claim for ourselves that what Christ did on the cross he did for me, for you, for each of us, for all of us.
To claim this inheritance we must make the daily determination to live for Christ. It is about turning away from the things of this world and taking on the things of Christ. We cannot begin to claim our spiritual inheritance as participants in the communion of saints if we seek to live as if our lord is not Christ, but the things of this world. If we truly want to claim our inheritance then it requires a daily act of claiming Christ as both our Lord and Savior.
Finally, we must be marked by the Holy Spirit. It is an act that happens upon our baptism. When we are adorned with the water, we are sealed with a promise. That promise is that God’s presence, the Holy Spirit, will reside in us and guide us towards faithful living each day. There is another promise. That is the promise that we are members of God’s community. That we are set apart as part of the communion of Saints. It is a promise that when Christ comes that we will be welcomed into the glorious kingdom.
This is a future promise, but it is also a current reality as well. We are called to live into this reality today. This is what it means to be members of the body of Christ – the church. The promise of the Holy Spirit is that we will grow in wisdom and seek to live each day as people who aim to share Christ’s love, extend acts of mercy, and help others to hear God’s word and believe for themselves. We are called to a daily reminder that we are connected to something greater than ourselves and that is God’s kingdom.
This is a kingdom that is welcome to all. The spiritual inheritance is a grace that is available to everyone. To you, to me, to those who believe the church has nothing for them, to the person whose life is filled with obstacles, to truly everyone.
Our great spiritual heritage and inheritance is that we are members of something greater than ourselves and it calls us to live every day in response to God’s love. To be people who desire to be connected with God and each other. We are all saints. We are all God’s people. This reality calls us to mind the depths of God’s love for us.
No matter who we are we are defined by our commonality as participants in God’s kingdom. This morning, on this All Saint’s Sunday, we can reconnect to our sainthood, our participation in God’s kingdom at the table. As you eat this bread and drink from this cup, be reminded that God’s has welcomed you into a great relationship based upon a desire to live for the Lord. Reconnect yourself to this relationship this morning.
But, rise with the hope to live for something truly holy. Rise with a desire to live as members of something more important than anything we could ever imagine. That is that we are members of God’s kingdom. We don’t have to be perfect to be in God’s kingdom. We don’t have to have all the right answers. All that matters is that we have heard the word, believed in Christ’s love, and seek it every day.
So, rise and claim your inheritance. You are a saint. We are saints. We are inheritors of God’s kingdom.