Searching For Saints - Mark 12:28-34
Today, we observe All Saint’s Sunday. A lot of times when we think of saints, our minds may go to the Catholic Church and their many saints…they seem to have a patron saint for everything. For instance, one we are familiar with is Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers (and for the stock car race this afternoon, he is also the patron saint of automobile drivers). There are Saint Barbara, the patron saint of storms. Fishermen get double coverage with Saint Peter and Saint Andrew. Brendan the Navigator is the patron saint of boatmen and mariners, along with whales and dolphins. Other animals have their own saints, Gertrude of Nevilles is the patron saint of cats and Vitus is the patron saint of dogs. For teachers, there is Saint Catherine of Alexandria; for salesmen and saleswomen, there is Saint Lucy of Syracuse; and for accountants there is St Matthew the Apostle. If you have a job, there is mostly likely a “saint” of that occupation. For those, however who are looking for employment, there is Saint Cajatan who is the patron saint of the unemployed and of job seekers. Saint Gratus of Aosta is there for those afraid of insects and I’m not sure if this is for the parents or the youth, but Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is the patron saint of teens. In 1999, St. Isidore of Seville became the Patron Saint of the Internet. One of the newest saints, just canonized mid-October, was St. Manuel, patron saint of educators and scientists.
Yet, you know, we Protestants don’t really recognize the whole multitude of saints and venerate them the same way our Catholic brothers and sisters do. And it really isn’t the Catholic Church that makes a person a saint. So what does makes a person a saint?
Let me begin by offering to you what doesn’t make a person a saint:
There were two brothers, corrupt and evil in their ways. They were rich and used their money to keep their ways from the public eye. They even attended the same church and looked to be perfect Christians.
Then, their pastor retired and a new one was hired. Not only could he see right through the brothers’ deception, but the Holy Spirit definitely flowed through him, and the church started to swell in numbers. A fund-raising campaign was started to build a new sanctuary.
All of a sudden, one of the brothers died. The remaining brother sought out the new pastor the day before the funeral and handed him a check for the amount needed to finish paying for the new building.
“I have only one condition,” he said. “At his funeral, you must say my brother was a saint.” The pastor gave his word and deposited the check.
The next day at the funeral, the pastor did not hold back. “He was an evil man,” he said. “He cheated in business and abused his family.” After going on in this vein for a small time, he concluded with: “But, compared to his brother, he was a saint."
You cannot buy someone sainthood…however, I think in today’s Scripture passage, Mark gives us a clue as to what a saint looks like…
Jesus and the Sadducees were arguing about the resurrection (they did not believe there would be a resurrection, yet they tried to trap Jesus by asking him whose wife a woman that was married multiple times would be when she got to heaven). Noticing the debate, and possibly trying to catch Jesus off-guard, one of the scribes comes up and asks Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?”
Without missing a beat, Jesus responded: “The first is, “Hear O Isreal, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as your self. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
When the scribe, probably awestruck, acknowledged Christ as giving the right answer and said that this love of God and neighbor was more important than any burnt offering, Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Where is Jesus talking about a saint in that passage? Well, he does not actually say, “this is the definition of a saint” or “this is what a saint looks like,” but I would offer to you that he paints us a picture of a saint. A saint would be those who follow the commandments of God, meaning that a saint would be one who loved God with all her or his heart, soul, mind, and strength and loved their neighbor as their self.
What it mean to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength? What it means is that our love for God is to be a total commitment. It means that we are called by the Word, by Christ, to love God completely. Our love for God is to be a total commitment of our whole lives. It means we cannot claim love of God on Sunday morning and be either Saturday night “sinners” or Monday morning “slave-drivers.” It means we cannot claim to love God with our thinking, but continue living any way we please, or seek to live God’s will in one area while disregarding another---we cannot say, “God, you can have my have my money but do not tell me how to run my business” or “God, I will give up my gambling and drugs for you, but leave my sexual activities alone.” God wants it all…loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength means that we are seeking to love God with our whole lives…every aspect of our lives…all the time…24 hours a day…seven days a week…365 days a year….
Jesus says the second is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But who is our neighbor? Mark does not go into that here…but when Luke records a version of this conversation, someone asks Jesus, “who is my neighbor” and Jesus responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan[i]…suggesting that anyone that we come in contact with, anyone that our lives touch in any way…that is our neighbor. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, to love everyone we come in contact with, to love everyone our lives touch, just as we love ourselves. This does not mean that if we hate ourselves we can hate other people. It is the premise for the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” You are to love everyone, treat everyone, just as you would want to be loved or treated. To love our neighbor as ourselves means that we have to reach out to everyone, anyone who we interact with the love that Christ has given us, the love that we want to feel from God. We cannot pick and choose who we love, it has to be across the board…we are called to love them regardless of their age, regardless of their gender, regardless of their income, regardless of their social standing, regardless of their education, regardless of their skin color, regardless of their background. We are called to love them in the same way we desire to be loved.
“But preacher, Jesus said that the first commandment was to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. Can’t we just focus on that, can’t we forget about this neighbor thing…that is even harder than loving God 24/7/365. Let’s just do one and forget about two.” My neighbors, it is not that easy. We cannot claim to love God and not our neighbor…John dealt with this in one of the congregations he interacted with and wrote them: Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”[ii]
Brothers and sisters, to be a saint, to aspire to be a saint, means loving God completely, with every aspect of our lives and loving those around us, regardless of who they might be. I do not say all of this to suggest it is hopeless, to suggest that none of us our good enough to be “saints” (because we’re not). I offer this because we need to know where we need to go with out lives. And we cannot do it alone. Sainthood is not attained by those who try to do it all by themselves. Sainthood comes to those who look up to God and say, “My life is a mess. I am having trouble turning my (social, business, personal) life over to you. I am having trouble loving this person. Help me Lord. I want to do what is right, I want to be a saint for you. I want to live for you in all that I do.” And my friends, when we take that step, when we just turn to God and admit how helpless we are without him, we have begun the journey to sainthood because God will reach down from the heavens and touch our lives and give us the strength and the direction that we need if we just open ourselves up to it. He will fill us with His Spirit to strengthen us and enable us to love as He asks us to.
Are we searching for saints? Let us search no longer and allow God to create one anew, right now, today, in us. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.