Homily preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
All Saints’ Sunday, November 7, 2010
We’ve been talking a lot about saints around here lately. The kids who attend “Not Sunday, Not School,” our midweek Christian Education class, have been learning about some of the more famous saints; on Thursday evenings during our Celtic eucharists, we have been focusing on some of the not-so-famous saints from the British Isles; last Sunday the church was decorated with pumpkins carved into saints and their symbols by the Youth Group, and today we celebrate the feast day of All Saints.
I must admit that I’ve been a little confused about saints, however. I’ve been hoping that the concept of sainthood would somehow gel in my mind – that I’d stumble across a good definition or at least some solid description of what a saint is – who qualifies and why.
On one hand, there is an ever-growing list of dead but impressive men and women who have been designated “saints” by the institutional church. On the other hand, there are those who understand saints to be anyone – dead or alive – who loves God and lives the kind of life that pleases God.
Father Nicholas and I had a conversation about this last week and he told me about his favorite story regarding sainthood: “A little girl was asked by her Sunday School teacher to describe saints. Without missing a step, she said, ‘That’s easy; they are the people that light shines through – you know – the people in the church windows!’”
Saints – people that light shines through. It’s a wonderful definition, I think, and it fits for those who have made the official lists of saints as well as for the folks who in some way or other share God’s light through their lives today. But how does that work, I’ve continued to wonder.
Through the door behind me, in the hallway across from the Sacristy there is a cupboard that houses our sound system and on the door of the cupboard is a sign that reads, “Please do not touch any of the dials.”
I never even thought about opening the door until someone showed that there is a clock on one piece of the equipment that includes a digital display of the correct time of day. It’s a helpful piece of information when one is responsible for getting a service started on time; I open that cupboard and peek in there pretty often now. Turns out, however, that there is something else in that cupboard that piqued my interest and aroused my curiosity.
Above the sound equipment is a shelf full of music – lots and lots of sheet music. Much of it is tattered and yellowed with age. It seems to be a stash of organ music used for preludes and voluntaries.
One day last week I walked over here to get ready for one of our mid-week eucharists. The church was dark except for the glow of the organ light. The church was dark but it was not quiet. Vince, our organist, was sitting at the organ, playing just a few bars of a piece over and over and over again. When I approached him, he looked up with a kind of disgusted look on his face, “This is supposed to sound happy,” he said, rather unhappily, “and it won’t sound happy until I start playing the right notes.”
He continued practicing – and I went about my own business.
I found out yesterday that all that music is Vince’s – it’s his organ music library – music he’s had for many years – and he still has to practice it to get it right.
That’s when it hit me. Perhaps we can all be saints – we can all be people through whom light shines – but it takes work – it takes lots and lots of practice.
As members of the Church, we have stacks and stacks and stacks of spiritual and religious “sheet music” – there is scripture itself, tomes of theology, ancient creeds, our hymnody, our liturgies, the Book of Common Prayer. And an awful lot of our spiritual “sheet music” is the exact same stuff that the “official” saints had on the shelves of their spiritual cupboards.
But just having all that “sheet music” doesn’t mean anyone is actually going to hear any music. No matter how big the piles get, the sheet music can’t play itself. The music in the closet must be taken out, dusted off and practiced – over and over again – sometimes just a few bars at a time.
As I looked over our liturgical sheet music for this morning, I saw that there are several bars that we might want to practice as we move closer to being the kind of people light shines through.
First, our Collect talks about living virtuous and Godly lives. Perhaps an examination of our behavior is necessary to clear away some of the smudges that keep the light from shining brightly through us.
Secondly, the lesson from the book of Daniel tells us that the holy ones of God will receive the kingdom – a kingdom that lasts forever and ever. Practicing these bars, remembering that there is so much more ahead, may give us a different perspective on our lives – a perspective of hope and anticipation that allows God’s light to shine through as we identify more and more with our true homeland.
Thirdly, our psalm encourages us to sing a new song – to find a new way to celebrate our Maker. Imagine – the light of God shining through dancing bodies and sleeping bodies! What kind of light would be visible through us if every part, every moment of our lives was bathed in praise?
And our Gospel lesson – today it reminds us that not all the melodies will be sweet, not all of them will be easy. Practicing this music means being real about our limited understanding – remembering that God’s ways are often very different from the ways of the world. Instead of seeking our own good, God asks us to pursue the good of others – even that of our enemies.
So today, as we remember and celebrate the women and men whose lives shine with the light of God, let’s remember that we, too, can join their ranks. In this life we have been blessed with piles of spiritual sheet music – the same kind of notation that enabled the saints of old to shine with the light of God and light the path for others. Perhaps we can honor them and move more fully into our own sainthood by opening up the cupboard, choosing a piece we’d like to learn better – and then practicing it.
In the power of the Spirit, let’s get rid of the smudges and live godly lives; let’s remember the Kingdom to which we really belong; let’s praise our Maker with all of our being and with humility, let’s seek the good of others.
Let’s practice the music until it sounds like it’s supposed to sound – and let’s shine like the saints in the windows – illuminated by the grace and love of God.