Monday, 4 November 2019

'Can one be a saint without God?'

Preached as a sermon at Croydon Minster on All Saints' Sunday, 2019


What’s it all about?
            Big questions.

The French writer, Albert Camus,
            in his novel La Peste -
                        which was written in 1947 in the aftermath of the Second World War -
asked a big question:
            “Peut-on être un saint sans dieu?”

Great question! (What does it mean?!)

In English it is this:
            "Can one be a saint without God?”

That’s Camus’ question,
            and he goes on to say,
                        “That's the problem, in fact the only problem, I'm up against today."

I guess that for many people
outside, and within the Church,
asking if one can be a saint without God
            is not the most pressing problem they up against.
Other things probably feature somewhat more highly.
But on this All Saints’ Sunday it is an important question.
            Can one be a saint without God?
In other words:
            do you need to believe in God,
                        does there even need to be a God,
                                    for you, or me, to be a saint
            or ‘to do to others as you could have them do to you’?

And that brings us back to what a saint is.

If a saint
            is simply
                        a virtuous or a heroic person,
                        a great role model or an all-round ‘good egg’
            then, frankly,
                        God need not come into it.

And for many people today that is enough.
            I can live my life by a set of ethical norms,
                        even if they’re shifting norms,
                                    which ultimately say that
            if I am a good person, then that’s sufficient.
Or I can just look after Number One
            because there really isn’t anything much beyond me anyway.

For Albert Camus those answers were not enough.
            Can one be a saint without God?

I am not claiming Camus as a Christian, but
            that question posed a problem for him,
            because it got to the heart
                        of what human existence,
                        and purpose
            is all about.

Does it come down to God or not?

Of course,
it does.

The saint
            is one who lives no longer for themselves but for God;
the saint
            is one who so rejoices in
                        and acknowledges
            the gift of life in Christ
            that death cannot conquer them;
            the saint is one so shaped and led by the Holy Spirit
                        that all their points of reference
            take them back to the Father.

The Roman Catholic Church has a very well established process for declaring
            someone to be a saint.
It’s known as Canonisation.
It is when the Church declares that,
            having examined the virtues of a particular man or woman,
they are worthy to be a model for faith;
            that their prayers for us make a real difference in our lives;
                        and that their life is a mirror of the life of Christ.

That last point is the most decisive
            because the saint mirrors the life of Christ,
                        and they do so with a texture
                        and flavour
            that only they can bring to it.

Thanks be to God for those saints, to whom we can put a name,
            and in some cases a face too.

As Anglicans the nearest that we can claim as a ‘saint making process’
            is when someone is baptised.
                        That’s using the word ‘saint’ in a different way.
                        The Church is filled with the saints,
                                    with a small ‘s’,
                        who are being formed as Saints
                                    with a capital ‘S’.

Baptism incorporates us,
            grafts us,
                        into the life of Jesus Christ.

It’s the ultimate declaration that you can only be a saint with God.

            they only make sense
                        when we know ourselves to be creatures of God
                                    who are brought into a relationship with him
                        as his sons and daughters.

Made in the image and likeness of God
            as his creatures;
restored in the image and likeness of God
            as his children:
                        his saints

The life of a saint is a sign
            that contradicts
                        the standards, mores and ethos
            of a self-sufficient way of life.

Not all saints were nice;
            some were rude;
                        many would be misfits in contemporary society
but all share the deepest sense that they are utterly dependent
            on God,
                        the source of all being and life,
                        the One for whom we exist.

If you want to be a saint, you’re not going to do it without God.

You cannot make yourself a saint;
            you can only yearn and desire to be a saint.
And that is the deepest yearning
            of the Christian:
mirroring Christ;
            hungering for Christ;
                        being Christ
in, and for, a world that thinks it can do it all by itself.

This life –
            the life of the saint –
is shaped and fashioned by the Holy Spirit
            who binds us together and brings to the Father.

One can never be a saint in isolation,
            and the testing bed of the saint is lived out in service
                        to the poor,
                                    the needs of others
                        and a life shaped in honouring the giftedness of all creation.

It is a life that draws from beatitude –
God’s blessing –
and returns everything in beatitude.

The Eucharist continues that work of forming saints
            as we hear his Word
                        and receive his presence
            into our bodies
            in the intensity and breadth of the sacrament of his Body and Blood,
                        as we unite with the saints of all the ages,
            with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to proclaim:
holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts,
heaven and earth are full
            of thy glory.
Glory be to Thee, O Lord most high.

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