Preached as a sermon at Croydon Minster on All Saints' Sunday, 2019
What’s it all about?
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
a virtuous or a heroic person,
a great role model or an all-round ‘good egg’
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,
is all about.
Does it come down to God or not?
is one who lives no longer for themselves but for God;
is one who so rejoices in
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
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,
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:
The life of a saint is a sign
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
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:
hungering for 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.