So Long Saints

And Jesus said ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.’

And to which I say, thank you very much, I think you have all been brilliant.

Today we celebrate All Saints. In the Church of England we celebrate different men and women of God throughout the year. And yet we also recognise that we are all called, and called to be, - Saints. The meaning rooted in being holy, set apart for God, to be marked for heaven.

At all saints, we hold this in tension. On one hand the lives of those who inspire us, the Church Triumphant now in heaven, and on the other hand our own lives offered to God as holy, set-apart, as Saints. And in particular we remember those whom we love but see no longer who inspired us in our faith and relationship with Christ. The saints unknown to the wider church, but well known to us, without whom we would not be set apart for God, marked for heaven ourselves.

And there is some value in using the term Saint to principally refer to our brothers and sisters in the faith already in heaven.  It is far better than making ‘Saints’ of brothers and sisters whose feet are of clay here in earth.

This was the Apostle Paul’s concern when he wrote to the Corinthians, “For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”

The Saints are marked by their devotion to God and by their pointing Godward - for although we all as ministers and servants in the Church may plant and water, it is God who gives the growth.

And where God is at work there is spiritual growth. As individuals, as congregations, as a Church the question is not so much where we are, but where we are growing. If to be a saint is to be marked for heaven, then we must ask, is our church, is the Cherwell Valley Benefice, a little bit more like heaven than it was a year ago, five years ago or ten.

Such growth in the benefice over the last few years has been diverse. In worship contemporary and traditional, in friendships and sense of family, in diversity and in unity.

And especially in people as we transitioned from a season of over-abundant provision in terms of clergy to one of lay people taking on more roles in the Church.

For some that extra responsibility has come because of a deepening encounter with God. For others perhaps the challenges of more responsibility have led to a deeper seeking of God. With responsibility in the church comes accountability and discipline. To one another and to those whom God has sent to oversee His work.

Yet God’s gracious abundance towards his saints does not end. For now the benefice is blessed with an outstanding new Rector in Stephen, an outstanding Self Supporting Priest in Peter, and an outstanding laity committed to growth across the communities, with a new appointment of Team Vicar to come shortly.

And Jesus said ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you ….’

It has been a privilege to be part of this journey over the last four and a half years. Arriving as Team Vicar I admit that I did not want the extra responsibilities of overall charge, especially as I prepared to share my life with Sarah. And yet in time those challenges and responsibilities came.

Although the challenges we face are minor compared to Christians in other parts of the world, all the saints face times when others do not speak well of them on account of the Son of Man. There have been such challenges over the last few years, and there will be in the future. And as the Church we overcome through loving the world, loving one another as Christ loved us - and by loving God.

For God loved us so much that he gave his only Son, that believing in him we may have everlasting life. And in this Eucharist we respond, taking bread and wine, flesh and blood, as one body in Christ.

However far we may seem apart, in tradition, in circumstance, even in Watford - in this offering we are one. Saints together, set apart for God, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet for which we are marked. Amen.

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