St Francis, Terriers - All Saints Sunday (05.11.2017) Tony Dickinson

How many saints do you know? I don’t mean “How many names can you reel off from a list like the one in the front of the big black Prayer Books?” I mean “How many people have you met whose lives have shone with the light of God’s love?”

That’s what a saint is. Not a person who lived far away and long ago – and certainly not someone with a great big brass halo perched on top of their head – but someone we might pass in the street, or at the shops, or at work, or at the doctor’s surgery, without recognising them.

Saints are the sort of people who live in the way that Jesus described in today’s Gospel. They’re not superheroes. They’re not “successful”, not rich, not famous. Many of them are the sort of people President Trump would describe as “losers” and “sad”. But they aren’t either of those things. They are people who have taken on board what St John wrote in his letter that Megan read a few minutes ago. They know that they are loved by God. They know that they are children of God. Now. And always.

When I was Megan’s age there was a hymn we used to sing in school assemblies from time to time, “Loving Shepherd of thy sheep”. I haven’t sung it for years – though a version of it is in the hymn-book we use at St Francis. The words in our book are a bit different from the words I learned as a child, but they’re the same where it matters. They still say, right at the beginning, “nothing can thy power withstand. None can pluck me from thy hand.”

Once we have realised that we are God’s children, that we are held in his love and that nothing on earth – and nothing beyond the earth – can pluck us from his hand, then we are on the way to letting God turn us into saints. We can’t do it ourselves. That was Martin Luther’s great discovery. We can’t turn ourselves into holy superheroes. We have to let God work in us.

That means we have to trust him. We have to be open to his love and allow it to work in us in our everyday lives. Like the people Jesus called “blessed”. Like one of my favourite modern saints, Edward King, who was Bishop of Lincoln from 1885 until his death in 1910 – the year after my father was born. Before he became Bishop of Lincoln, Edward King was a teacher and university professor in Oxford. But he wasn’t one of those professors who are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly use. He was someone who could look into the depths of the human heart. He knew that it was important for human beings to relax and enjoy themselves as well as to spend time thinking of God and praying to God. And he knew how saints are made.

While he was still teaching in Oxford he wrote these words, “I want to see… saints made in the old way by suffering and labour and diligence in little things, and the exercise of unselfish, untiring love; quiet lives lived away in holes and corners and not known to the public while alive.” That sounds very like the people that Jesus called blessed. It sounds quite like some of the people who have shared our journey here at St Francis, people like Sheila Charlton, Rachel Stark, Diane Young, Wilfred Chambers and Philip Reason-Challinor. Older members of the congregation will tell you their stories. All of them were very different from one another, but all of them were formed in that “old way” which Edward King described.

Today, as we give thanks for all God’s saints, we remember those ordinary people, those “quiet lives lived away in holes and corners”, through whom we have glimpsed something of God’s love. As we give thanks for them, we pray that we may follow their example of trust and “diligence in little things”, and live our lives, as they did, rooted deep in the love of God.

And to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit…