A World Without Saints

At the end of October after the leaves have fallen, the harvest of the crops has been gathered in, and the air is crisp with the hint of the coming winter, we pause to “remember the saints” in our worship. Recently I was standing at the burial place of one of my “saints” remembering an arresting line from a hymn by Fred Pratt Green, “a world without saints forgets how to praise.” That rings true to my experience. The “saints” in my life remind me of some of life’s most important lessons.

My generation is not the only one that matters to God. It is a hard pill to swallow for members of the baby boomer generation (born 1946-1964). We saw our generation as the movers and shakers of history. We overturned everything from classroom size and music to politics and religion. We are still causing a “boom” in the area of medical care and we are rewriting retirement. And yet, we are not the ones Tom Brokaw called to universal acclaim and for very good reasons, “the greatest generation” (born 1928-1945). How disconcerting! But also, ultimately, how therapeutic to locate ourselves as but one of the generations God has loved and will love. What a relief to play a significant but not exclusive part in God’s story worked out across many generations (Genesis 10; Matthew 1).

I was carried on the shoulders of others before I could stand and walk on my own two feet. Scratch hard enough beneath the surface of the “self-made” man or woman and you will find a sponsoring angel, an active godparent, a special mentor, someone who went before and opened doors. There are two kinds of persons in the world. Those who forget their saints and tend toward arrogance in demeanor and callousness in behavior. In biblical terms they are those who declare incessantly, “by my own hand I have gotten it!” And then there are those who remember their saints, maintain a lifelong and deep gratitude toward them, and contribute humbly to the good of their communities.

So much of what I have inside me as models of behavior, mental dispositions, antennae, passions, and contours of soul are not original with me but are hand-me-downs. A certain relative gave me a feel for the changing of seasons. I could hear and see him as I wrote the first line of this article. A certain theologian helped me to appreciate the subtle accumulations of providence that need more than one lifetime to occur. A certain bishop helped ignite in me a hunger to “have done with lesser things” (Harry Emerson Fosdick) and to participate in the larger works of God in society and history. I can hear and see both the theologian and the bishop objecting vehemently to my canonizing them as saints. The saints are often the last to recognize themselves as such. But where would we be without them?

This year All Saints Sunday falls on November 4th. If you have lost someone dear to you since last All Saints Sunday (November 5, 2017) and would like to have them named in prayer in the worship service, please phone or email their name and date of birth and death to Rayna at the church office by October 31st: 717-737-6921 or calvaryumclemoyne@verizon.net.

Pastor Lew