2 Kings 5:1-11
Grace to you and peace in God, who has called us into the communion of saints through our saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Oh when the saints. Oh when the saints. Oh when the saints go marchin’ in
Oh Lord, I want to be in that number,
When the saints go marchin’ in…
Oh Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marchin’ in. I want to be in that number. I want to be counted among the saints. I want to be counted as a part of that blessed community; I want to be included in the congregation of the redeemed; I want to belong in God’s family.
Oh Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marchin’ in.
So if this song describes a desire that isn’t just one person’s desire, but a universal desire shared by people in many times and places, the desire to be included with the saints, then how does one become a saint?
Now, the Roman Catholic Church has a very specific definition of how one comes to be a saint. Ultimately, it’s the church itself – namely the Pope – who decides whether a person is a saint, and there are criteria that have to be met. First of all, the person has to be dead. Second, this person has lived a life of heroic virtue, a life of faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude, and charity. The church investigates the actions and writings of this person to see whether this is truly the case. Thirdly, the person may or may not have died a martyr. Finally, there must be at least two miracles that can be attributed to prayers for the intersession of that person.
As you can tell, the bar for sainthood here is quite high. Only a very small few have lived lives worthy enough to be called saints.
And yet, you may have also noticed that Lutherans use the word “saint” in a very different way. Perhaps even a much more inclusive way. And so, on All Saints Sunday, we don’t just remember and honour a select few people who have lived virtuous lives. We remember everyone who is a child of God. Because every child of God is also a saint.
In our Old Testament story today, we encounter a great warrior named Naaman. Naaman is a general in the Aramean army – in fact, his army just recently defeated the army of Israel in a great battle. Naaman has wealth and status, but he has a skin disease, and no one can help him. But a slave in his house – an Israelite girl – tells him about a prophet in Israel who can help him. So Naaman sets off for Israel, with a blessing from his king, and with an entourage of soldiers and over 900 pounds of gold and silver.
So Naaman arrives in Israel with all of this gold and silver, and he sets off looking for the prophet who can heal him. And he arrives at the house of the prophet Elisha. You can imagine this great warrior, on his horse with chariots and soldiers and 900 pounds of gold and silver, arriving at a tiny little house in the backwoods of Israel. Elisha doesn’t even go out to greet him! Instead, he sends a messenger, who tells Naaman to go bath in the Jordan River seven times, and he will be cured of his disease.
Naaman is insulted!! He’s furious! He came all this way, with all his gold, and silver, and chariots, and this is how he is treated? But one of his servants – notice how the servants are the wise ones in this story – one of his servants asks Naaman, “Master, if the prophet had asked you to do something hard, wouldn’t you have done it? Why not then do this thing, which is simple?”
So Naaman goes to the Jordan River, and he bathes seven times, and he is healed. His skin is made brand new. And even though he brought all this gold and silver, and was willing to perform the most difficult of task to be healed, instead it was given to him as a free gift.
In the same way, sainthood is a free gift. A person becomes a saint not through any virtuous or heroic things they have done, but simply as a free gift, given through the promise of God. And in fact, this free gift is given to each one of us through the promise that God makes to us in baptism: “You are my beloved child.”
Simply put, a saint is a sinner who is forgiven, accepted, and loved by God.
That’s it. Being a saint is not at all about what we have done in life. It’s not a title that can be earned. Being a saint is about what God has done for us. It is a free gift. A saint is a sinner who is forgiven, accepted, and loved by God.
I’d like to invite you to take a moment and think of a saint in your life. Perhaps there is someone you are thinking about already today. Perhaps someone comes to mind – maybe a parent, or a grandparent, or a loved one or a friend. Think about that person’s life: their good qualities, the way they showed love and care for others. Also keep in mind the things that were not perfect about that person: their flaws, their failures, their mistakes.
A saint is a sinner who is forgiven, accepted, and loved by God. So as you hold that loved one in your mind and your heart, imagine them hearing these words: “You are forgiven. You are accepted. You are loved.”
Saints are not just those who are no longer with us. Saints are here right now, every day, walking among us. In fact, this place is full of saints! So I’d like you to turn to your neighbour, and if it’s OK with them, make the sign of the cross on their forehead. And say to them: “You are forgiven. You are accepted. You are loved.”
Now turn to your other neighbour, and do the same. “You are forgiven. You are accepted. You are loved.”
Now place your hands on your heart, and say to yourself, “I am forgiven. I am accepted. I am loved.”
A saint is a sinner who is forgiven, accepted, and loved by God. And God has called us to be saints, through the free gift of grace in Jesus Christ, who was crucified and raised so that we might have life in his name. Amen.