COLUMN: Entrusted with each other
Published 6:16 pm Sunday, November 12, 2023
Richard Rohr, a significant voice today in spiritualism, grew up in Kansas. He says that as a Catholic, he really had great suspicion of people of other religions. He adds, “I wasn’t sure that people who followed other religions had anything right.”
His tradition had a formal process for, among other things, declaring saints. The one I grew up in, and have spent my life in, does not. This past Sunday, we observed All Saints Day and based our sermon on 1 John 3: 1-3.
One ministry colleague of mine says, “I think my experience as a Baptist in the South was similar, except in the other direction. My pastor told us that we were the only right ones and that they were wrong.” He goes on to say, “What I have learned is that we all have it right and wrong, and that all of us have saints.”
I remember growing up in a church that really wasn’t all that conservative, and yet somehow I took from that upbringing, and my hometown culture, a similar suspicion about people of other faiths. Including some expressions of Christianity. I don’t really look at things now the way I did back then.
One of the things I’ve come to understand is that my definition of what a saint was, and who got to approve them into the club, as it turned out does not revolve around my hometown nor my home church. Nor does it revolve around me.
The older I get, and maybe you’ve awakened to a similar thing, is that God has saints in all different places. At least if the Bible is any guide. The Greek word Paul uses in his letters of the New Testament is “haggas.” It means set aside for a purpose.
As good as you and I try to be, we will never in most of our traditions be elected saints. We don’t have them officially.
Which isn’t to say that we were wrong when we referred to Mr. Gordon Bishop, who drove our church bus, as a saint. Nor in my first church out of seminary when we might look at Meldra Harris. Always present and always volunteering, always helping someone, we called her a “saint.”
No, we think of saints in other ways. I think of people who have touched my life. People who have helped to move your life along in positive ways. Individuals who have affected me or you in ways they didn’t even know.
My home church gave me a Bible or two. But you know what else? They gave me biblical literacy. They gave me the gift of the stories. Now that I look back on it, they weren’t perfect. But they were good people who were willing to take the time to invest in me.
They showed me the love of Jesus Christ and taught me that I could place my hope in God through Jesus, should I choose. It was in many ways a large part of my early journey. A place where I learned to ask questions of my faith. A place where I first pondered my calling.
This week, our scripture says “See what love the Holy one has for you?” Because in God’s love, the holy one has called you to be children. Or is that call to be saints? Might be the same thing.
One observer has said, “No one ever fully dies until we quit calling their names and telling their stories.” That’s why we observe All Saints Sunday on an annual basis. In our church, we honored and placed a rose for each church member we’d lost within the last year.
A mother who had one natural born child and one adopted was once asked which one was the adopted one. She paused, looked into the distance and then responded. “You know, I can’t even remember.” That’s the kind of love our saints demonstrate for everyone.
Another writer has said, “God loves us even as God loved Jesus. Just because we have been adopted by God doesn’t make us second class or second-rate. But instead, we are children of God.”
Our culture has done a number on us. Telling us that there are outsiders and there are insiders. Sadly all too many of us have carried that over into our faith, assuming that God sees us the same way. Instead, God has actually entrusted us to each other’s care. God loves us even as God loves Jesus. That’s why our saints stand out particularly.
Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.